Conflict Besets Andover High

January 8, 2007

Author: Tracy Jan

Source: The Boston Globe

ANDOVER -- The social studies teachers say they merely wanted to provide their students different perspectives about conflict in the Middle East when they invited a group with a history of condemning Israel's treatment of Palestinians to speak at Andover High School.

The teachers never expected that their invitation to the group Wheels of Justice would set off the firestorm that has ensued, pitting student against student, teacher against teacher, and rabbi against minister in this affluent suburb north of Boston.

The climate at the high school has grown hostile, students say, as friends argue over how to balance the right to hear all views with sensitivity to individual beliefs. One Jewish teacher said two colleagues harassed her when she refused to sign a petition to bring in the Wisconsin-based group. Many parents are supporting the teachers who invited the group, which spoke to social studies classes on Friday. But more than 50 others who opposed the group's appearance formed a "Committee Against Hate Speech in School."

The debate highlights the struggle faced by school systems to teach students to think critically about explosive world events without alienating the communities they serve.

"This is an issue that is surrounded by emotion, and it's easy to lose sight of some aspect of what the event might actually be," said Peter Anderson, principal of Andover High. "In this day and age, the most important thing we do is to teach students to be intelligently critical."

This week, in an attempt to ease some of the tensions, Anderson plans to invite a second set of speakers with a different view of the strife between Palestinians and Israelis.