(Radio 4 Today 7:13)
A religious studies exam question, “Explain why some people are prejudiced against Jews”, has sparked controversy over whether it is a reasonable question to put to young people. Jon Benjamin, chief executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, discusses the question.
So says the Today website.
“You’re sitting an exam on religious studies. Question: Explain briefly why some people are prejudiced against Jews. Well, is that a reasonable question to ask young people?” asks Evan Davis.
The chairman of the National Association of Teachers of Religious Education thinks not. He suggests it was appropriate for a classroom discussion, to tease out why “these” prejudices arose, but when put as an exam question “you’ve lost the context” and it implies that the prejudices might be valid. Jon Benjamin agrees. He says the question doesn’t ask for an analysis of ‘prejudice’, but virtually asks for a list of what’s wrong with Jews.
“If a student came up with such a list,” posits Evan, “they’d get an appalling mark.” (Probably.) Evan tried to illustrate the difference between the words ‘explain’ and ‘justify’ by making an analogy that involved substituting ‘Jews’ with ‘criminals’ and ‘self-harmers’.
It begged the question, could one replace ‘Jew’ with ‘Muslim’ here? Not that that would be helpful, because of course the zeitgeist that culminated in the holocaust is generally known to have been founded on ‘irrational fear ignorance and scapegoating.’ Suffice it to say that so far, dare I say, most prejudice against Muslims appears to be founded on the rational fear of misogyny, homophobia, antisemitism and terrorism. What’s more, no exam board would imagine for one nano second that they could get away with asking a question like that.
Evan’s snippet of an item was misleading and counterproductive. If it wasn’t for the fact that antisemitism is rearing its ugly head all over again, this whole furore would be a bit of nonsense. I’ll explain why.
“The exam board insisted that the question was part of a paper focusing on Judaism and the “relevant part of the syllabus covers prejudice and discrimination with reference to race, religion and the Jewish experience of persecution”.
“We would expect [students to refer] to the Holocaust to illustrate prejudice based on irrational fear, ignorance and scapegoating,” she said.“Part of the syllabus is that children must study the causes and origins of prejudice against Jews.”
So in that context the same isolated, clumsily-phrased question is arguably a good thing, which we might now see in a completely different light.
If Evan’s poor little snippet of an item had started off with that information, and he hadn’t sensationalised and isolated the question from its context, it might not have looked like an ill-conceived blunder by the exam board at all, but considering the BBC’s long-term barrage of one sided, out of context reports about Israel, it’s become impossible to ask a question like that without causing offence. In fact the whole caboodle needed to be seen in context, not just the offending question. If it wasn’t for the BBC setting the scene over decades with their ever-present antisemitic innuendos and half-stories, posing such a sensitive question in an exam could have been thought-provoking and perhaps even positive. As it is, everyone concerned made mountain of a touchy, hyper sensitive issue that should have been a molehill.