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  • Jessie Moss

Walls Insulates Us From Current Events. It Should Do the Opposite

The Jackson-Reed Beacon, unlike the Rookery, has confronted the Israel-Palestine conflict / Credits: David Sipos

Israel and Hamas are fighting a war. Tens of thousands have died, with thousands more wounded, displaced, or held hostage. These are facts that we see reposted across social media and displayed against the side of bus stops. They’re also facts the Walls community refuses to acknowledge.

Since the October 7th attack and the conflict that followed, I observed only one discussion led by a teacher at Walls about the Israel-Hamas war. That discussion was on October 10th, and since then, I’ve not seen any such discussions facilitated by teachers. Even The Rookery has been reluctant to discuss the war with all of its tensions and nuances, in contrast with the Jackson-Reed newspaper, The Beacon. In front page article, Jackson-Reed assistant principal Mark Minsker described the impact of this international conflict on the school as unprecedented.

When considering how Walls has addressed these issues, many students have noticed a similar pattern of non-communication, paralleling our newspaper’s silence.

“[No one] in school talks about [the Israel-Hamas war],” said Naomi Nassar (‘25). “I feel informed just because my family talks about all this stuff. But I wouldn’t go to school and know about it because of that.”

For Anna Mayer (‘25), the avoidance of current events feels broader than a class-by-class decision. “I don’t think any [teacher] in particular avoids current events,” she said, “I think there’s just this general culture of neglecting to discuss what is actually impacting students.”

Walls insulates students from sensitive issues, regardless of their impact on our student body. Teachers should do the opposite for two reasons. First, they should consider where students get their news, if not from school. And second, they shoudl consider how discussing these topics would help students engage further in critical thinking.

But, of course, incorporating current events isn’t that simple. “[Teachers] don’t want it to be in their class that a student gets into a fight or a student breaks down in tears, because of what they’re talking about,” explained Mayer. “I think their instinct is to avoid the conversations entirely.”

For Niamh O’Donovan (‘25), this education has also been lacking. “A lot of teachers I’ve talked to about [the Israel-Hamas war] tend to shut down emotionally-charged issues,” they explained. And the implications of neglecting such crucial topics are tangible.

“I think it is hard for teachers to discuss it because it is such an emotionally-charged crisis with many people have personal connections to the outcome,” explained Walls performing arts teacher, Ms. Z.

“I think teachers’ avoidance of these discussions is understandable, because they don’t want to get in trouble,” O’Donovan hypothesized. “But it’s not an excuse to not educate us about what’s happening.”

While this concern is legitimate, we need to investigate where it comes from.

“So we’re in survival mode, when it comes to how we educate students,” said Mayer.

The silence on these issues is problematic as Walls mistakenly take for granted that its students are well-informed. The reality is sadly far from. Walls students are exceptionally motivated, but that does not mean they always have sufficient understanding of current events.

“Being informed feels like a big task for me a lot of the time,” O’Donovan said. “I get a lot of my information from friends and from social media.”

“There are a lot of informed people here,” said Mayer. “I also think there are a lot of misinformed people.”

“We have so much work,” said Ethan Crawford (26’), “which prevents us from spending our own time researching or looking at articles.” Because the rigor of the Walls courseload interferes with students’ abilities to follow the news, Walls has an obligation to educate students in the classroom.

After Hamas’ October 7th attack on Israel, only one of my teachers addressed the emerging conflict. Ms. Blessing spent the entirety of our AP World History period teaching us about the fraught history of Palestine and Israel. The discussion was hugely important because it informed many students of the context for one of the world’s most enduring conflicts.

Still, the discussion involved large oversimplifications both because of the nuances of the subject and many students’ complete lack of prior knowledge–a condition which is completely understandable given that students who do not actively seek out headlines are not receiving a current events education at school. That ninety-minute discussion only scratched the surface of the history between Israel and Palestine. Clearly, to understand such a complex topic, teachers need to devote more class time to these discussions.

“It’s rather hypocritical of teachers to say you’re supposed to become global citizens,” Mayer said. “Give [us] a space to discuss what’s happening in the world.”

Schools like Walls are capable of addressing conflicts around the world without taking a stance. The reality is that Walls is failing its students with its hesitancy.

“Israel and Palestine affected a lot of people in the school, and a lot of people were really emotionally torn-up about that,” said Mayer. “The school did nothing to support any of them.”

This failure of Walls to truly educate students on current events is destructive, particularly when considering students’ use of social media as a news source. Social media is peppered with misinformation, but even when the information students encounter is true, it often presents only one side of an issue. The effect is that students who do not seek out current events education, do not receive such an education in school, and see false or incomplete information online can easily fall prey to these echo chambers.

