Blog: Teaching parallel histories

Published: 8 Oct 2018

Author: Michael Davies
Blog: Teaching parallel histories

More than 550,000 students in England and Wales took GCSE History this summer – but only 2,200 of them studied Israel and Palestine. Teachers are shying away from controversy.

As a History teacher myself, I wanted to find a way to make it easier to bring controversial topics like Israel and Palestine back into the classroom. It’s important that students learn to debate such subjects with an understanding that disagreement is part and parcel of a healthy democracy and should not be mistaken for disrespect or personal hostility.

So in 2015, I travelled to Israel, Jordan and the Occupied Palestinian Territories as part of my Churchill Fellowship, visiting schools to try to discover a better way of teaching the contentious history of Israel and Palestine.

The result has been the creation of an educational charity called Parallel Histories. Using interactive video, we tell each competing narrative in its own words, using film clips, photos, maps and documents. This allows the student to make up their own mind and allows the teacher to avoid having to play the role of referee between the sides.

Below: students using Parallel Histories’ interactive videos

Students using Parallel Histories’ interactive videos

Three years on from my Fellowship, Parallel Histories’ interactive videos are used in high schools around the world and we are currently planning our next series, which will be on the history of the conflict between Sunni and Shi’a.

I have been delighted and encouraged by the interest shown in Parallel Histories by the national media and it has been featured in three articles in The Guardian as well as in The Jewish Chronicle and The Arab Weekly, local radio and BBC Radio 4.

Changing the History curriculum in UK schools to reinstate the Middle East is a tough and complex challenge, but some politicians are seeing the merit of it. Earlier this summer, I spoke at the House of Lords at a conference sponsored by Lord Turnberg that aimed to raise this issue. It was great to see Sandy Balfour and Randolph Churchill there to support the event, as they were part of the panel who awarded my Fellowship.

Parallel Histories’ most recent initiative is with private Islamic schools in the north of England, which are keen to introduce teaching that encourages critical thinking and allows students to debate controversial topics in a robust but respectful way.

Below and top photo: Michael with students at Abrar Academy in Preston, Lancashire (photos by Christopher Thomond)

Michael with students at Abrar Academy

Our first session was at Abrar Academy in Preston, Lancashire. Teaching in an Islamic school was fascinating. The students were very responsive and appeared to really enjoy the classes - I think there was more interaction and discussion than they were used to. The parents were very supportive too: they felt that the publicity was an excellent advertisement for the school and for Islamic education in general.

We are always looking for more researchers, and more schools who want to get involved, so please take a look at our website. You can leave contact details there or share the link with someone you know.

Michael Davies can be contacted at michael@parallelhistories.org.uk.

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