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The War and Our Students

The War and Our Students

As Rethinking Schools goes to press, Saddam Hussein's regime has collapsed and the United States has begun to establish a new government under the command of a retired U.S. general. This interview was conducted in late March, in the midst of the war.
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Bigelow: I know that you did most of your teaching about Iraq before the war began. Now that the war is underway, what do you think is important for your students to understand about the conflict?

Childs: My students need to be reminded of their critical thinking skills and have opportunities to apply them to the corporate media presentation of this war. I want my students to understand the use of propaganda and the silencing of dissent. The reason I taught my unit well before the invasion began (in September) was because I was afraid the propaganda machine would make it difficult for students to engage in critical analysis. I was afraid that blind patriotism would prevent students from seeing and thinking clearly. I was afraid that dissent would be seen as treachery and that supporting our troops requires supporting the war.

I recommend a wonderful piece by Barbara Kingsolver on this issue, "And Our Flag Was Still There" in her collection of essays called Small Wonder.

Even though I started my unit at the beginning of the year with a lesson that encouraged students to come up with a broad definition of patriotism that included practicing the First Amendment vigorously [see www.rethinking schools.org/war], I thought that as the war started I needed to revisit that point. Sen. John McCain provided a great starting point. As "Operation Iraqi Freedom" began McCain said, "The time for debate is over." So, on the morning after the bombs began to fall in Baghdad, I asked my students whether they agreed with Sen. McCain. We discussed the value of dissent, debate, and critical questions.

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