Representations of the Middle East and Islam in U.S. Public High School Education

By Melissa Levinson
Submitted to Session S5055 (Undergraduate Research Poster Session, 2017 Annual Meeting
North America;
Arab Studies;
While a plethora of existing research examines the widespread negative stereotypes of Muslims and Arabs in U.S. mass media, there is a dearth of research on the impacts of public education on American attitudes toward Arabs and Muslims. Public education is a means by which societies ensure certain knowledge and world outlooks are passed on to the next generation. This knowledge is often presented as factual, unbiased information, yet the representations found in schools are embedded in a larger conflict over the politics of knowledge. Through textbooks and state standards, state and federal governments, special interest groups, and for-profit companies dictate what students learn about groups of people around the world. Therefore, my research seeks to understand the portrayals of the Middle East and Islam in U.S. public education and how these representations came about. Specifically, this study uses the six most widely used high school world history textbooks, state standards from Texas, Florida, and California, and a series of interviews with textbook and state standards writers to determine the extent to which politics influence the portrayals of Arabs and Muslims in the U.S. education system. I hope that by determining how these representations emerged, we can better understand how to reform the way these subjects are taught and thus improve students’ perceptions of the region and religion.