Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

by James W. Loewen

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Overview

“Every teacher, every student of history, every citizen should read this book. It is both a refreshing antidote to what has passed for history in our educational system and a one-volume education in itself.”
—Howard Zinn

A new edition of the national bestseller and American Book Award winner, with a new preface by the author

Since its first publication in 1995, Lies My Teacher Told Me has become one of the most important—and successful—history books of our time. Having sold nearly two million copies, the book also won an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship and was heralded on the front page of the New York Times.

For this new edition, Loewen has added a new preface that shows how inadequate history courses in high school help produce adult Americans who think Donald Trump can solve their problems, and calls out academic historians for abandoning the concept of truth in a misguided effort to be “objective.”

What started out as a survey of the twelve leading American history textbooks has ended up being what the San Francisco Chronicle calls “an extremely convincing plea for truth in education.” In Lies My Teacher Told Me , James W. Loewen brings history alive in all its complexity and ambiguity. Beginning with pre-Columbian history and ranging over characters and events as diverse as Reconstruction, Helen Keller, the first Thanksgiving, the My Lai massacre, 9/11, and the Iraq War, Loewen offers an eye-opening critique of existing textbooks, and a wonderful retelling of American history as it should—and could—be taught to American students.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620973929
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 07/17/2018
Pages: 480
Sales rank: 15,884
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

James W. Loewen has won the American Book Award, the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship, the Spirit of America Award from the National Council for the Social Studies, and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. He is professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont and lives in Washington, DC.

Read an Excerpt

INTRODUCTION


SOMETHING HAS GONE VERY WRONG


It would be better not to know so many things than to know so many things that are
not so
. —JOSH BILLINGS

American history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible
than anything anyone has ever said about it.
—JAMES BALDWIN

Concealment of the historical truth is a crime against the people.

—GEN. PETROG. GRIGERNKO, SAMIZDAT LETTER TO A HISTORY JOURNAL, c. 1975 ,USSR

Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat the eleventh grade.

—JAMES W. LOEWEN


HIGH SCHOOL STUDENTS hate history. When they list their favorite subjects, history invariably comes in last. Students consider history “the most irrelevant” of twenty- one subjects commonly taught in high school. Bor-r-ring is the adjective they apply to it. When students can, they avoid it, even though most students get higher grades in history than in math, science, or English. Even when they are forced to take classes in history, they repress what they learn, so every year or two another study decries what our seventeen-year-olds don’t know.


Even male children of affluent white families think that history as taught in high school is “too neat and rosy.” African American, Native American, and Latino students view history with a special dislike. They also learn history especially poorly. Students of color do only slightly worse than white students in mathematics. If you’ll pardon my grammar, nonwhite students do more worse in English and most worse in history. Something intriguing is going on here: surely history is not more difficult for minorities than trigonometry or Faulkner.


Students don’t even know they are alienated, only that they “don’t like social studies” or “aren’t any good at history.” In college, most students of color give history departments a wide berth. Many history teachers perceive the low morale in their classrooms. If they have a lot of time, light domestic responsibilities, sufficient resources, and a flexible principal, some teachers respond by abandoning the overstuffed textbooks and reinventing their American history courses. All too many teachers grow disheartened and settle for less. At least dimly aware that their students are not requiting their own love of history, these teachers withdraw some of their energy from their courses. Gradually they end up going through the motions, staying ahead of their students in the textbooks, covering only material that will appear on the next test.


College teachers in most disciplines are happy when their students have had
significant exposure to the subject before college. Not teachers in history. History professors in college routinely put down high school history courses. A colleague of mine calls his survey of American history “Iconoclasm I and II,” because he sees his job as disabusing his charges of what they learned in high school to make room for more accurate information. In no other field does this happen. Mathematics professors, for instance, know that non- Euclidean geometry is rarely taught in high school, but they don’t assume that Euclidean geometry was mistaught. Professors of English literature don’t presume that Romeo and Juliet was misunderstood in high school. Indeed, history is the only field in which the more courses students take, the stupider they become.


Perhaps I do not need to convince you that American history is important. More than any other topic, it is about us. Whether one deems our present society wondrous or awful or both, history reveals how we arrived at this point. Understanding our past is central to our ability to understand ourselves and the world around us. We need to know our history, and according to sociologist C. Wright Mills, we know we do.


