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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your…

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

by James W. Loewen

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This was an absolutely fascinating read for the summer of 2012. Loewen examines a dozen or so American history textbooks for accuracy, and finds a lot of evasions, half-truths, misconceptions, lies, damned lies, and statistics. The story of the American nation, as we teach it to our children, is slanted to a nationalistic, Eurocentric, self-righteous angle. To protect our kids from unpleasant stories, we whitewash historical events. To avoid annoying vocal political groups, we soften stories to remove elements of racism, sexism, and greed. To inspire our children, we present our national heroes as perfect, unblemished souls--worthy, but impossible to emulate. Loewen makes the argument that by hiding controversy and teaching history three times removed from primary sources, we rob our children of the truth, and of the opportunity to think critically about forces in our nation today.

Do pick up this book. While you read, keep your Twitter stream open on the left, and follow all the conversations about the Common Core Standards and teacher evaluations. Check the newspaper and news websites for stories on teacher proficiency, and remember that all these poor saps who want to pay their mortgages are going to have to teach to whatever test will determine their teaching "quality." The content of the test is going to drive what's in the textbooks. And what's in the textbooks will drive what Ms. Jones or Mr. Smith is teaching. Most likely, the test, the textbook, teacher licensure, and the professional development the teacher receives are coming from big companies like Pearson. Even if teachers and school boards want students to have a more realistic understanding of American history, the odds are against them.

In those news items, watch for the insidious presence of corporate backers, union bashers, and conservative politicians who want want to tell history "the right way." And remember that Texas--the state with the GOP platform that proclaims critical thinking is dangerous because it might lead children to question entrenched beliefs--is pretty much the most important force in textbook approval in the nation.

Then ask yourself if anything is going to change. ( )
1 vote Turrean | Feb 15, 2014 |
Lies My Teacher Told Me came to my attention years ago, and I've always had it in the back of my mind as something I might get around to one day. Recently, I read Guns, Germs, and Steel and got on a history kick (even if I don't have much esteem for Diamond), so it seemed a good time for Lies. Both books are often brought up when talking about how history gets whitewashed and simplified/"prettified" for the popular memory.

I specifically looked for the revised version of Lies because it discusses events as recent as 2007, and has amended earlier sections to reflect more recent research and newer textbooks which are more similar to those I had in high school. I found it somewhat difficult to see exactly what the differences in the versions are, though. I wasn't sure if it was just the recent history that was added or not - but in reading Lies, I discovered that the entire book had been rewritten to reflect the new information.

However, there are still several spots where the statements Loewen makes felt a bit dated. I don't think it's because the history or view of it has changed, but rather because he's making generalizations that haven't held up over the years. And, also, I think I tend to travel in fairly progressive circles but Loewen is attempting to write a book that will appeal to a much broader swath than my groups would fit into.

For the most part, Loewen did not tell me anything new, but I did recognize a lot of things that I "learned" in my history classes, and then I tried to figure out where I learned the "real" facts that Loewen gives (and often failed! yet somehow these things have been made known to me). It was also amusing, as a fan of Disney and Walt Disney World, where I visited almost monthly as a kid, to see so many "lies" and how they're represented in the Disney Patriotism that has always felt cloying, overly sentimental, and too focused on a pretty, feel-good ideal.

I found myself appreciating the way Loewen points out the political and cultural reasons for why certain facts of history are glossed over or ignored entirely. That and some finer details added to my general understanding of US history, and should help me articulate things better in the future. Also, I have always been terribly confused by the Vietnam War and events following in the '70s and '80s, no doubt caused by lack of discussion in my history classes in the late '90s. Loewen's discussions of the period helped a lot - I felt a bit like lightbulbs were going off over my head with each page.

So, on the whole, I do like Lies and think it was well worth a read. But I have some reservations.

My first reservation is that Loewen explicitly refers to Jared Diamond twice, both times in a positive tone. This made me much more skeptical of Lies, because I have very little trust in Diamond thanks to Guns, Germs, and Steel and likewise am skeptical of anyone who refers to Diamond's books as good scholarship.

