April 10, 2024
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April 10, 2024
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There Must Be Emphasis on Critical Thinking Skills on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

How many college students know that chants of ‘From the River to the Sea’ are calling for the murder of Israelis—both Jews and Arabs?

Of all the repercussions of the Israel-Hamas war, one of the most troubling is how quickly college students throughout the United States have taken hardline positions while knowing so little about one of the most complicated conflicts in history. So often their opinions are informed by reading the first few paragraphs of articles without context, or social media posts by friends and influencers that are not supported by facts.

The cost of this ignorance can be the knee-jerk espousing of views which one does not even believe and physical and psychological attacks targeting groups of people. The lack of awareness can also result in other forms of violence, as occurred on the streets outside Columbia University during a pro-Palestine rally last week when some protesters clashed with police and others were allegedly sprayed with a chemical substance that caused nausea, vomiting and other ailments.

It is therefore crucial that we teach our students to look beyond the surface details and the emotion of the moment so that they can form opinions based on facts and a deep understanding of the subject matter.

As a college academic leader, I find this critically important because it is central to the purpose of university education and our obligation to our students.

Universities must teach students to draw strategic conclusions from complex information and to base decisions on reliable evidence and data, not gut instincts. We should not tell students what to think by promoting a particular ideology, but by helping them learn how to apply deep analysis, evaluation and integration to enable them to consider broad information and divergent ideas.

The sheer volume of campus protests against Israel in recent months following a brutal attack by a designated terrorist organization underscores how we’re failing our students in this regard.

More than ever, we should be encouraging an intensive study of history and facts to counteract the over-reliance of value-laden words as a means of understanding current events.

How many college students know that chants of “From the River to the Sea” are calling for the murder of Israelis—both Jews and Arabs? The answer, it would seem, is shockingly few.

A few weeks ago, a professor from the University of California, Berkeley, wrote in The Wall Street Journal that he hired a survey firm to poll 250 students about the expression. According to the firm, 86% of those polled said they supported it, but when the meaning was explained to the same students, more than 67% rejected the phrase.

What does it say about the quality of a college education when a pollster’s explanation is the first time 67% of students learn that “From the River to the Sea” is a genocidal chant that they had been willing to support, no questions asked?

Clearly, we’re not doing enough to challenge our students to go deeper into a subject before taking a position.

Considering that most institutions of higher learning have rejected binary descriptions of people, the use of binary descriptions of issues in the classroom should also be seen as unacceptable: oppressed vs oppressor; colonialism vs nativism; apartheid vs diversity. Such absolutes allow students to avoid critical thinking by offering them an escape route guided by supposedly easy answers, not the shades of gray that are at the root of most, if not all, conflicts.

There must be an emphasis on teaching critical-thinking skills. And while students should dutifully research topics on their own, they need to recognize that even respected authorities are biased, so it’s crucial to use multiple sources when researching controversial subjects.


Distinguish Between Information and Opinion

Students should be reminded not to trust “facts” from social media and to distinguish between information and opinion. Furthermore, rather than demonizing those they disagree with, students should consider the legitimate reasons for forming opinions that differ from their own.

It should go without saying that professors must not espouse their own political views in the classroom nor reward those who believe as they do while punishing those students who dare disagree.

Professors promoting discussions and the sharing of divergent views must
respectfully question the assorted opinions of their students, but we should also encourage, if not require, them to lay out the case for both sides. The students will get a more rounded education and even if they are unable to leave their biases at the door, the professors will become better teachers by forcing themselves to consider alternative perspectives.

Colleges should further their students’ education by providing multiple perspectives to enable them to make wiser, more informed decisions. Otherwise, we’ll be elevating a generation of students into the world who would be eager to fight for justice, if only they had learned to recognize it.

The writer is the dean of Touro University’s Lander College for Women in New York City and vice president of online education at Touro University.

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