Outside of school, Americans show great interest in history. Historical
novels, whether by Gore Vidal ( Lincoln, Burr, et al. ) or Dana Fuller Ross ( Idaho!, Utah!, Nebraska!, Oregon!, Missouri!, and on! and on! ) often become bestsellers. The National Museum of American History is one of the three big draws of the Smithsonian Institution. The series The Civil War attracted new audiences to public television. Movies based on historical incidents or themes are a continuing source of fascination, from Birth of a Nation through Gone With the Wind to Dances with Wolves , JFK, and Saving Private Ryan. Not history itself but traditional American history courses turn students off.


Our situation is this: American history is full of fantastic and important stories. These stories have the power to spellbind audiences, even audiences of difficult seventh graders. These same stories show what America has been about and are directly relevant to our present society. American audiences, even young ones, need and want to know about their national past. Yet they sleep through the classes that present it.


What has gone wrong?


We begin to get a handle on this question by noting that textbooks dominate
American history courses more than they do any other subject. When I first came across that finding in the educational research literature, I was dumbfounded. I would have guessed almost anything else—plane geometry, for instance. After all, it would be hard for students to interview elderly residents of their community about plane geometry, or to learn about it from library books or old newspaper files or the thousands of photographs and documents at the Library of Congress website. All these resources—and more—are relevant to American history. Yet it is in history classrooms, not geometry, where students spend more time reading from their textbooks, answering the fifty-five boring questions at the end of each chapter, going over those answers aloud, and so on.


Between the glossy covers, American history textbooks are full of information— overly full. These books are huge. The specimens in my original collection of a dozen of the most popular textbooks averaged four and a half pounds in weight and 888 pages in length. To my astonishment, during the last twelve years they grew even larger. In 2006 I surveyed six new books. (Owing to publisher consolidation, there no longer are twelve.) Three are new editions of “legacy textbooks,” descended from books originally published half a century ago; three are “new new” books. These six new books average 1,150 pages and almost six pounds! I never imagined they would get bigger. I had thought—hoped?—that the profusion of resources on the Web would make it obvious that these behemoths are obsolete. The Web did not exist when the earlier batch of textbooks came into being. In those days, for history textbooks to be huge made some sense: students in Bogue Chitto, Mississippi, say, or Beaver Dam, Wisconsin, had few resources in American history other than their textbooks. No longer: today every school that has a phone line is connected to the Web. There students can browse hundreds of thousands of primary sources including newspaper articles, the census, historic photographs, and original documents, as well as secondary interpretations from scholars, citizens, other students, and rascals and liars. No longer is there any need to supply students with nine months’ reading between the covers of one book, written or collected by a single set of authors.


The new books are so huge that they may endanger their readers. Each of the 1,104 pages in The American Journey is wider and taller than any page in the twelve already enormous high school textbooks in my original sample. Surely at 5.6 pounds, Journey is the heaviest book ever assigned to middle- school children in the history of American education. (At more than $84, it may also be the most expensive.) A new nonprofit organization, Backpack Safety America, has formed, spurred by chiropractors and other health care professionals. Its mission is “to reduce the weight of textbooks and backpacks.” In the meantime, pending that accomplishment, chiropractors are visiting schools teaching proper posture and lifting techniques.


Publishers, too, realize that the books look formidably large, so they try to disguise their total page count by creative pagination. Journey , for example, has 1,104 pages but manages to come in under a thousand by using separate numbering for thirty-two pages at the front of the book and seventy-two pages at the end. Students aren’t fooled. They know these are by far the heaviest volumes to lug home, the largest to hold in the lap, and the hardest to get excited about.


Editors also realize how daunting these books appear to the poor children who must read them, so they provide elaborate introductions and enticements, beginning with the table of contents. For The Americans , for example, a 1,358- page textbook from McDougal Littell weighing in at almost seven pounds, the table of contents runs twenty-two pages. It is profusely illustrated and has little colored banners with titles like “Geography Spotlight,” “Daily Life,” and “Historical Spotlight.” Right after it comes a three-page layout, “Themes in History” and “Themes in Geography.” Then come hints on how to read the complex, disjointed thirty- to forty-page chapters. “Each chapter begins with a two-page chapter opener,” it says. “Study the chapter opener to help you get ready to read.”