The other reservation is in Loewen's generalizations and descriptions of how "people" think or feel. They often felt a little bit off or overly generalized, as though he was doing much of what he claims the textbooks do in order to make facts and data better fit his narrative thesis. Now, they didn't strike me as super wrong, but just a little too easy. On the whole, I think he's right, and I have no problem with the facts and figures that he presents. But usually if he starts in on "this is how people felt" or "this is what X society was really doing", it struck me as overstating his case. ( )
1 vote keristars | May 26, 2013 |
I bought this at the Chief Crazy Horse Memorial visitor center. I was on my grand tour of the U.S. visiting the sites of abo genocide and Japanese internment camps among others. It gave me insight into what you Americans probably never learned in your schools but which non-Americans are more aware of. Read it and weep - literally ( )
1 vote ElectricKoolAid | Jan 5, 2013 |
I read the first edition of this book around the time I graduated high school, and I was surprised, no shocked, by how much American history I didn't know. And that was just the stuff I thought I knew. Glossing over complex topics in a history textbook is one thing, but the real offense is when the facts presented are simply wrong. This happens far more often than you think.

The author is spot-on about high school history courses being unforgivably boring. Teaching history well means teaching controversy, and that means upsetting a lot of people—a nearly impossible task to sustain in a publicly-funded institution. ( )
1 vote Daniel.Estes | Dec 31, 2012 |
Do all history books selectively include and omit "facts" about the past? Of course.
Can excluding certain facts, or including others, affect the reader's interpretation of the past? Yes.
Would including Loewen's preferred facts require omitting others? Possibly; space in text books is limited (sort of).
Would any particular choice of "facts" in (or out) of the book change what actually happened? No.
Would we prefer that our ancestors had acted in more honorable or ethical ways? Of course.
Does their failure make us any better or worse? Only if we emulate their example.

All this by way of illustrating that, although we might wish that Columbus and the Spaniards (and English and French, etc etc etc), had been less cruel and greedy, that in no way changes my opinion that, in the long run, opening up the New World was a Good Thing.

Had to stop when I reached "current events". Loewen just wanted to substitute his own lies for those he claims to find in the texts.
He takes a hard-line Leftist view of Vietnam especially, although much of the "bad war" and "lost war" memes have been debunked. Besides which, his "truths" don't seem to include: NV atrocities against SV and POWs; Jane Fonda's treasonous activities; involvement of Russia & China; the goals of the NV; the treasonous actions of the Democrats in Congress and in the media (including dear old Uncle Walt) in suppressing favorable news (such as there was), emphasizing unfavorable news, and just flat making things up. The war wasn't lost until the Dems pulled the funding after the military won.
For a great look at what should be included, see neoneocon.com: my story. ( )
1 vote librisissimo | Feb 15, 2012 |
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The original book was published in 1995. In 2007, a new edition "Completely revised and updated"(--P. [1] of cover. ) was published with the ISBN 9780743296281 / 0743296281. Do not combine with the original edition.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0743296281, Paperback)

Americans have lost touch with their history, and in Lies My Teacher Told Me Professor James Loewen shows why. After surveying eighteen leading high school American history texts, he has concluded that not one does a decent job of making history interesting or memorable. Marred by an embarrassing combination of blind patriotism, mindless optimism, sheer misinformation, and outright lies, these books omit almost all the ambiguity, passion, conflict, and drama from our past.

In this revised edition, packed with updated material, Loewen explores how historical myths continue to be perpetuated in today's climate and adds an eye-opening chapter on the lies surrounding 9/11 and the Iraq War. From the truth about Columbus's historic voyages to an honest evaluation of our national leaders, Loewen revives our history, restoring the vitality and relevance it truly possesses.

Thought provoking, nonpartisan, and often shocking, Loewen unveils the real America in this iconoclastic classic beloved by high school teachers, history buffs, and enlightened citizens across the country.

(retrieved from Amazon Mon, 30 Sep 2013 13:54:41 -0400)

Criticizes the way history is presented in current textbooks, and suggests a fresh and more accurate approach to teaching American history.

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