Nina's Reading Blog

Comments on books I am reading/listening to

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

Posted by nliakos on February 18, 2007

by James W. Loewen, audio CD narrated by Brian Keeler

Norton 1995

This is a really amazing book!  Loewen, a sociologist, analyzes 12 high school textbooks about U.S. history and finds them both boring and inaccurate.  He points out that although truths about Columbus, the Pilgrims, the plagues that killed Native Americans (leaving an essentially empty land for Europeans to take over), Woodrow Wilson, Helen Keller, various US-led coups d’etat, Vietnam, etc., are well-known to historians and are routinely taught at the college level, high school texts still present American history as continual progress toward an ideal.  History is presented as a list of political events controlled by (mainly) heroic presidents; Columbus and the Pilgrims make up our “creation myth”.

Although I was already aware of many, if not most, of the ugly facts presented here (such as the ugly history of our relations with Native Americans and the US involvement in the assassination of Salvador Allende and Mohammed Mossadegh), the pattern that is created by all of them considered together is a sad and even frightening one.  Like many college-educated Americans, I never took an American history course after high school.  It is astonishing how distorted a picture of our history is created in books such as the 12 Loewen discusses here.

Lies My Teacher Told Me was originally published over 10 years ago; perhaps there have been changes for the better due to its publication.  My daughter’s 8th-grade history text, Creating America, published in 2005 by McDougall Littell, seems to present the facts fairly objectively  (for example, I’ve noticed that it presents the British side of the “road to revolution” with some sympathy, while making the American colonists seem somewhat shrill in their continual outrage against any form of control exerted by England).  It also emphasizes racial and gender diversity, focusing on Native Americans, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and women.  So perhaps Loewen’s book has had an impact.

I think every American should read this book.

Click here for James Loewen’s website.

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6 Responses to “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong”

  1. HI NINA: Would you be willing to review my book U.S. HISTORY UNCENSORED: WHAT YOUR HIGH SCHOOL TEXTBOOK DIDN’T TELL YOU which was published in November of 2006 and which has several James Loewen quotes. Please see my website http://www.carolynbaker.org for a synopsis of the book and my bio. I’d be happy to email you the PDF for review. Thanks!Carolyn Baker.

  2. Golaxf said

    Hi! nice site!

  3. Very good post. I’ve found your blog via Yahoo and I’m really glad about the information you provide in your posts. Btw your sites layout is really messed up on the Kmelon browser. Would be cool if you could fix that. Anyhow keep up the good work!

    • Nina Liakos said

      @Lyndon Pereyra, Thanks for your comment. I am sorry about the layout but I have never even heard of Kmelon. Is it German? Try Google Chrome–very clean and fast.

  4. […] but knew little beyond that about the most famous disabled person of the 20th century. When I read Lies My Teacher Told Me, an example of a lie by omission was that of Helen Keller, who lived an active life until she was […]

  5. nliakos said

    Article by James Loewen about wrong beliefs about the Civil War and the Confederacy: http://www.washingtonpost.com/posteverything/wp/2015/07/01/why-do-people-believe-myths-about-the-confederacy-because-our-textbooks-and-monuments-are-wrong/
    Followed the next day by an article about new history textbooks in Texas which ignore slavery, racism, and Jim Crow: http://www.washingtonpost.com/local/education/150-years-later-schools-are-still-a-battlefield-for-interpreting-civil-war/2015/07/05/e8fbd57e-2001-11e5-bf41-c23f5d3face1_story.html

    Seems like we just don’t learn from our past mistakes. Too many people have too much at stake in misrepresenting the past. I was one who for a while believed that slavery was not the main issue over which the Civil War was fought. Now I know that that was wrong.

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