“Oh, no,” groan students. “Nothing good will come of this.” They know that no one has to tell them how to get ready to read a Harry Potter book or any other book that is readable. Something different is going on here.


Unfortunately, having a still bigger book only spurs conscientious teachers to spend even more time making sure students read it and deal with its hundreds of minute questions and tasks. This makes history courses even more boring. Publishers then try to make their books more interesting by inserting various special aids to give them eye appeal. But these gimmicks have just the opposite effect. Many are completely useless, except to the marketing department. Consider the little colored banners in the table of contents of The Americans. No student would ever need to have a list of the “Geography Spotlights” in this book. One spotlight happens to be “The Panama Canal,” but the student seeking information on the canal would find it by looking in the index in the back, not by surmising that it might be a Geography Spotlight, then finding that list within the twenty- two pages of contents in the front, and then scanning it to see if Panama Canal appears. The only possible use for these bannered lists is for the sales rep to point to when trying to get a school district to adopt the book.


The books are huge so that no publisher will lose an adoption because a book has left out a detail of concern to a particular geographical area or group. Textbook authors seem compelled to include a paragraph about every U.S. president, even William Henry Harrison and Millard Fillmore. Then there are the review pages at the end of each chapter. The Americans , to take one example, highlights 840 “Main Ideas Within Its Main Text.” In addition, the text contains 310 “Skill Builders,” 890 “Terms and Names,” 466 “Critical Thinking” questions, and still other projects within its chapters. And that’s not counting the hundreds of terms and questions in the two- page reviews that follow each chapter. At year’s end, no student can remember 840 main ideas, not to mention 890 terms and countless other factoids. So students and teachers fall back on one main idea: to memorize the terms for the test on that chapter, then forget them to clear the synapses for the next chapter. No wonder so many high school graduates cannot remember in which century the Civil War was fought!


Students are right: the books are boring. The stories that history textbooks tell are predictable; every problem has already been solved or is about to be solved. Textbooks exclude conflict or real suspense. They leave out anything that might reflect badly upon our national character. When they try for drama, they achieve only melodrama, because readers know that everything will turn out fine in the end. “Despite setbacks, the United States overcame these challenges,” in the words of one textbook. Most authors of history textbooks don’t even try for melodrama. Instead, they write in a tone that if heard aloud might be described as “mumbling lecturer.” No wonder students lose interest.

Table of Contents

Contents

Acknowledgments

Introduction: Something Has Gone Very Wrong

1 Handicapped by History: The Process of Hero-making

2 1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus

5 The Truth about the First Thanksgiving

4 Red Eyes

5 "Gone with the Wind": The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks

6 John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks

7 The Land of Opportunity

8 Watching Big Brother: What Textbooks Teach about the Federal Government

9 Down the Memory Hole: The Disappearance of the Recent Past

10 Progress Is Our Most Important Product

11 Why Is History Taught Like This?

12 What Is the Result of Teaching History Like This?

Afterword: The Future Lies Ahead — and What to Do about Them

Notes

Appendix

Index

Reading Group Guide

Lies My Teacher Told Me
James W. Loewen

Questions and Topics For Discussion:

