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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your…
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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got… (1995)

by James W. Loewen

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Now while a lot of this assumed knowledge of US educational and history it was interesting and there is probably the same level of errors in Irish history textbooks. I'm not sure that localised history books wouldn't be useful as I can't imagine a single history book that would work for all of Europe. ( )
  wyvernfriend | Apr 20, 2017 |
Enjoyed the first edition immensely. Second edition comes across as super preachy.
Some of his conclusions, I think miss the mark. Would you call a band of migrating inians "Settlers"? ( )
  busterrll | Mar 1, 2017 |
I have long been fascinated with historiography -- the biases in versions of history that appear over time. The notion that history is a factual recitation of objective truths about the past is just not true. There are many cultural, societal and ideological influences that shape and slant interpretations of history. I recall from my youth, going to high school in the south as I did, the view of Reconstruction that emphasized the corruption of northern "carpetbaggers" and their southern "scalawag" conspirators to manipulate naive and ignorant blacks over the control of political affairs. We understand now that the influence of white supremacy in the post-reconstruction era produced a strikingly distorted picture than what really happened.

Loewen utilizes his review of more than a dozen high school history textbooks to demonstrate just how dangerous practice can be to educating students about the past, and, importantly, on their ability to critically assess our past for its implications on the present and future. Utilizing many themes in American history (Columbus, the centuries of conflict with the native population, slavery, etc.) Loewen shows how textbooks utterly fail to open the power of critical anaysis in students. He says that the "heroification" of figures and events of our past wildly distorts the deeper and significant meanings of their actions. For instance, he says that the myth of Columbus as the explorer who opened the savage cultures of the Americas to the benefits of European advancements completely leaves out the devastation that Europeans brought to the florishing societies existing throughout the Americas. In this analysis, and others in his book, he shows how totally "Eurocentric" is most of American history still in our time. He presents a fascinating chapter on John Brown and Lincoln in which he shows the manipulation by historians of images and appraisals of both figures to fit packaged conceptions of their views on slavery and race. As well, on slavery, Loewen posits convincingly that our histories portray slavery as a "tragedy" that just happened -- that no one was really responsible for it. He reminds us of the time in history that slavery as the root cause of the Civil War was shunted into th background by emphasis on other esoteric fctors: "states' rights", economic imbalances between the regions, etc. He does similar analysis on the conceptions of social/economic class throughout our country's history.

He says that in the bland and neutral historical treatment of America as a world power we are usually shown to be international "good guys" with the betterment all of humanity as our motivating force. Any complete examination of the facts and outcomes of our actions show that this was very often far from our motivating impulses, e.g. the war in the Phillipines, Vietnam and more. Much of American history written for high school students seeks to show our country as a place where higher and higher attainment of our morally superior ethos is what makes us distinctive; there is little place in the texts for criticism that might make us challenge ourselves and forestall repeating mistakes of the past.

Textbooks are written for certain influential audiences, namely political forces, state and local approval committees, parents -- anyone other than the students they should be serving. They are commerically-driven ventures whose profits are best insured by not risking anything that would generate controversy. Loewen describes his conversations with "big name" historians whose names appear as authors of widely distributed textbooks. When he points out certain passages of highly questionable accuracy, these "authors" convey shock at the content; they evidently have been paid only to append their names and prestige for marketing value the publishers hope for. They have not only not written, they have not read the works it is claimed they authored. He says that quite a lot of the content is written by anonymous jobbers who almost never do research in primary and secondary sources.

What Loewen criticizes and laments most is the missed opportunity to use history in ways that stimulate critical thinking; in stultifying high school students' interest and ability to analyze and challenge, to dig deeper beneath the surface of neatly packaged versions of our past. Thus, that students are bored with, and turned off by, history should not come as a surprise, but regretablly leaves them with a disregard for the potential for history to become a useful element in their civic lives as adults. ( )
1 vote stevesmits | Nov 22, 2014 |
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 |
This was written as an assessment of a dozen or so popular high school history textbooks. The focus is on major American historical events or periods that are either omitted from these textbooks or just plain wrong in the textbooks’ descriptions. I found several examples to be completely eye-opening (my teachers must have been “lying” to me, too). For example, though Columbus’s voyage to the New World is touted in all of the books, only a few of the textbooks mentioned the damage done to the native Hispaniola population by their “discovery.” Helen Keller’s early life is featured in most of the textbooks, yet her influence as an adult crusading for human rights and her membership in the Socialist Party is completely glossed over. Another result of this critique is the bias found in the majority (if not all) of the books. This book could be a companion to Howard Zinn’s “A People’s History of the United States.” ( )
  michellebarton | Jun 11, 2013 |
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This LT Work is the completely revised and updated edition of James Loewen's book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (2007). Please do not combine it with the original edition (1995). Thank you.
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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 Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:21:05 -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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