They can't comprehend that education is superior in Communism
You're right about that, most of us don't believe it.
I don't know that the average American had any particular conception of life in Poland as opposed to life in the other Warsaw Pact countries. The exception would be those who had some sort of family tie to there.
I believe my generation largely viewed the WP countries as unlucky (in regard to post-war fortunes) and moderately oppressed. There was considerable confusion with regard to understanding the differences in life, politics, freedoms, etc. between them and the USSR republics such as Azerbaijan, Georgia and Ukraine. We were aware that Radio Free America/Europe were broadcasting into the area with the goal of providing a different information source ot the people and, probably, hoping that those who were resisting Communist Party rule would be emboldened in their efforts. I know we were happy when people made it across the border and saddened in the high profile cases where people were shot or recaptured as they tried to "escape". Most of us couldn't quite understand why a country would put up fences to keep their people from leaving.
During the height of the Cold War there was certainly fear of Russian missiles but, honestly, I never quite understood the Cuban missile crisis. It was a bit embarrassing for my Dad (who worked for the Department of Defense on an Admiral's staff) that I continually wondered why we cared if missiles were in Cuba since we had them at bases in Europe and on the submarines offshore. At worst, the animosity was for the military personnel and we felt the populations were somewhat over-controlled in a manner like a large, open-air prison. Those escapees in Berlin, the Baltic, defectors such as Stalin's daughter, Barishnikov and Godunov, sailors attempting to jump from ships and accounts of informers and all contributed to the perception of how things probably were in the satellites as well as the USSR proper. Stories of travel restrictions, lagging consumer goods technologies and political indoctrination programs also formed a big part of the impressions we had of the life being led behind the curtain.
Even Brit literature and travel guides contributed to the picture. Stories about being sure to bring toilet paper, sink/tub plugs, being careful with picture-taking and talking to locals didn't help the image. The reports on the invasions and interventions in uprisings from Yugoslavia, Hungary and such were all part of the picture we had.
Speaking for myself I would say that some perceptions proved accurate, others less so. The bleak apartment buildings, relatively few cars, hot water interruptions, unsteady power grids and dense living conditions all seemed to prove true. The public transport was much better than expected. The super-wide and wider than normal sidewalks were a pleasant surprise. History was slightly better-preserved than expected. Education seemed to be much more focused on tasks than theory resulting in high literacy balanced against less understanding of the overall subject. The demeanor of the people was more introverted and "suspicious" but the causes for that are still a speculation for me.