Teaching the Middle East in Primary and Secondary Education
Committee for Undergraduate Middle East Studies (CUMES), 2022 Annual Meeting
On Saturday, December 3 at 8:30 am
This panel will examine the state of K-12 education in the United States and ways in which Middle Eastern Studies content can be better taught in primary and secondary school settings. Educators with expertise in K-12 curriculum, outreach, and literature will come together in this panel to explore best practices for incorporating specialized Middle East area studies knowledge into current K-12 pedagogy. Area studies are underrepresented in K-12 teaching generally, but in particular, Middle Eastern Studies course offerings are few and far between in primary and secondary educational settings. Even in world history courses, the MENA region is often siloed, as teachers are uncomfortable or unfamiliar with teaching regional historical content. In addition, there are insufficient resources to support teachers who do wish to include Middle East content. As a result, the region, and particularly the contemporary period, is often affected by poor framing and biased approaches. This lack of exposure then decreases the likelihood that students will pursue further Middle Eastern Studies courses at the university level. Teachers, then, need support and intervention via professional development and resources based on current scholarship This panel seeks to address ways in which area specialization, K-12 pedagogy, and university outreach programs might come together to address this crucial omission in current teaching. What can be done to inject area specialists into this crucially underserved area? How can educators promote global cultural competence and regional knowledge?
This presentation will focus on the need to make better Middle East-related curricula available to high school teachers. Much of the recent boom in Middle East-related scholarship – in particular that related to the Ottoman Empire - has not yet filtered down into high school world history textbooks, College Board exams, or state curricular standards. A particular focus will be on the role of Middle East-related topics in the AP World History curriculum; part of the presentation will be based on interviews of teachers and students in this course at a specialized high school in
New York City. Special attention will be paid to the needs of largely non-specialist teachers for accessible, ready-to-teach, and concise primary and secondary sources that are aligned with College Board curricula and instructional methodology, and of appropriate length for high school
settings. Finally, there will be an emphasis on teaching contrasting viewpoints as an antidote to popular conceptions of the Middle East and Islamic world as monolithic entities.
The unwillingness of K-12 teachers to include Palestinian history, culture and perspectives in relevant subject units stems from multiple sources. Most obviously, the increasing weaponization of antisemitism weilded against Palestinians and allies in higher education leads K-12 teachers to fear censure, discipline or dismissal. Public school teachers, especially Palestinians, may be particularly vulnerable to school, local and state policies as well as pressure from parent and community groups. The inability to teach Palestine without controversy leads many teachers to avoid the subject altogether. However, even committed teachers are challenged by the dearth of pedagogical approaches and curricular materials. To address this shortcoming, a group of Palestinian and other educators has developed a framework for evaluating materials involving Palestinians that be used in K-12 classrooms in ethnic studies, social studies, history, English and language arts and civics, among others. This paper will explain the development of the framework, the principles behind it, and explore its potential use by teachers in the development of knowledge, skills and community building in diverse classrooms, especially in K-12 settings.
This paper will discuss several best practices for establishing baseline understanding of Middle East history for high school students in a world history class who have little to no prior knowledge of the Middle East. It is based on the author’s own experiences while teaching, and will not encompass all possible best practices, as those very much will depend on the overall background of the school and students being taught in question. The best practices include: ensuring student knowledge of the geography of the “Middle East;” establishing a basic understanding of the origins of Islam in a historical context; understanding the difference between several key vocabulary terms including “Islam,” “Muslim,” and “Arab;” identifying student misconceptions about the Middle East, especially as relates to present day news; presenting a well rounded set of historical events for students to learn about and analyze, both in terms of geographic and temporal locations; ensuring students within the classroom who may identify as Muslim or another identity associated with the Middle East are not put in the position of acting as a spokesperson for an entire region. The paper will include an appendix with sample lessons and a unit plan.
My role on the pedagogy panel will focus on the Secondary Education Module that is part of the Middle East Studies Pedagogy Initiative (http://mespi.org), and the resources we provide, in addition to discussing a signature part of that project, which is the database of state & national standards on the MENA, and a comprehensive resource list. My presentation will also reflect on the K-14 education outreach work with teachers, school districts and colleges of education (pre-service teachers) that we have been conducting at the Center for Contemporary Arab Studies at Georgetown University as a Title VI National Resource Center on the Middle East and North Africa during the past 16 years.