"Teaching About The Wars": New Curriculum from Rethinking Schools

Courtesy of Fairfax Times
By Felicia Gustin
Mar 25, 2013

Jody Sokolower was teaching 9th grade social studies on September 11, 2001. “Progressive teachers at my school and around the country were deeply involved in figuring out how to engage students in critical thinking and social justice issues raised by 9/11,” she pointed out.

“The same was true before the U.S. invasions of Afghanistan and then Iraq. We had meetings, we planned curriculum, we talked with students about going to demonstrations,” Sokolower said.

Sokolower is the editor of a new curriculum, Teaching About The Wars, published by Rethinking Schools to coincide with the 10th anniversary of the U.S. invasion of Iraq. Rethinking Schools is a nonprofit, independent publisher of educational materials and curricula with a strong emphasis on equity and social justice.

What inspired this collection? Sokolower says that as the wars in the Middle East ground on, she noticed a deafening silence.

“Teachers who wouldn't dream of ignoring the Underground Railroad or the Spanish American War weren't teaching their students about the roots of the U.S. wars against Iraq or the current use of drones in Pakistan and Yemen,” she said. “It's almost as if we have accepted endless war as inevitable, as part of the wallpaper.”

Teaching About The Wars also counters the ways textbooks are addressing the U.S. War in Iraq. Bill Bigelow, Rethinking Schools’ Curriculum Editor, authored the article, “Ten Years After: How Not to Teach About the Iraq War,” that examined one of the textbooks commonly used in school districts around the country, Holt McDougal’s Modern World History.

“The section in Modern World History on the U.S. war with Iraq might as well have been written by Pentagon propagandists,” Bigelow writes.

“In an imitation of Fox News, the very first sentence of the Iraq war section places the 9/11 attacks and Saddam Hussein side by side. The book presents the march to invasion as reasonable and inevitable…”

Bigelow told War Times that textbooks like this are “one of the many ways that students are mistaught the realities of war and fed the myth that the United States is a force for justice in the world – already planting ideological seeds for future wars.”

“Of course, the huge corporations that produce texts like Modern World History have no interest in nurturing the kind of critical thought that might generate questions about the interventionist policies of our government—or especially about today’s vast inequalities of wealth and power, which these interventionist policies are intended to further,” says Bigeow. “Holt McDougal, the book’s publisher, is owned by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, a publishing behemoth, with annual sales of more than a billion dollars.”

“This is why we need to create and distribute materials that help teachers not only ‘teach outside the textbook’, but teach against the textbook,” Bigelow stressed.

Teaching about The Wars does just that. Divided into five chapters, the collection includes articles and hands-on lessons that not only cover how the wars unfolded but also look at the wars from multiple vantage points including two not found in text books, the voices of veterans and war resisters and the voices of the people of Iraq and Afghanistan. These perspectives put a human face on the staggering statistics of deaths and casualties.

Contributing authors include Bigelow, educators Kelley Dawson Salas, Hyung Nam, and Ann Pelo, veteran and war resister Camilo Mejia, journalist Margot Pepper, teachers’ union leader Bob Peterson, Faculty of Education professor Dr. Özlem Sensoy, and the late historian and author Howard Zinn, among others.

“It's a contribution—just a beginning, really—toward a conversation among educators about social justice teaching of the wars in the Middle East,” says Sokolower. “We have included curriculum for elementary, middle, and high schools classes; with lots of interactive activities, writing projects, and resources. We hope that these articles will inspire teachers to develop curriculum and teach more about these critical issues.”

Teaching About The Wars is available is both a PDF downloadable format or a paperback version available in mid-April. For more information, CLICK HERE.

The views expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of the entire War Times project

Felicia Gustin has been with War Times since the beginning. She currently works at SpeakOut, a national organization working primarily with colleges, universities, and high schools and dedicated to the advancement of education, racial and social justice, leadership development and activism. She is a long-time activist in international solidarity, peace, racial justice and labor movements. She was a journalist for 10 years in Cuba and is currently working on several projects - an historical memoir and a poetry collection, among others.

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