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

by James W. Loewen

Other authors: See the other authors section.

MembersReviewsPopularityAverage ratingMentions
4,038642,054 (3.96)82
Criticizes the way history is presented in current textbooks, and suggests a fresh and more accurate approach to teaching American history.
  1. 30
    A People's History of the United States by Howard Zinn (kellyholmes)
  2. 30
    Don't Know Much About History by Kenneth C. Davis (kaelirenee)
  3. 20
    A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America by Ronald Takaki (themephi)
  4. 10
    The Bloody Shirt: Terror After Appomattox by Stephen Budiansky (Othemts)
  5. 10
    How to Hide an Empire: A History of the Greater United States by Daniel Immerwahr (pammab)
    pammab: Immerwahr focuses on history outside the continental US and how everyone in the world conveniently forgets how much US population and territory existed outside the mainland, through telling stories that never made it into the American canon. Immerwahr's book is a much better structured book to my mind than Lies My Teacher Told Me; it has an overarching thesis, and each of the chapters have a subthesis that is well-substantiated and argued. It goes beyond the thrust of Loewen's book, which felt to me like a collection of mostly unrelated facts strung together with nothing more than the idea of "filing off complexities".… (more)
  6. 11
    The Daughter of Time by Josephine Tey (themephi)
  7. 11
    The Truth (with jokes) by Al Franken (mikeg2)

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» See also 82 mentions

Showing 1-5 of 64 (next | show all)
I had a hard time getting into this book. I hoped that the second chapter would be better, but he continued to harp on the the same theme of all the bad things that happened under the hands of our "heroes." True or not, I just didn't get into it. ( )
  bread2u | Jul 1, 2020 |
Good base level on why American history classes are fucked, annoyingly milquetoast about its own conclusions at times, bizzarely tries to equate existing white supremacist history courses with hypothetical textbooks that suggest "black people invented everything and white people invented slavery" (which if anything is closer to the truth than what is currently taught). ( )
  robinmusubi | Jun 5, 2020 |
Lies My Teacher Told Me takes several chapters to delve into fascinating historical subjects, focusing especially on the neglected narratives of two particular groups: African Americans and Native Americans. I thoroughly enjoyed the debunking of the reconstruction corruption myth, and the attention paid (and due) to John Brown. The book challenged me to wonder what an American History would look like if it didn't favor white history over all others, and took an honest assessment of the contributions of Native Americans, as well as African slaves, to the creation of what we now know as the United States. The book also introduced me to a couple of concepts that had eluded me, but are awe inspiring.

Tri-Racial Isolates, for example, were the bands of escaped African slaves and poor whites who joined up with the nearly plague-obliterated Native Americans to resist the expansion of the imperial project of the United States, and played a major role however other-ized they were by the dominant narrative of frontier savages. These people were at times called Seminoles, Cimarrons, Maroons, and other names.

The Requirement was a document read, in Spanish, to populations of Native Americans as they were met by the Spaniards that exposes the utter self-conscious brutality of the conquest of the Americas: "But, if you do not [...convert to Christianity immediately...:], and maliciously make delay in it, I certify to you that, with the help of God, we shall powerfully enter into your country, and shall make war against you in all ways and manners that we can [...:] we shall take you and your wives and your children, and shall make slaves of them, and as such shall sell and dispose of them [...:] we shall do you all the mischief and damage that we can, as to vassals who do not obey, and refuse to receive their lord."

But I think the most useful parts of the book weren't the pop history re-telling of the stories, which after all can be found in many other forms elsewhere, but the study of how we are affected by this loss of history, and glimpses of what our history would be if we took the positions of those other than the Europeans when composing our nations' history. I am struck by the Vietnam exercise that the author did with his undergraduate class, where because of their socialization and their relative allegiance to the upper classes, they believed that the more poorly educated were hawks, when in fact the opposite was true. The use of education as building allegiance and socializing youth is an important concept to take away from this book.

The book also took careful assessment of the day-to-day resistance of students to learning caustic and false material. As the author states, "we must salute young people for more than mere ignorance. This is resistance raised to a high level." Students rarely do the work required of them, preferring instead to do the bare minimum, slowing the pace of the class with work slow-downs and evasion techniques. By literally refusing to learn even the most basic facts put forth in the toxic classes of US History, students all over the US have opposed the whitewashing of their own history, whether they knew they were doing it or not. Day-to-day resistance doesn't threaten the system, but it does grind the system to a crawl.

