The U.S. Public Education System’s Failure to Accurately Educate Students on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict

Sanaa Ghanim ’20 was baffled by what little understanding the U.S. population had on the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. An issue Sanaa cared so deeply about, she began to explore how this subject was being taught in public schools throughout the U.S. and published her findings in Dialogue, SMU’s premier student-run public policy and international studies journal.

We spoke with Sanaa to learn more about her motivations to research this subject and what she learned during her journey.

What made you interested in the topic you researched?

Throughout my years in high school and college, I repeatedly heard the same comment about the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict— “it’s just so complicated.” To me, the facts of the Conflict aren’t complicated at all. What is complicated, however, is how the United States education system inaccurately portrays the Conflict.

I was born on the West Bank in Palestine and in 1999, my family won the United States’ Visa Diversity Lottery. We migrated to the United States and while I have lived in the United States for most of my life, the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict remains the most pertinent issue that shapes my advocacy every day. I have always wanted to understand how Americans understood the issue that I care most deeply about. I was eager to understand what students across this country were being taught in their history classrooms regarding the lived experiences of my people, so I took this research opportunity on. My research measured, analyzed, and critiqued the role of education in shaping perceptions of the longstanding Israeli-Palestinian conflict to yield a guide for an accurate curriculum to be implemented in state-by-state-curriculum.

Sanaa Ghanim

What did you expect to find before starting your research? What surprised you in your findings?

I expected to find more balance in the curriculum that I researched. I was surprised to find that most state curriculums fail to simply acknowledge the Palestinian people. I found that the drafters of state curriculum could refer to the “Israeli-Palestinian Conflict” yet they continued to fall short on providing any information about Palestinians. Most curriculums are solely one-sided and fail to reflect the broader implications and consequences of the Conflict.

What do you hope the reader learns from your research, or takes away? 

I hope that readers learn that accurate and effective education is the foundation of meaningful advocacy, regardless of our varying worldviews. Given the United States’ intimate involvement in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it is critical that American students are provided an education that accurately reflects the world we live in. My hope is that drafters of state curriculum will be more careful in how they confront pressing political issues.

How did researching this topic change your perspective or solidify a stance or belief you had prior to studying this topic?

Researching this topic has served as a reminder to me that there is a lot of work that must be done to reform our education systems. The bottom line is that state-by-state curriculum has historically failed to tell the stories of indigenous people and it continues to fail in this respect today. If we are to have a world that defends the human rights of all people, we must, at the very least, acknowledge and tell the histories of these people.

Read her article and other students works in the latest issue of the Dialogue.

Sanaa Ghanim ‘majored in human rights and English with a minor in Arabic. On campus, she served in leadership positions on Student Senate, the Human Rights Council, Mortar Board, the Library Advisory Board, and the Feminist Equality Movement. She is currently pursuing her Juris Doctorate degree at SMU Dedman School of Law.