Originally published 03/19/2013
Jonathan Zimmerman is a professor of education and history at New York University. He is the author of Small Wonder: The Little Red Schoolhouse in History and Memory and three other books. Upon the 10th anniversary of America’s war in Iraq, a critical question with serious ramifications has been little explored: What are our children being taught in schools about the conflict, as it passes from “current events” into history?To answer this question, one obvious place to start is school textbooks. I looked at several of them, and was happily surprised. The books present a fairly complex and balanced view of the war in Iraq, avoiding the falsehoods and sugarcoating that has so often marred American history instruction. But textbooks only tell part of the story.Just as important is what is actually emphasized in the classrooms, and the ability of teachers to engage in real inquiry. Unfortunately, a combination of school policies and judicial decisions have made it so that many kids learn little or nothing about what we have done in Iraq, or why we have done it.