  1. Loewen identifies herofication as a key practice of textbook scholarship. What does he mean by herofication? What are the key elements of the herofication process?
  2. What are the aims and purposes of herofication? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  3. What is a social archetype? How are they constructed? How are social archetypes related to the herofication process? Can one exist without the other? Why or why not?
  4. What does Loewen mean when he says that herofication is a “degenerative process”?
  5. How does Loewen redress Wilson’s and Keller’s herofication? What do you believe is gained or lost in his redress?
  6. Identify the five significant developments that Loewen credits with paving the way for Europeans to dominate the world in the beginning of the 15th century.
  7. What is cognitive dissonance? What part does it play in the US’s evolving conceptions of Indians?
  8. What are the social archetypes present in most history textbooks’ retelling of the Christopher Columbus story? What purpose do these archetypes serve?
  9. What do anthropologists mean by the term syncretism? What does syncretism reveal about the nature of cultures? How does it impact our understanding of the developments that made Columbus’s first voyage possible?
  10. Identify the elements of Columbus’s discovery narratives that are being challenged by historians and scholars. What are the actual facts of Christopher Columbus’s first voyage?
  11. Loewen suggests that portions of Columbus’s narrative were added to make a better myth for textbook readers. What does Loewen’s use of the term myth do to your conception of the story? Is it a useful designation? Why or why not?
  12. Loewen credits Columbus with two phenomena. What are they and how do they continue to inform US relations with foreign nations today?
  13. What does Loewen’s analysis of the word “settlers” reveal about the predispositions of language? Can you identify other words that are similarly loaded with meaning? What are these words and how can you shift their meaning as Loewen does?
  14. What role does syncretism play in Loewen’s re-envisioning of the First Thanksgiving?
  15. Explain the role that climate and diseases play in the European “settling” of New England. How does the inclusion of these two elements in Loewen’s analysis challenge popular history? What can you conclude Native Americans’ way of life prior to their European encounter?
  16. What are the social archetypes that appear in this chapter of Lies? How do they serve the Thanksgiving story?
  17. Through his demonstration of the ritualized nature of the celebration, Loewen proposes that Thanksgiving has been raised to the status of religious practice in the U.S. Do you agree with his analysis? Why or why not?
  18. How do Native Americans’ interactions with Europeans shift the balance of power within and among tribes? What elements of Native American and European cultures were enhanced and/or sacrificed?
  19. How does the “primitive to civilized continuum” continue to resonate in the stories textbooks tell about Native Americans? Why does it persist?
  20. What does the term cultural imperialism mean? How do the dynamics of the Native American slave trade give rise to it in the Americas?
  21. Identify the impact of Native American traditions on the values and institutions held in high esteem in the US.
  22. What were the long term repercussions of the end of the War of 1812 on conflicts between Native Americans and the United States? Why has the full effect of this war remained unexplored in history textbooks?
  23. What is the “magnolia myth”? How was it used in the debate about slavery
  24. How does Loewen define racism? What does he identify as its cause? Does his definition alter your conception of racism? How?
  25. What is the relationship between slavery and racism? How does each inform the other? Is there a distinction in each without the presence of the other? What are these distinctions?
  26. How does Loewen suggest that textbooks can better redress and deconstruct racism as a process?
  27. How did the US’s preoccupation with securing its border from fleeing slaves impact its foreign and domestic policies prior to the Civil War?
  28. What is the Confederate Myth of Reconstruction? How do textbooks foster and support this myth? What social archetypes do textbooks employ in the service of this myth?
  29. How does Loewen reframe the problem of Reconstruction? How does his reframing impact our understanding of the period known as the “nadir of American race relations”?
  30. What were the major legislative measures that marked the “nadir of American race relations” period? What was their resultant impact on the lives of African Americans? How did these measures challenge or reinforce the problem of Reconstruction?
  31. What does Loewen reveal about the challenge of upward mobility for African Americans? How was this challenge similar and different for Native Americans?
  32. How have textbooks’ portraits of John Brown changed through time? What do these shifts communicate about the relationship of time and ideas?
  33. What is the legacy of John Brown? How should he be judged?
  34. What were the contradictions and inconsistencies in Confederate arguments and behaviors as they sought to preserve and rationalize slavery?
  35. How might textbook representations of Brown and Lincoln increase readers’ awareness of the nuanced and complex nature of ideas, people, and behavior?
  36. How do textbooks shortchange American idealism in the Reconstruction era? What is the lasting impact on American ideologies, particularly their relationships with institutions?
  37. How does social class define and constrain individual and group experiences of opportunities in America?
  38. What are the “hidden injuries of class”? What are their long term effects?
  39. What are some of the reasons why teachers avoid discussions of social class? Why is this avoidance ultimately a disservice to students?
  40. What arguments do Loewen use to support his contention that opportunity is not equal in America? How do immigrants support or challenge his views?
  41. How do American textbooks perpetuate the myth of upward mobility? What is the relationship between upward mobility and presumptions of merit? Do you agree with the myth label? Why or why not?
  42. What social archetypes do textbooks employ to circumvent class and labor narratives?

