Friday, January 07, 2005

Lies My Teacher Told Me

by James Loewen

This is another one of those books that I had on my shelf and decided to reread. I had recalled this book, subtitled "Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong", as one that pointed out the general failings of U.S. History textbooks. Mr. Loewen, a teacher and author, looked at twelve different high school-level history textbooks and compared it to current historical research. (Like other social sciences, the "facts" of history are subject to debate and interpretation, so there's no undisputed standard with which to compare.) What he found was that the textbooks mostly boiled down the story of America to a bland, biased and often inaccurate account of events. He discussed certain themes, from European colonization to the government's actions of the recent past, and showed what things the textbooks tended to leave out. He also showed what effect that such spin might have on the students who have to study such stuff. He also looks at why our textbooks end up the way they are, touching on the textbook development process and the social forces that color our official teaching of history. I had recalled the book as being rather unbiased, neither giving undue praise or condemnation to the historical characters discussed. I had to change my opinion upon rereading the volume. I've read a bit more history in the years since I first read Lies, inspired to do so greatly by this book, and I now have to say that Mr. Loewen is rather liberal. But I still think he's honest and willing to treat the "heroes" of our history as neither angels or devils, but real, flawed human beings. It's an approach I'd like to imitate as I share our history with my own "students"--my daughters. It's one that I hope would encourage them to not simply be an audience to a boring tale, but rather to see themselves as contributing authors to the ongoing story of our people.

LibraryThing link

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