PEORIA, Ill. (WMBD) — As the Israel-Hamas war enters a sixth day of fighting, local college professors are highlighting the importance of historical context and facts in the classroom.
The conflict has already claimed more than 2,600 lives on both sides. Palestinian terror group Hamas has taken at least 100 hostages, including some Americans. As the Israeli military prepares for a possible ground invasion of Gaza, more than 6,000 bombs have been dropped on the Palestinian territory since Saturday.
Hamas’ attack on Israel on Saturday represents the escalation of a regional conflict stretching back to the late 1970s.
“The history of the Middle East is very complicated, and students aren’t really familiar with the basic narrative of events… It’s important just to get basic facts correct first before you can move on to really giving an interpretation of why are things happening and how things are happening,” said Dr. Ross Kennedy, professor of history and history department chair at Illinois State University.
Increased polarization of history
Kennedy said increased polarization in politics has led to propaganda and opinions becoming misconstrued as facts.
“Today’s political environment, because of the polarization, history has become less an interpretation based on evidence in political discourse. It’s become just kind of propaganda, and the Arab-Israeli conflict is something that’s perfectly suited for propagandists to try to make their case on,” he said.
The politicization of history is increasing across college campuses, Kennedy said.
“That dynamic is at work on college campuses, there’s no doubt about that… The kind of tribalistic knee-jerk response to things is all over campus. It’s not just on this issue, but on all sorts of issues…History is to discover why something happened and how something happened. It’s not simply to make or score political points,” he said.
A safe space to discuss sensitive topics
At Bradley University, Dr. Tara Leigh Davis, assistant professor of public law and American politics, stressed the importance of meeting students where they are.
“For me, what was important was in my government class, listening to what they had heard. And so I asked a lot of questions about what are you hearing, tell me where you’re getting your information from…So it was really important to me to just lay it all out on the table and then go back through and explain,” she said.
Davis said it’s also important for students to have a safe space so professors can guide them to find the correct information and discuss sensitive topics in neutral ways.
“We can provide a place to learn how to discuss things that are hard…You can talk about this without feeling uncomfortable and without exuding any value judgment on the geopolitical aspects of the Middle East, and I think students deep down get that,” she said.
She added her students have expressed concern for civilians caught in the crossfire, regardless of ethnicity and nationality.