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Lies My Teacher Told Me 4 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 231 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As most of us know, the winners write the textbooks and if you know much about the textbook industry, it is blatantly obvious that politics plays a huge role in what gets published. There can be absolutely no doubt that this country has refused to acknowledge its own sins of the past, particularly where the Native American issue is concerned. As a career educator and administrator in the public sector, I have witnessed (and unfortunately, been guilty of) teaching sketchy, often misleading, and sometimes completely false historical information to public school students. We don't have a choice oftentimes, because to teach in opposition to the adopted textbook, or to even expand on it and give a more multi-faceted view, is controversial and could lead to the loss of a teaching job. Again, politics raises its ugly head, at the expense of the truth. So, Bravo! to Mr. Loewen for having the nerve to present an opposing viewpoint. Those who have been completely indoctrinated into the current radical right wing mindset will have much difficulty with this book, because it would require a major paradigm shift for them. And, as we know, the very term 'conservative' implies sameness, follower, unexcepting of differing views, etc. A paradigm shift requires kicking over sacred cows, and re-evaluating belief systems it requires casting a critical eye on why we believe what we believe. If you are interested in the truth behind the myth of American History, READ THIS BOOK!
k8smomma More than 1 year ago
Enlightning beyond belief. The belief that if we were told it in school by someone of authority, then it HAD to be true. BUT SO MUCH OF IT WASN'T! This book will set you straight on many aspects of our country's "history" as nothing else I've ever read. An important and necessary book for all people no matter what your race, social background or age. If it isn't required reading for high school students, then we can only hope that one day it will be. Not the fast-paced kind of read that fiction can provide but has facts so startling new and true, for many of us, that you will be amazed at what you find out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most brilliant book I've ever read on US history. This is US history as I learned it in Europe. Why do Europeans learn the truth and Americans don't? You have nothing to be ashamed of, not even of the truth. Yes, it is brutally honest, but the history of every country is full of extremely brutal things. We can't make anything better in the future if we aren't aware of our past. In order to be proud of our heritage, it is absolutely necessary to also know the negative things our native country did. No country on this planet only did good things, that's just not human nature. You can be proud of your country anyway. So this is an absolute must read book, not only for Americans.
JGarRAL More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very informative and a must read for all high school students. I think this book illuminates the dark history that the United States has effectively hidden. I agree with the author that showing historical persons flaws along side their positive attributes is very important to show that they were actually humans. I can see that many might see Loewen's writings as slanted but that being said I still find the information in the book to be very valuable. Overall this book is a great read and very informative, it offers many solutions to huge problems in American History classes.
ErinMichelleBailey More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a highly-respected professor who truly wanted his students to have a well-rounded understanding of our history. Textbooks make great outlines but leave out the juicy details of events that fueled the fire behind revolutions, revolts, etc. The book itself is revolutionary in reshaping history as we know it - as we were taught it - by presenting an unbiased perspective of world events (rather than pushing a thesis).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Picture the American history as a pitcher of water. Typically, the author sugars the mixture into the ground. What Loewen has done here is provide us with a nice, tart packet of Kool-Aid mix. Lies My Teacher Told Me is an interesting, if very deliberately angled, window on what some might call 'revisionist history.' Taken on it's own, the book may be seen as incredibly biased (to overextend an already ridiculous metaphor, Kool-Aid made without sugar is bitter indeed), but any such criticism of the book must take into account the fact that it is not MEANT to be taken on it's own. Lies My Teacher Told Me labors under the challenge of having to examine almost 6 centuries of history's accumulated misconceptions and omissions, which generations of Americans have had drilled into them over thirteen years of primary school, and counterbalance them all in the span of a single one-or-two hour read. He really goes out on a limb with some of his conclusions, but if the volume in general comes off as abrasively liberal and revisionist, it is only because he has given himself so little space to challenge (radically) so many two-dimensional historical notions. Challenge may not be the right word, though-- little of what Loewen has to say will be news to anyone but junior-high and high-school kids just starting to realize that history's grand heroes were real, flawed men and women, and not the marbleized demigods and easily defined villians laid out in their inoffensive grade-school texts. The funny thing here is that, in writing a book whose obvious intent is to shock the reader into a broader awareness of history, the author uses many of the same techniques he rails against- specifically, the charicaturization-by-omission of key historical figures and events. An eye for an eye? Fair enough, but to revisionist readers he's singing a song they already know by heart, and to many of the more moderate readers, like myself, the picture of history provided here is left jagged and distorted unless one keeps firmly in mind that it is best read as a counterbalance to traditional history, and not an intended replacement.
