More than a Strange Question

More than a Strange Question

Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.


In Great Britain approximately 1000 students 15-16 years old last Thursday took the General Certificate of Secondary Education (GCSE) examination in the field of religious education. They  faced a question that was extremely puzzling and inexplicable—though fair on its face: “Explain briefly why some people are prejudiced against Jews?”

The GCSE examination is generally taken in England by students two years prior to graduating high school. If they score sufficiently high on these tests, they then are eligible to take “A” level exam. Those performing well on the GCSE test, which until the late 1980’s was called “O” levels, are generally determined to be tracking to the best universities in Britain with the only question being where.

Against the publicity that this exam has now received in the media, there has been an outcry from Jewish circles, the Minister of Education, and even some non Jewish leaders concerning the hostile and discriminatory picture interpreted to have been inherent in this question. The Secretary of State for Education Michael Gove, M.P., criticized the selection of this question by the AQA, one of the three major English Boards. According to Gove, among the students who sat for the religious education exam some from Jewish schools. 

This relatively appropriate question for students who indeed studied the problem of prejudice reduction is causing such a ruckus because it comes just as the problem of anti-Semitism appears to be growing in the entire education system in Britain, especially at the university level. Placement of this question at this time in the exam accentuates and does not ameliorate prejudices.

In this regard one ought to consider the following question: 

1. Why was the question put on the test in the first place? What was in the mind of the question designer?

2. Imagine the hue and cry which would have been raised had the question been asked of Islam?

3. What is nature of the curriculum in non-Jewish schools to prepare students for answering this question? 

4. Is this question really a not very subtle way to inject anti-Israel feeling into the education system?

It remains to be seen whether a positive outcome can be derived from this unnecessary confrontation.

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