About 100 Oakland teachers held unsanctioned 'teach-in' to discuss Palestinian cause

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Thursday, December 7, 2023
OUSD teacher on why she took part in 'teach-in' for Palestinian cause
Across the Oakland Unified School District, teachers voluntarily took part in a teach-in about the Palestinian cause.

OAKLAND, Calif. (KGO) -- Across the Oakland Unified School District on Wednesday, teachers voluntarily took part in a teach-in about the Palestinian cause.

High school teacher Rachel Talasko is one of them, and explains why she took part and what she hopes it achieves.

"Learn and process though a genocide is very, very complex. And so, for ourselves and for our students, to model for them what that looks like, I felt it was really important and essential," explains Talasko.

Talasko has family who currently live in Israel, so she has a strong understanding of the war in Gaza. Her students took part in a combination of activities from artwork to debate and discussion.

It is estimated that 100 teachers were expected to participate in the teach-in out of the close 2,500 teachers in the district.

"I also offered some expository, history-based resources and videos. I offered a variety of resources that provided joy and beauty and culture of the Palestinian people - food and dance," says Talasko.

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The Oakland Unified School District is opposing the pro-Palestinian lesson planned by teachers next Wednesday.

Oakland Unified School District Superintendent, Dr. Kyla Johnson-Trammel, sent out an email on Monday, making it very clear that the district does not support the teach-in.

The email states, in part, "I am deeply disappointed by the harmful and divisive materials being circulated and promoted as factual." However, Dr. Johnson-Trammel didn't identify any specific examples in the email.

Parent Madeline Elbgal supports the teach-in, especially since the publicly available resource guide clearly outlines the content and the sources - which includes Jewish perspectives.

"This is the information that we are going to be conveying, and this is where it came from, here are the sources. You, parents, are welcome to review those sources. You can also talk to your students about it," says Elbgal, who spoke to teachers about the teach-in.

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Nate Landry is an OUSD parent and one of the organizers of the teach-in. Despite the district's opposition, he says the teach-in is endorsed by the Oakland Education Association, which is the teachers' union.

As Landry points out, the purpose of the teach-in is an attempt "to remedy the lack of diverse viewpoints in the curriculum issued by OUSD on this topic to fill in the gaps in teaching about this decades-long conflict."

"It is rare in American educational settings, or at least it has been in my experience, for Palestinian voices, for Palestinian experience to be centered, and to be purposefully centered and lifted up," says Landry. "And so, I think, also, as we have seen with the backlash to this and some of the concerns around it, it's a political decision, ethical decision, educational decision, that creates intense backlash."

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Like the district, many others raised concerns about the content of the teach-in.

Doctor Oleg Ivanov with the American Jewish Committee calls it biased.

"When Israel was founded in 1948, there is no mention that seven Arab armies immediately invaded Israel," says Dr. Ivanov as one of his critiques of the content.

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He claims the content to be "cherry-picked" to create a narrative that blames Israel, which he says, in turn, leads to increasing antisemitism.

"All this does is exacerbate existing tension already in our community. This is a way to scapegoat Jews in America for something that is happening half way around the world," he says.

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