Teaching Against War, for Humanity

By Bill Bigelow

Wars? What wars? On the eve of the U.S. midterm elections, WikiLeaks released the largest cache of classified war documents in history, covering years of U.S. conduct in Iraq. And, as Democracy Now!’s Amy Goodman pointed out, “It barely warranted a mention on the agenda-setting Sunday talk shows.” As columnist Gary Younge commented in The Nation, “The American people, it seems, are bored with war. Like a reality show that’s gone on too long, it ceases to shock, shame, or even interest.”

Regrettably, the school curriculum mirrors this lack of curiosity about the impact of U.S. military intervention thousands of miles from home. One of the most widely used high school global studies texts, McDougal Littell’s Modern World History, includes a propagandistic two pages on the Iraq War. The textbook includes no mention of the massive antiwar protests that preceded the U.S. invasion. The result of the war, according to McDougal Littell: “With the help of U.S. officials, Iraqis began rebuilding their nation.” The book gives George W. Bush the last words: “Free nations will press on to victory.”

The production of teaching materials in the United States is increasingly concentrated in the hands of a few multinational corporations, none with any interest in equipping students with the skills to critically consider issues of war and militarism. Thus, in schools as on the news, wars are either absent or lied about. Sparked by a conversation between the late historian-activist Howard Zinn and a former Zinn student-turned-philanthropist/activist, William Holtzman, the Zinn Education Project created a website, www.zinnedproject.org, to offer teachers materials to counter the dull and conservative fare that is the norm in school classrooms.