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!