Celtic-Mason More than 1 year ago
I sincerely recommend that every American of middle school age and above should read this book! Packed with facts and explanations about our country's history that puts into a proper perspective all that school textbooks at the secondary and college level get all twisted up with misinformation and way too much ethnocentricity to make it plausible, yet I know I perceived my history as I was taught in grades 1 to 12 and at college as the valid word. What an eye-opener on many historical topics. I particularly enjoyed the thorough research and bibliography which pointed me to other interesting history books which have given me what I now feel is a much more solid knowledge of my country's history, scars, scandals, and all. Bravo!
Oreillynsf on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In my view one of the most important books for lay people to read. Loewen chronicles the exaggerations, distortions, and lies that pack of history text books. This issue was truly brought to the fore recently when the Texas book selectors (and let's be clear, many of the problems start with this crew) revised the Texas history curriculum to include Newt Gingrich but not the Civil Rights Act.In reality, however, political distortions are not the most important issues Loewen unearths. Rather, his systematic analysis addresses issues like race, labor, foreign policy, patriotism, and militarism with cool dispassion. While you can tell the Loewen is profoundly disturbed by what he finds in American textbooks, he is careful to confine his criticism to factual errors and clear instances in which the authors sought to minimize or rub out differences of opinion.Most countries clean up their history for textbooks, the better to grow young patriots and law abiding citizens. Loewen's thesis is the US History is relentlessly whitewashed -- more so than that of many other countries. Whether that is true or not is beyond my knowledge. But to me his most sage observation is that US textbooks frequently explain opinion as fact, and as a result we know little of controversy or differences of opinion. One of the consequences of this, he points out, is that history is widely considered the msot boring of subjects by students. Because as it is told in black and white, distorted textbooks, it IS boring. Whereas when Loewen tells the same stories, they are anything but boring.
MissLizzy on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Heard about this book in one of my college-level history classes, and decided almost on a whim to purchase it. It told me SO much, both about aspects of history that I had never heard of, AND the reasoning behind WHY history textbooks are the way they are. Also, this book helped me realize how GOOD my history teacher my junior and senior years of high school was. Many of the things that Loewen says many history teachers avoid (ie. the attack on My Lai during the Vietnam War) my teacher went out of her way to make sure we read about and questioned and THOUGHT about. I e-mailed her to recommend the book, only to find out she'd already read it--no WONDER she's so good! I would recommend this book to anyone, especially high school students.
chellinsky on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I got this book when it came out in 1995 and stuck it on a shelf. I was in middle school at the time and my teacher recommended, but it was way more than I was up for. Thirteen years and a masters degree later, I finally read it and I was not disappointed. Loewen covers ten specific components of American History to describe how they differ from what a sample of twelve widely-used high school textbooks describe. No textbook comes out as a winner from this evaluation. My high school text, The American Pageant didn't fair well, but I kept hoping it would pull through in the end.In the end, Loewen seeks to discover the underlying reason why textbooks portray history inaccurately--what motivates authors, teachers, editors, publishers, parents, and society to act this way? An intriguing read that is well worth the effort and has given me some food for thought as I contemplate parenthood in the not-to-distant future.
kaelirenee on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In an effort to please everyone and not offend anyone, and in an effort to maintain the myths of American History, textbooks have managed to make history a dry and boring subject instead of a dynamic subject that we can still learn lessons from. Loewen reminds the reader that just because a person is beloved and lauded in the history books doesn't make that person perfect or infallable. In an effort to teach children set lessons about a historical figure, the complexities of that person are often whitewashed. Instead of teaching students to think about history and consider it, we have to package it and musn't teach anything other than the party line. Of course, since Loewen emphisizes reading history with a critical eye to understand bias or towing the party line, I read this book with an equally jaded eye, noting his biases (yes, he leans to the left sometimes, but sometimes seems to lean a little right, too) and wanting to go out and check all his sources. He does something that history books often fail to do-he got me interested in American history and wanting to learn more.
