An antisemitic exam?

by Richard on May 25, 2012

Students sitting their GCSE RE exam last week were asked, “Explain, briefly, why some people are prejudiced against Jews.” Jon Benjamin, Chief Executive of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, told the BBC’s Today programme that the question was “incredibly badly worded” because it invites students to list things that are objectionable about Jews.

“This is the wrong question, an ill-conceived question, in the wrong place. It invites students to list as many things as they can think of that are objectionable about Jews, and one wonders what the model answer would be… it’s a very unhealthy thing to be asking 16-year-olds in an exam.”

I think the Board of Deputies has got the wrong end of the stick on this, but there’s an easy way to find out. If the AQA would publish the mark scheme for the question, we’d know for sure if students were being invited to “list as many things as they can think of that are objectionable about Jews”.

I do think that the argument that this question is not strictly about Judaism has some force. How much force depends on the context of the question: I wonder if the whole exam paper is available?

{ 7 comments… read them below or add one }

1

tortoise 05.25.12 at 2:58 pm

Hmm. Whilst on an objective level I’m inclined to agree with you Richard, at the same time I can’t help feeling intensely uncomfortable with the question as it is worded.

OK, the use of the term ‘prejudice’ should highlight the inherent injustice of an anti-semitic stance; but I’d have been much happier if the question had continued along the lines of “… and how such prejudice might be rebutted.”

2

Richard 05.25.12 at 7:47 pm

My daughter, who is half way through GCSE studies (but not RE: I persuaded her to do French instead) was of the opinion that a question like this one would be taken by some as an opportunity to indulge in antisemitism, so perhaps I was hasty. I’d still like to see the mark scheme to find out what the examiners were looking for.

3

Ric 05.28.12 at 1:50 am

Since the genie is out of the bottle it be useful to find out, after all the papers have been marked, what percentage of students think that there are sound, valid and genuine reasons for people to be prejudiced against Jews. This might well give a more accurate picture of the extent of antisemitism in the young adult population than any focus group.
The problem with the question becomes apparent if it is read (as it can be) in this way: ‘What did Jews do to make people prejudiced against them?’ The answer to this question is, of course, ‘Nothing!’ The unreasoning hatred of Jews has been embedded in European history for the past 2,000 years, flaring up from time to time in crusades, expulsions, pogroms and culminating in the Holocaust. Pretexts were found for all of these: but they all are evidence of problems within the wider community, not within Jews or Judaism.
A case could be made for this question being asked in a History paper in the context of study of the Crusades, 19th-century Eastern Europe, or WWII. It can have no legitimate place in RE.

4

Richard 05.28.12 at 8:06 am

I agree Ric - a survey of completed papers could be very useful. I don’t agree that your suggested reading of the question is in any way reasonable, especially in the context of an RE paper. I’d like to know more about that context: was this a single (standalone) question, or part of something larger, for example?

5

Ric 05.28.12 at 10:40 am

Good point, Richard!

6

Jen 05.29.12 at 3:58 pm

I agree with Ric, it sounds more like a history question than an RE question. I took an RE short course GCSE which was all about debating the big questions to do with religion and ethics and although we did look at discrimination issues, I can’t imagine it coming up on that exam.

7

Richard 05.29.12 at 4:48 pm

The AQA have posted a statement on their website. Looking at past papers, the issue of prejudice always features on the Judaism paper, though not always worded in the way it was on this one.

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