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June 09, 2010

Exam question angers B'nai Brith, Could promote hatred of Israel, minister says By: Nick Martin,Winnipeg Free Press, June 9, 2010






http://www.winnipegfreepress.com/local/exam-question-angers-bnai-brith-95937224.html

‘The moment I found out about this, I started working with (B’nai Brith). We’re taking this very seriously’ -- Education Minister Nancy Allan



‘The moment I found out about this, I started working with (B’nai Brith). We’re taking this very seriously’ -- Education Minister Nancy Allan (KEN GIGLIOTTI / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS ARCHIVES )

B'nai Brith Canada is furious over a question on last week's Grade 12 provincial language arts exam that it says could promote hatred of Israel.

Education Minister Nancy Allan said Tuesday that she shares the Jewish organization's concern, and has told department of education staff to find out how the question got on the exam, and how "to make sure this doesn't happen again."

The question was part of an exam meant to assess students' ability to read, digest, understand, and analyze written material.

The specific question used as the reading material an article written by Winnipeg singer Chantal Kreviazuk, in which she deplored the horrendous suffering of children in several armed conflicts -- including children killed and maimed in the Gaza Strip by an artillery shell.

Accompanying the article in the exam was the following question: "Explain whether or not you think people in the entertainment industry have a responsibility for making the world a better place?"

B'nai Brith midwest region director Alan Yusim said Kreviazuk's description of injured children will promote anti-Israel hatred among some of the students who wrote the test.

Most students assessing that reading would not have the knowledge or the information before them to conclude anything other than that Israel victimized children, Yusim said. "I don't see which other conclusion you could reach.

"How many said Iran, Hamas, or the Palestinian Authority" were responsible for the events that led to the children's injuries, said Yusim, doubting many students would reach that conclusion.

"The moment I found out about this, I started working with (B'nai Brith)," said Allan. "We're taking this very seriously.

"This is the very first time we have ever had concerns about test material, and we are evaluating the process," said Allan.

She said all material for the Grade 12 language arts provincial test -- worth 30 per cent of a student's final mark -- goes through a lengthy process involving educators, including a test devlopment committee of 10 language arts teachers. The evaluation includes an assessment of bias or cultural sensitivity in the material.

"The article is out of a book of essays written by high-profile women, Dropped Threads," said Allan.

She said one student -- whom the province is not identifying -- became upset by the question while writing the exam, and will be evaluated on the rest of the test, with that question omitted.

B'nai Brith wants the department of education to check every student's paper, and count the anti-Israel comments.

"Pull aside each one in which the student mentioned Israel as a victimizer," said Yusim.

Allan said there is already a process in which teachers marking the tests identify and bring forward any concerns about students' answers.

Yusim said B'nai Brith first became aware of the question after students wrote the exam, which was too late to do anything about its being on the exam. B'nai Brith wants the province to measure the impact of the question on the students who wrote, consider some form of remedial action, and figure out a positive way to avoid such situations in the future.

The question would have been a problem at any time, he said, but especially now, given the international reaction to the violence around an aid flotilla trying to pass through an Israel blockade in recent days.

nick.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 9, 2010 A5

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