When someone early on in a conversation, without prompting, tells you that there is nothing “sinister, evil or vile” happening, your immediate response is to assume that this is sinister, evil and vile.
The item in question is an ad promoting an “essay contest” that appeared in the Newton TAB last week asking Newton North students to submit a 200 to 400 word essay on Israeli/ Palestinian peace AND to list the sources that led them to their conclusion.
Prizes for the winning entries included hundreds of dollars in gift cards to “The Mall at Chestnut Hill”. The ad does not appear in the December 7 issue of the newspaper.
Joshua Resnek, the person whose email is in the ad, admitted that it was designed to unearth curriculum materials about the Israeli/Palestinian conflict that are being taught at North. He was sure to tell me that “there is nothing sinister, evil or vile” involved with this ad.
Specifically the contest rules asks students to:
List all lesson plans, outlines, chapters in specific textbooks, handouts, homework or other work related to this issue assigned to you during the class.
Allegations that anti-Israeli or pro-Palestinian curriculum materials are being taught in Newton Public Schools is not a new issue. A group, led by Newton resident Charles Jacobs of Americans for Peace and Justice, has long sought to prove that Newton is teaching its kids anti-Israeli rhetoric, is continuing its efforts to obtain damaging information where none actually exists.
Not so, says Resnek. He tells me that his group, which he claims is not at all associated with Jacobs, has tried going through official channels to review school curriculum materials but hasn’t received documents.
From what I understand, various document requests under the Freedom of Information Act have been filled with Newton Public Schools but that the petitioners have balked at paying the fees which NPS is allowed by law to charge.
So if we hold Resnek at his word when he says he’s not connected to Charles Jacobs, then who? Resnek claims it’s for a “fella doing a long report on education standards and how things like this are done. It’s footnoted, it’s pretty well done. It’s coming out in several months, the missing piece is Newton North High School.”
So, who is this mysterious researcher?
“He’d rather not be publicly revealed until the study comes out. It’s a well-known educator who has done multiple studies. It’s not Mr. Jacobs or one of his associates.”
But Resnek did say that Russell Pergament — founder of the Newton TAB and someone who has long history of being concerned about an anti-Israeli bias in Newton schools and who does have had a long affiliation with Charles Jacobs and his associates — paid for the ad in the TAB.
Resnek has a resume that includes a long list of articles written for the big players like the Boston Globe, Boston Herald and the New York Times. He founded a publishing company that ran community newspapers in what he calls “post-industrial cities” around Boston. Most recently, he spent 13 months as publisher of the Jewish Journal before starting a couple of papers in Brookline and Newton. Neither paper has an online presence, both have a Facebook page where the ad in question also appeared. No other ads have been posted to the Facebook page.
On the plus side, Resnek told me that no North students have entered the contest. In fact he said not one person has responded to this ad, with the exception of me.
“I had the feeling in composing this that if some students did this they may pay a price for it,” he said. “So not hearing from anybody makes me feel that there is a bit of conspiracy of kids coming forward to do this. But I’m not a conspiracy theorist.”
Or of course, maybe that’s because he ran an ad for an essay contest for teens in a print newspaper and most teens have stopped reading newspapers.
Or perhaps it’s because all this alleged anti-Israeli, Newton Public Schools sanctioned, materials that Jacobs, Resnek, Pergament and others are so worried about simply don’t exist.