Iraq War and Education
Editor’s note: This article was written by Samantha Robinson, student at Madison Park High School, in 2004 for the newspaper Love in Action. We reprint it here to remind us all how history is still being taught in mainstream education venues.
Shortly after the U.S. media revealed to the U.S. public the torture and murder of Iraqi prisoners at Abu Ghraib, at the hands of U.S. military “contractors,” we conducted a poll of opinions relative to the approval of the war. This poll was inspired by a poll conducted 33 years ago relative to approval or disapproval of the Vietnam War.
In the poll of 1971, Professor of History at University of Vermont, James Loewen, correlated two variables: Education level vs. views on the war. His hypothesis openly challenged media prejudices. It went like this: In opposition to a media myth about “uneducated” people acting like sheep and agreeing with whatever the U.S. government did, Loewen, a profound critic of U.S. public education, and especially of the way U.S. history is taught, predicted that the more history a citizen was taught in school, the more likely would they be in favor of U.S. government policy.
The following graph shows the result of the 1971 Gallop Poll:
Total Adults/ Grade School/ High School/ College Graduates
Against the war 73%/ 80%/ 75%/ 60%
For the war 27%/ 20%/ 25%/ 40%
Loewen drew the following conclusions apropos to the figures:
He maintained that people with “higher education” in the United States
· … tend to be successful and earn high incomes — partly because schooling leads to better jobs and higher incomes, but mainly because high parental incomes lead to more education for their offspring.
· They identify more with [U.S.] society and its policies. We can use the term vested interest here, as long as we realize we are referring to an ideological interest or need, a need to come to terms with the privilege with which one has been blessed, not simple economic self-interest. In this sense, educated successful people have a vested interest in believing that the society that helped them be educated and successful is fair.
· The more traditional schooling in history that Americans have, the less they will understand Vietnam or any other historically based problem. This is why educated people were more hawkish on the Vietnam War. (Lies My Teacher Told Me, pp300–302)
We entered our poll believing that the same results would incur. There are two key differences between our sample respondent population and that of the Gallop Poll of 33 years ago:
(1) The Gallop Poll was thousands of people; our poll was 267.
(2) The Gallop Poll was drawn from registered voter lists. Therefore, especially in 1971, this group, even in the instance of those who had no high school diplomas, had to be from the socio-economic groupings, “White middle class” and “White upper class.”
Students from Boston Adult Technical Academy drew our first respondents from impoverished Dudley Square area of Boston’s African America. This population, while no more homogeneous than that of the Gallop Poll, was too homogeneous for us. It was overwhelmingly Black and People of Color, and was overwhelmingly people without high school diplomas.
We determined to get a more heterogeneous response, and towards this end students from University High handed out the survey in downtown Boston, near Downtown Crossing T Stop.
Because the responses were so different from the different populations in our survey sample, we have controlled for three variables in our graph below: (1) Education level; (2) Downtown (largely White middle and upper class) vs Dudley Square (overwhelmingly Black and working class); (3) Views in favor of or in opposition to the war being waged by the United States against Iraq.
Boston’s African America Dudley Square
Grade School/ High School/ College/ Advanced Degree
Against the war 82%/ 77%/ 78%/ 81%
For the war 18%/ 23%/ 22%/ 19%
Downtown Boston Downtown Crossing
Grade School/ High School/ College/ Advanced Degree
Against the war 63%/ 64%/ 76%/ 54%
For the war 37%/ 36%/ 24%/ 46%
Our figures show that a greater impact than the brainwashing of U.S. citizens in U.S. history classes is evidenced by the oppression which People of Color face in this society. Because of our special status as bottom of the society, Black folk are less susceptible to the brainwashing visited upon us in the public schools and in higher education. Therefore, Black folk with advanced degrees were much more likely to oppose the war than were White people with the same education level: 81% to 54%. Black folk with advanced degrees were much more likely to oppose the war than were White people of all education levels: 81% to 64%.
Loewen’s hypothesis, in its original form, was confirmed only among the section of the population of the original poll — White middle and upper class people. Among Dudley area respondents there was a statistically insignificant difference determined by education level. Each level was within three percentage points of 80% opposition to this war.
These figures lead us to the conclusion represented by the content of this newspaper, especially in the essays on history contained in this issue: Only a People’s History, that is, a history written by we the people, can teach us what we need to know to become free, powerful, righteous people. History books written for the purpose of making money can only reproduce thought which perpetuates and increases the gap between those who make money and the rest of us who have to work for them.
Loewen concluded his findings with the following dictum:
“Students who have taken more mathematics courses are more proficient at math than other students. The same is true in English, foreign language studies, and almost every other subject. Only in history is stupidity the result of more, not less, schooling” (Lies My Teacher Told Me, p303).
People’s History teaches us that we change the world by fighting for our rights, including our rights to decent education. In this regard we need
· More of our tax money spent on our schools;
· The teaching of history must be about the people;
· The teaching of history should not be designed to engineering us to be obedient followers of government policy;
· All subjects should be taught from the perspective of meeting the educational needs of the people, and the communities — education should be devoted to enhancing our social power, that of our peoples, and that of our communities.