Date December 21, 2023
Media Contact

Brown confronts false characterizations of its Choices Program school curriculum

Misleading reports give grossly inaccurate narrative of renowned secondary school materials referencing academic views on Israel, Palestine and the Middle East.

PROVIDENCE, R.I. [Brown University] — Brown University is pushing back against recent news stories that have the effect of cultivating a false narrative against its renowned and well-regarded Choices Program, which creates curriculum for history and current issues courses taught in secondary schools across the country. A story appearing in an online publication this month, subsequently referenced in news outlets, mischaracterized aspects of Choices Program curriculum on the Middle East that includes a range of scholarly material on Israel and Palestine. The article also includes false claims about funding from the State of Qatar.

Brown leaders and program organizers maintain that any claims that the curriculum is antisemitic are blatantly and egregiously false. Reports and concerns about Brown’s Choices curriculum seem to be based on an article that quoted from one element of a full set of school materials that, by design, present divergent views on the historical Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Instructors are given guidance on how to use the rigorous curriculum, encouraging students to hear multiple perspectives of the debate of the historical and contemporary conflict, according to leaders at Brown.

“A writer selectively extracted words and phrases to fit a constructed narrative critical of the role of education in campus climate around the Middle East conflict and issues of Israel-Palestine,” Brown leaders said. “It has been troubling to see some news outlets begin to simply echo that narrative without contacting Brown University at any time to discern whether the characterization of the Choices Program curriculum on the Middle East was accurate. It definitively is not.”

Brown’s Choices Program is designed to help educators guide thoughtful consideration of diverse views as part of a rigorous curriculum. For more than 30 years, Choices has provided carefully researched scholarship to help educators teach about challenging issues. A key element of this has always been presenting multiple perspectives and sources that can be in tension or even conflict with each other.

Choices curriculum materials address the topic of antisemitism both historically and in terms of the contemporary threats and growing violence against Jewish people. These include full curriculum units on genocide, terrorism, the Russian Revolution, and human rights, as well as the Middle East. Choices has partnered with organizations such as Echoes and Reflections, the renowned Illinois Holocaust Museum near Chicago, and numerous Holocaust and genocide centers to put its curricular materials in the hands of teachers nationwide.

It is common for Choices curriculum materials to present strongly opposing points of view and then ask students to evaluate them and develop their own questions and conclusions. The carefully designed lessons invite students to challenge and grapple with different perspectives from diverse viewpoints.

“We recognize that the issues covered in some of our curricular materials, and in particular our unit on the Middle East, are of deep importance to many people,” program administrators said. “Indeed, the text itself acknowledges this explicitly and repeatedly as the following excerpt indicates:

“Note: These sources focus on Israel and the Palestinian territories of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank. The people who live in the area have different beliefs about what this land should be called, who should govern it, and who has a right to live there. The state of Israel was created in 1948, but it has not been recognized by all people or states in the Middle East. Israel’s borders have shifted over the course of a decades-long conflict that continues today. The adjacent territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip are widely recognized as Palestinian territories, but the borders between Israel and these territories continue to be a subject of disagreement. This text acknowledges this complex and contentious history.” (Source: The Middle East: Questions for U.S. Policy, Choices Program, Providence, Rhode Island, 2022.)"

Choices Program materials focus on developing analytical skills so that students can engage thoughtfully and carefully with difficult topics and conflicting ideas. With Choices based in Brown’s history department, program leaders work directly with professors, public scholars, educators, policymakers and other experts who contribute to developing and reviewing curriculum units. Choices staff also work with those experts to include up-to-date information for new and updated units.

The curriculum comes with a strong recommendation to educators that the materials be considered in their entirety — including readings, lesson plans, primary sources and video content. It is in this full context that the value of teaching multiple perspectives can be understood and evaluated, according to the University.

“We unequivocally reject claims that including views about the range of scholarship on the Middle East is antisemitic,” Brown leaders said. “As is the case with many subjects in the social sciences and humanities in a rigorous education, students must be encouraged to learn based on interrogating and confronting a range of perspectives.”

Some news reports have extracted words and phrases from scholars from around the world from the fields of history, humanities, Middle East studies and American studies, a subset from a broad range of multifaceted materials.

“Including content from one set of viewpoints among many does not mean that the materials in general represent that one viewpoint,” Brown leaders said. “The curriculum is appropriately inclusive of a range viewpoints and academic scholarship.”

False claims about Choices Program funding

In addition to the mischaracterizations about the educational materials, claims that the State of Qatar has funded any element of the Choices Program are blatantly false, Brown leaders said. Qatar Foundation International (QFI), a U.S.-based educational nonprofit organization not affiliated with the government of Qatar, has never contributed money to the Choices Program. Rather, QFI purchased and distributed a selection of existing Choices curriculum units to 75 teachers whose districts didn't have funding to buy them. 

QFI also co-sponsored a Choices Program workshop for Wyoming teachers, along with the Wyoming Geographic Alliance, in 2019. QFI had no input or editorial control over the workshop or the content in the curriculum units. 

“A basic principle of the Choices Program and Brown University is academic freedom and scholarly integrity,” Brown leaders said. “There are no political or editorial interventions into our work, and we would reject any funding that attempted to impose restrictions or conditions on our materials.”