Crowyhead on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book is extremely enlightening, and the author's tone is both witty and informative.
bjscheuter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was very interesting. It frustrated me that I did not know the "truth" about so much of history. It also is very frustrating that students are not learning the truth and the fact that so many students accept the written word as gospel. It is a horrible disservice that our textbooks aren't better researched and more accurate.
lamour on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is an amazing read. Some of the corrections of myths of American History I had read beforebut there was much more here to ponder. I as a non American, especially appreciated the chapter on US foreign policy. Some of Haiti's current earthquake crisis goes back the US treatment fo them in another time.
dickmanikowski on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Searing indictment of the American History textbooks used in American high schools at the time (1996) the book was written. The author examines 12 textbooks (with publication dates ranging from 1975-1981) to see how the image they present of key events and personalities compare with the reality. The results are worse than appalling. With rare exceptions, the books present highly sanitized versions in order to instill a sense of "America is the greatest country in the world" to children who are on the cusp of becoming voting citizens.He goes on to explain how publishers force authors to whitewash or even omit any events that might tarnish iconic images so that the books will meet the approval of the powerful bodies that set state educational standards.Not only are students fed misinformation, few of the texts make more than a token effort to introduce students to start thinking critically for themselves. And critical thinking is far more important in the digital age than it was 15 years ago.
addunn3 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Author reviews major issues that history textbooks get wrong and why publishers continue to perpetuate lies and myths. An excellent source for educators who might want to challenge "the way things are."
JFurey on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
In Lies My Teacher Told Me, historian James Loewen critically analyzes our country's deeply flawed methods of teaching our own history, the impact that these methods have on the students that must learn from them. Loewen tears down the popular perception of a number of events and periods in our nation's history, from Christopher Columbus's so-called discovery of America to the Civil Rights movement, and leaves us with a much different view of these events, a view that is often much more difficult than the ones that we've grown accustomed to. But Loewen's goal here isn't to simply depress or burden readers with the more honest, more complicated view of American History (though that would still be a laudable goal in itself). Rather, he carefully examines why our history is taught this way, and how such methods negatively shape our perception of our shared heritage. Loewen purports that through constant whitewashing and borderline-deification of historical figures our perception of the past, and by extension the present, is warped in such a way that we view our world from the sidelines, as spectators rather than participants. By attributing major historical changes to individuals rather than social movements, history lessons effectively discourage active participation in current events. After all, why bother trying to change the world when a Lincoln or MLK will inevitably come along and do it anyway? He also makes the point that the version of history we are often taught tends to be far too Eurocentric, often ignoring or spending little time on the actions and contributions from non-white, non-male figures who played significant roles in history. Loewen points out that the myopic perspective from which history is taught often make the subject seem alienating and marginalizing for students of other heritages and backgrounds.When I first read Lies My Teacher Told Me, it had an incredible impact on the way that I view and approach a number of things in my life. There are the eye-opening history lessons, sure, but more than that, it made me consider the impact that history can have on our view of the world. There aren¿t many books that I can say have honestly changed my worldview as much as Lies has, and that¿s probably the greatest praise that a book can receive.
SwitchKnitter on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This is a critique of American history textbooks that offers some real history to counteract the empty platitudes of those tomes. It teaches some real history along the way, mostly about white Americans' relationships with Native Americans and African Americans. It's brutal in places, but it's a very good read. this is the second edition of the book. The original came out in the 90's, and it was updated heavily for the 2007 release.
KrazyKim More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be extremely enlightening and somewhat scary. It's important for us to remember that so much of what we learn is what "someone" chose to teach us. I highly recommend reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All in all, this book is a very enlightening piece--however, once it reached its end, I found that it became a bit too liberal for my taste. Quite frankly, I was very disappointed with the ending, because the rest of the book was clean, and UNTAINTED by liberal-ness. But, I would still recommend this book to any person who is interested in history (and, if you don't agree with it, you can read it to see what the 'other half' is saying).
