June 20, 2024

Hankering for History

Hanker: To have a strong, often restless desire, in this case for–you guessed it–history!

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbooks Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen

3 min read

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen, is an excellent book. Having just finished it, I am already looking forward to reading another fine Loewen book. This second edition, published in 2007 (original publication was in 1995), was not only a delight to read, but was thought-provoking—to say the least! This was not your typical factual book, filled with facts about historical misconceptions; it disclosed the logic behind the inception of the lies and furthermore explained the reasoning as to why the lies still continue.

If I told you the lies that he divulges into you wouldn’t have any need to read the book, so I won’t. I will, however, tell you this. The information found in this book is common knowledge to historians, but hidden—with “lies”—from the rest of the world. An example of what kind of information you would find can be found here, Heroification in History.  This post, one of mine, covers an example taken from the book and gives you insight into what I took from the first few chapters.

In the book, Loewen covers: heroification of false heroes vs. bastardization of America’s real heroes; the need to reference primary sources; our country’s forward moving ideology which tends to ignore historical foreshadowing; the importance of students to think for themselves and question significant events in history; and the debacle that the textbook industry has turned into. As you can see, there is a lot covered here, and this isn’t any of the lies. As I said, there is a lot explained in this book about why each historic lie was established.

There is a point in the book where Loewen refers to a passage from 1984. In 1984, George Orwell says, “…he who controls the present controls the past.” When Loewen refers to this quote, he is referring to the upper class and whites controlling the educational system and textbook publishing. I believe there could’ve been a better use for this quote. While it may be true that most history textbooks slant the history in favor of the upper class or whites, I am deciding to use this particular quote in another fashion.

“Who controls the present controls the past.”

That, my friends, should be a charge; a charge directed at all those in the history teaching profession. Take control of the knowledge dispersed in your classrooms (the present) and teach the correct past. Discard the provided textbooks (not literally) and teach what you know should be taught. Allow yourself to step out of your teaching comfort zone. I recently took a class, Religions of Abraham, and the teacher did just this. While this class was a broad topic that covered Christianity, Judaism, and Muslim, the teacher was never afraid to put his neck out to stir up discussion in the classroom. Worst case scenario, a question would arise that the professor did not know the answer to and he would simply say, “I will look into it, it needs more research.” He wasn’t afraid to show he wasn’t all-knowing.

One of the best classes that I ever took in high school, which wasn’t history, was Biology. It was also the only class that didn’t use textbooks, handouts, or printed notes. All the wisdom of this teacher was poured out on a cheap overhead projector. It was not a monotonous voice reading to us from a textbook.

Loewen’s book has a great underlying theme: that children should be taught that history is not finite, and that possibilities should be discussed to further rational skills and to promote an understanding of our nation’s history. But I wish he had gone the extra step and challenged history teachers. I would recommend this book to anyone who reads. While an appreciation for history would certainly make this book more enjoyable, it is an excellent read either way.

If you need a good book to read, click on the picture below and it will take you to an Amazon.com link to purchase it!

12 thoughts on “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbooks Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen

    1. It seems to be leaning that way. :- Although, I don’t think it will be long before all children are taught by computers. One will show up, and spend 8 hours receiving instruction and information from their government approved curriculum-loaded computer. Teachers will only be needed to allow restroom breaks…

    2. > Who controls the present controls the past.”

      I’d add: “Who defines the past, controls the present.”

      While individuals may be interested in historical “truth”, no government, including the US, is interested in anything more than propaganda, including the US.

    1. It is worth it. I myself am not a reader, and I found it not only bearable, but enjoyable. If anything else, it will be eye opening book and give you a different perspective on the importance of historic institutions, primary sources, and knowledgeable historians.

  1. Great review. You have definitely aroused my interest. I am looking forward to checking it out.

  2. The problem with modern histories is that they are often written to provide a particular slant designed to fit into the author’s personal bias. As someone who has taught at the collegiate level, has an MA in history, and who planned once upon a time to go on and get a Ph.D and teach college as a profession – I decided to not go that route once I figured out that freedom of thought in academia does not exist, is not encouraged and is often times punished if you disagree with a professor’s slant.

    The pendulum has swung off the charts – once upon a time, it was all about the great white men and their accomplishments. Today it is all about the great white bastards and ignores their accomplishments; if it even bothers to mention them at all.

    Sadly, our American culture, while preaching diversity, does not allow for diversity in thought. You either toe the line or you are outcast. Disagree with the agreed upon “story” and you are a racist, bigot, etc. It’s quite unfortunate, to be honest.

    I wish we were at a place in our culture when we could simply tell the stories accurately and recognize the strengths and weaknesses of those who we are covering. History is made by people, and people across the board are good and bad, regardless of culture, religion or color. Instead of recognizing that universal truth, we waste our time in writing tales that are designed to fit our own pre-concieved beliefs.

    Apologies… I will step off my soap box!

    1. No apologies needed! I enjoy some good “soap boxing”. If you don’t mind my asking, what did you end up doing once you changed your career path. I am always curious to see what people do with their History degrees–those of who do not teach with them.

  3. If no one else has any understanding of history, then no one can challenge the views being put forth by a teacher. And even if one doesn’t have an in-depth understanding of the subject, one can at least apply critical thinking skills to determine what makes sense and what would seem implausible.

    As neither an understanding of history nor critical thinking seem to be in great supply, it makes it easier for those who want to monkey with the past to do so, unfortunately.

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