The book told how high school students today loathe history as dead facts and drop it from their curriculum as soon as they get the chance, never to pick it up again. I can remember my senior year of high school being totally delighted by the new-found ability to drop history in favor of yet another lab science class. This is pretty ironic, given that as soon as I realized what an amazing source of inspiration and strength history was, I was constantly reading history books, and taking college-level classes. In contrast to the book's author's recommendations, however, it took being involved in struggle against first the Iraq War, and then against capitalism and the state, in order for me to get interested in history. After months of worrying that no one had ever attempted to uproot the vicious system we are living in today like I was attempting, I happened upon the book A People's History of the United States, and it provided and still provides no end of comfort and courage.

When my parents recommended this book to me, they told me that it helped them understand my perspective on the world and specifically of US History. That is a pretty resounding endorsement, given that whereas my mother has always been pretty open to learning things about US History that detracted from the dominant narrative fairy-tale, my father's position has ossified (as wealthier older men's politics tend to do) around liberal democrat dogma and the realm of the "politically possible." That he took the time and chance, when one day I left it at their house, to burn the audio CDs and then transfer it to my ipod, and then insist I listen to it, is a testament to the book's ability to reach even skeptical audiences.

Available (e-book style) at:
http://www.scribd.com/doc/22590218/Lies-My-Teacher-Told-Me ( )
  magonistarevolt | Apr 28, 2020 |
This was an enjoyable book that displays the underlying politics of printing a History textbook. Along with that, the book also discusses the whitewashing of history to preserve the status quo and not hurt feelings. It does this by alluding to things but not explicitly stating them in 18 high school level history texts that the author reviews. The texts referred to spread lies and outright misinformation. It almost seems as though taking High School Level United States History is a massive waste of time and resources.

This is further illustrated by the fact that once these students get to college, they commonly have to unlearn what they have learned. Rather than understanding that History is pretty much guesswork from primary sources, they are taught that Rote recitation of facts and dates is the only thing necessary to be a historian or to prove that you know history at all. There are many scholars that just throw up their hands and admit that they don't know.

Most of the books reviewed have a few problems; they are commonly over 600 pages in length, they focus on the wrong idea, they misrepresent the facts, and worst of all they make history seem boring.

So one of the things that history books do is remove the flaws from former Statesmen or Presidents. Take Woodrow Wilson for instance. There is no doubt that he did a lot of good things, but Wilson was also a horrible and unapologetic racist. He was the one that started Segregation in the Federal Government and indirectly encouraged the KKK. He also instituted the Federal Income Tax, so you have Wilson to thank for that too if you don't like Taxes in the US Government.

Talking about Columbus doesn't count since I already knew how much of a terrible person he was. In any case, if you only read your High School History text, this will be an illuminating and enjoyable experience. I really wish I could remember the Textbook that I used as a Sophomore in High School, but that is neither here nor there. ( )
  Floyd3345 | Jun 15, 2019 |
I'm nearly 5 hours into this book and he's still ranting about how the Indians were mistreated. Got it. Do you have any other points? Don't know, too bored to continue. ( )
  SSolheim | Jan 4, 2019 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Loewen, James W.Authorprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Keeler, BrianNarratorsecondary authorsome editionsconfirmed
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It would be better not to know so many things than to know so many things that are not so. — Felix Okoye
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. Petro G. Grigorenko, 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
Dedicated to all American history teachers who teach against their textbooks (and their ranks are growing)
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High school students hate history.
Which came first, civilization or the wilderness?
Students who have taken more mathematics courses are more proficient at math than other students. The same is true in English, foreign language studies, and almost every other subject. Only in history is stupidity the result of more, not less, schooling.
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This LT Work is the original 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 completely revised and updated edition (2007). Thank you.
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Book description
Introduction: Something has gone very wrong--
Handicapped by history: the process of hero-making --
1493: the true importance of Christopher Columbus --
Truth about the first Thanksgiving --
Red eyes --
"Gone with the wind": the invisibility of racism in American history textbooks --
John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: the invisibility of antiracism in American history textbooks--
Land of opportunity--
Watching big brother: what textbooks teach about the federal government--
See no evil: choosing not to look at the War in Vietnam --
Down the memory hole: the disappearance of the recent past --
Progress is our most important product--
Why is history taught like this? --
What is the result of teaching history like this? --
Afterword: The future lies ahead--and what to do about them.
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