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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong {new 2018 edition} (2018)

by James W. Loewen

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522345,917 (4.19)None
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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A book still worth reading. Loewen does not hold back. It is a detailed critique of history textbooks in the American school system. I found this book interesting as it made me reflect on my own personal experiences taking history courses and the content teachers pushed. There were some items I was aware of but many I did not even know about. History is very broad and my high school teachers did not cover the recent past as it is labeled. I responded to this in college by taking alternative history courses such as ones that covered the Middle East or Women's Studies to cover some gaps. I do not think I needed to wait until college to explore this content and hope future textbooks take on a different flavor. I did a lot of highlighting in this particular book as there are so many good quotes. ( )
  Anamie | Jan 19, 2024 |
Brilliant, and should be read by all American citizens. If this book doesn’t convince you of the aphorisms that “history is bunk” and “history is written by the victors,” nothing will. Loewen points out where people on both sides of the political aisle in American history have been glamorized or vilified unfairly, points out how huge historical moments have been completely whitewashed for political reasons, and paints a chilling portrait of how U.S. History is taught in American high schools. As he says, it’s the only subject where the more one is taught at that level, there is more to be un-taught at the college level, and as only one in six Americans take a history class after high school, the result is a populace with not only less understanding of its past, but much less better prepared to cope with its future. And despite what sounds like a salacious title, this is not some cockamamie hit job based on half-truths or conspiracy theories, but a very well researched account of history, one with a massive number of footnotes, and which only seeks truth and accuracy.

It’s not possible to summarize everything he unearths in this book, but he visits our history from the earliest European colonizers all the way through our wars in the Middle East. While many of these things, e.g. early colonizers like Columbus, the pilgrims, manifest destiny, and the southern “lost cause” have come under greater scrutiny in the past couple of decades, the richness of the detail he provides, based on firsthand accounts, is very informative. There are individuals such as Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, and John Brown who I won’t see the same way again. He also makes persuasive arguments about how our history avoids problems with not just race, but class as well, perpetuating the myth of an egalitarian meritocracy as told from a distinctive, white European male bias, and often a conservative one at that.

I liked how he tied some of the prevailing traits of Americans – optimism, nationalism, and the blind eye cast to some the country’s enormous historical sins – to how high school history books are written. He is not afraid to point out the unfortunate hypocrisy in America, for example, declaring a desire that the world be free and allowed to self-govern, and yet so often undermining elections, installing puppet dictators, and in some cases attempting assassinations. Or reacting with piousness over the racism and genocide of other countries, without fully acknowledging or atoning for its own. Or criticizing the teaching of what amounts to state sponsored propaganda in autocratic countries, and yet essentially doing the same thing with its own history, deliberately presenting a version that omits problematic bits (to say the least) and emphasizes a rosy view of continual progress.

The book won’t try to make you hate your country – in fact, I find it’s the opposite. I love the fact that Loewen was allowed to write this book in a free country, and that we’re allowed to criticize our leaders, teachers, historians, and the system.

The last couple of chapters, where he delves into the history book writing process and the result on students, are important, but a little less effective. They were informative and I appreciated the light he put on how the books are subcontracted to those without history degrees, and loosely managed by editors who care most about not offending conservative school approval boards, but he’s too repetitive and verbose. I also found it ironic that while critiquing history books for their failures to stay current and accurate as each edition is released, his own book contains the 1990’s era truth that most college educated people are Republicans, a trend that was no longer true in 2018 when this edition was published (in fact, the numbers are now completely opposite). It may have been just me; I preferred to learn more about the various eras of history and people who have been incorrectly portrayed (either positively or negatively), and there he is razor sharp.

There are far too many quotes and factoids in this book to ever hope to extract them, not that that has stopped me on other occasions. The only little poetic bit that I would like to capture is this though:

“Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likenesses in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead.” ( )
3 vote gbill | May 2, 2020 |
"A decade and a half ago, in America Revised, Frances FitzGerald demonstrated that widely used school textbooks presented simplistic, fatuous, and often inaccurate versions of American history. Here, Loewen (Sociology/Univ. of Vermont; Mississippi: Conflict and Change, not reviewed) draws the conclusion that little has changed since then. In a year-long study at the Smithsonian Institution, Loewen reviewed 12 leading high school history textbooks and was appalled by the unscholarly, inaccurate, and overtly ideological material he found. Textbooks, Loewen argues, ""supply irrelevant and erroneous details, while omitting pivotal questions and facts in their treatments of issues ranging from Columbus's second voyage to the possibility of impending ecocide."" He notes their non-treatment of subjects such as early American settlers' relations with the Indians, Helen Keller's radical socialism (textbooks often present her story only as an inspirational one), Abraham Lincoln's complex attitudes about race, and American atrocities in Vietnam. Loewen contends that American history has traditionally been taught in order to inculcate patriotism and other moral qualities rather than to get at the truth. Moreover, he asserts, the discipline of history, more than other scholarly fields, has traditionally been dominated by upper-class white male writers who share a particular consensus on American history. While the discipline of history has become more sophisticated and diverse in recent decades, Loewen shows, school history textbooks have not kept up. The result is a general lack of interest in history on the part of intelligent students. Loewen concludes that high school history teachers can do much to enhance interest in history by questioning the texts, encouraging students to do primary source work, and continually asking questions rather than providing answers. Although Loewen often is entertaining, he presents both an indictment that rings true and an eloquent call to action." www.kirkusreviews.com
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  CDJLibrary | Sep 2, 2021 |
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Dedicated to all American history teachers who teach against their textbooks (and their ranks keep growing)
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This chapter is about heroification, a degenerative process (much like calcification) that makes people over into heroes.
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This LT Work is the new edition of James Loewen's book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (2018). Please do not combine it with either the original edition (1995) or the revised and updated edition (2007). Thank you.
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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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