“Social media can portray an issue in a very biased or specific way,” Hugo Rosen (‘24) said.

Earlier this year, one of my classmates said, during a discussion of the October 7th attack, something to the effect of, “boo hoo, some people died.” I heard a similar sentiment expressed by a Walls sophomore in the commons who shouted, “f***k Israel. F***k Netanyahu. F***k Israel.” I’ve overheard conversations between students with flagrantly antisemitic messaging. While I haven’t heard rhetoric justifying the humanitarian crisis in Gaza, I would be far from shocked to learn of it.

But even when students have access to all the right information, it’s ultimately school that teaches us how to consider that information, and that’s where we consider the second component of this argument that, in teaching students about current events, teachers can help students build their critical thinking capabilities.

“What people post, I think a lot of it has to do with polarization and thinking how controversial and nuanced issues are black and white,” Mayer explained. “I wish that we had a forum to discuss those [opinions] and actually understand what we are discussing, because I think a lot can get lost in translation, which creates emotional upset that doesn’t necessarily have to be there.”

One of the skillsets students build in high school and apply–constantly–to life post-graduation is critical thinking, a cornerstone of the Walls ethos.

This skill allows us to holistically evaluate current events to form thoughtful opinions or conclusions. Walls fails, in insulating students from broader conflicts, to help us build these skills. Despite maintaining critical thinking as a tenet of our curriculum, Walls shies away from discussions on current events. While we can develop this capacity for critical thinking elsewhere, students may not necessarily do so in the context of global conflicts.

Mayer told me about an effort that she and O’Donovan made to start this discourse at Walls, in the form of a global discussions club at lunch. “And it went well, in the beginning until it became incredibly emotionally-charged,” Mayer said. “It’s fantastic for students to speak up. But I think that students often fend for themselves when it comes to making the world a better place and making our community a better place. I think that if teachers were more or more open to providing a forum for that, it would be a lot easier.”

O’Donovan confirmed this sentiment. “We are not, you know, equipped to handle those discussions,” they said. “And so I think the teachers and staff just need to do a better job of giving us that space and leading discussions for us.”

Certainly, it’s an opportunity to teach us these skills sooner rather than later, which Walls feels hesitant to take. And it’s understandable why. When looking at the controversy between Israel and Palestine alone, it’s true that a debate on the topic could go awry. But without debating these conflicts, schools are still able to teach students about what is happening. Students, in turn, can maintain open mindsets, can check ourselves and our peers for bias in what we are saying, and create an environment which fosters collaborative learning and critical thinking.

“Do I think it should be discussed, yes if for any reason but for students to learn how to handle conversations and discussion with people who may have differing opinions than yours,” confirmed Ms. Z.

“I like getting to hear others’ opinions and learning a bit more,” Rosen said. “Discussion is important in an academic setting.”

“The purpose of school is to prepare us for life and to educate us,” he explained, “and we can’t be educated and prepared for life if we don’t know what’s happening in the world.

“Israel” and “Palestine” should not be words that send schools running. Nor should they be words that, in an academic setting, incite hostility. The insulation in schools from current events is destructive, precisely because it relies on the assumption that students are getting this information elsewhere and that they are always going to consider issues in a well-rounded way. When we don’t, it isn’t a fault of our own, but a fault of the information we are exposed to and a fault of an education which does not teach us to second guess what we see.

So what does it look like? On a class-by-class basis, incorporating current events into the curriculum could mean setting aside class periods to unpack what is unfolding in Gaza, or it could mean saving just a few minutes for brief discussion. “Mr. Jones starts every class with, ‘tell me what’s going on in the world,’” said Mayer. “Even though that only takes five or ten minutes at the beginning of class, it opens up these conversations that we wouldn’t have otherwise.”

Beyond that, the Walls administration must take steps to assuage teachers’ concern that facilitating discussions could lead to professional repercussions. In their caution, Walls teachers and administration successfully avoided creating space for vitriol, but what we see instead is hardly less catastrophic. The precedent at Walls can no longer be avoidance, which only serves as a breeding ground for ignorance and pent-up hostility.

“In addition to book smarts and street smarts,” said Rosen, “I think there are world smarts–knowing what’s happening in the world.”

“But we aren’t having the space to process what [the Israel-Hamas war] means for us and for our community,” said Mayer. The administration has an incredible opportunity to change that sentiment and make student voices heard. I urge teachers and administration alike to take that step.


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