Anonymous 3 months ago
My Uncle gave me his well-loved copy of the 1995 edition, and at that time I was taking AP History in high school. I was reading it In class instead of the textbook (One of the original twelve Prof. Loewen surveyed) and got in trouble for not paying attention. I thus handed the book to my teacher and told him to read it. A few days later he came to me and gave the book back. He said It changed the way he saw U.S history. He said that many of the things he read about he did not know. And thats coming from an AP History teacher, mind you. From that point on, we used the textbooks much less. He became a hands-on teacher. It made me like History more than I already did. I went to college and got my teaching degree and started teach history to high schoolers. All because of this one book. Thank you Prof. Loewen.
CarlaR on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
I completely could not finish this book. I am a complete history nut, and of course I do not believe what my teachers told me about history. When my kids come home from history class and want to discuss, I tell them what their teacher got wrong and try to provide a balanced view of the events. I tried to read this book, pumped that this would be a major boon to my library, and that it would end up being one of my favorites. Although I agree with the author on a lot of things, such as the process of herofication and what a detriment it is, there are many more things that I cannot agree with. He commits a lot of the same blunders that he accuses textbook authors of making. A lot of this is pathetically one sided, and the only message that I really felt was that white people should be ashamed of themselves for all of society's ills. What he doesn't even bother to do is separate the white races, except for one small sentence where he states that some Irish and Italians might have had a hard time in coming to America. There is still 1/4th of this book that I will not read.
rpisano on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
This book was awful. My American History teacher had us read this book over the summer, and the only that kept me going, was the end in sight. Yes I do concede that Loewen did a good job pointing out many misconceptions and mistakes in textbooks that are read by high school students, but he had many mistakes in his book too. He spent a long time talking about how textbooks are too biased, but his book is extremely biased as well. I am currently reading The American Pageant, which is one of the books Loewen hammered for being a poor book, but I see fewer problems in my textbook than in his book. He shows extreme biases to certain political ideologies, and even makes a bad joke at President George H. W. Bush very soon into the first chapter. He attempted to make a funny spin off of Anne Richard's famous remark at the 1988 Democratic National Convention, but it ends up being a red herring for things to come. Loewen spends too much time acting as if he knows all and no one else knows anything. He comes off as an elitist sociologist professor that needs to understand that history no single person can always to right. I recommend this book, under the grounds that some interesting things can be learned from this book, but be aware of his extreme bias.
tsolinger on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
For me, this book had so much potential. Advertised as a look into the American history textbook system and the faults in it, I was expecting an analysis of why our textbooks lie. Why, in school, we are taught the wrong information? Why, after knowing the information is wrong, is it still taught?Instead, Loewen seems to have a personal agenda: prove his intelligence by rewriting American history. If what has been regarding for years as correct is wrong, why should any reader believe that Loewen, one person, has everything right? While he does cite and offer a source for most facts, what makes his sources correct and the ones used by our textbooks incorrect? Loewen attempts to sell his own intelligence too much, rather than continue his intelligent claim and let the rest fall into place. Loewen complains of a bias and elitist tone in American textbooks. Well then, how hypocritical of him to, not only write like his knowledge is the end-all and be-all, but also with an extremely evident bias. Loewen portrays himself as a king of American history and that we should all bow down to his impressive intelligent. Unfortunately, this does not resonate well with readers, especially high school students. Loewen missed the boat on his intelligent idea.
Jdely93 on LibraryThing More than 1 year ago
Lies My Teacher Told Me is a factual book that does contain loads of misconceptions detailed in high school American history textbooks. However, the book is also full of fallacies itself. I've never read a more biased book in my life and to add, the fact of the matter is, it's completely hippocritical. The author, James Loewen, although a prominent college history professor is talking as if he was personally at attendence (for example) at the Annapolis Convention or like he WAS an African American in the early 20th century. It seems as if he forgot to consider that everything passed down through history (he cites history from the pre-columbian era) is not absolutely correct. To me, he came off as an arrogant, all-knowing history teacher who, in a way, ridicules his college students for their lack of knowledge. Sorry, Loewen, you didn't win me over on this one.