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Lies My Teacher Told Me for Young Readers: Everything American History Textbooks Get Wrong

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Now adapted for young readers in grades 7 and up, the national bestseller that makes real American history come alive in all of its conflict, drama, and complexity

Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of the most important—and successful—history books of our time. Having sold nearly two million copies, the book won an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship. Now Rebecca Stefoff, the acclaimed nonfiction children’s writer who adapted Howard Zinn’s bestseller A People’s History of the United States for young readers, turns Loewen’s beloved work into Lies My Teacher Told Me for Young Readers.

Essential reading in our age of fake news and slippery, sloppy history, Lies My Teacher Told Me for Young Readers cuts through the mindless optimism and outright lies featured in most textbooks. Beginning with pre-Columbian history and then covering characters and events as diverse as Helen Keller, the first Thanksgiving, the My Lai massacre, 9/11, and the Iraq War, Loewen’s lively, provocative telling of American history is a “counter-textbook that retells the story of the American past” (The Nation).

Like the original, this streamlined and abridged version for young readers is rich in vivid details and quotations from primary sources. Lies My Teacher Told Me for Young Readers brings this classic text to a new generation of readers (and their parents and teachers) who will welcome and value its honesty, its humor, and its integrity.

Kindle Edition

First published April 2, 2019

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Rebecca Stefoff

281 books31 followers

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 127 reviews
Profile Image for Ivonne Rovira.
1,863 reviews191 followers
May 5, 2019
I read the original Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong when it came out years and years ago — one of the best books I’ve ever read. I bought at least two (but probably more) as gifts. Needless to say, I was gratified to see that book adapted for middle- and high-schoolers to read and enjoy.

Christopher Columbus has been exposed for his cruelty to the Native Peoples he encountered. (The Spanish wiped out every Indian in my parents’ native Cuba by the middle of the 18th century.) But Loewen goes further, providing a true look at the First Thanksgiving, Helen Keller’s entire history, Woodrow Wilson’s limited vision of who did — and did not — deserve to be covered by the U.S. Constitution, and lots more. And unlike your standard American history course, which never seems to make it past World War I or the Great Depression, author James Loewen delves into the Vietnam and Iraq Wars, the Central American and Mexican invasions, and 9/11.

How I wish this book had existed when my own children were 12 or so!

In the interest of full disclosure, I received this book from NetGalley and The New Press in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for Katie.
238 reviews49 followers
April 4, 2019
Finally! Lies My Teacher Told Me has now been adapted for middle school to high school age students. This would make a great supplement for students to learn to critically read their history and other textbooks. I have read the original and this is a good abridgement. Some adults may prefer to read this version as well.
Thanks to NetGalley, The New Press, and the author James W. Loewen for an advanced digital review copy. This book will be published April 23, 2019.
Profile Image for Erin.
264 reviews21 followers
February 27, 2019
In "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition", Author James W. Loewen slightly revises his best-selling book for a version dedicated to teen readers. He tackles the subject of school history textbook and the facts they get wrong - or just skip over all together. As someone who loves history, but always hated the textbook versions (so boring!), this was a real eye-opener.
How can we ever hope to avoid repeating the mistakes of the past if we don't learn from them. While sometimes depressing to read, as Loewen says, "The way to correct feel-good history is not with feel-bad history. It is with honest history that includes both the good and the bad." This reader couldn't agree more!
Profile Image for Stephanie .
1,089 reviews42 followers
May 30, 2019
These days, I find myself wavering between obsessively watching/listening to the news (I HAVE to know! What’s going on?) and wallowing in despair, avoiding news. Either way, I truly fear the direction we are headed in, in large part due to the lack of critical thinking and understanding of current events I see everywhere.

Back in 1995, James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me was published. It started as a survey of the dozen leading history textbooks, and over the years has been revised and updated, selling nearly two million copies, winning an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship, and been on the front page of the New York Times.

Now Rebecca Stefoff, a writer of nonfiction for children who previously who Howard Zinn’s bestseller A People’s History of the United States for young readers, has written an adapted version of Lies My Teacher Told Me, aimed at younger students.

It starts before the events around Columbus “discovering” America (!) and includes people and events such as the first Thanksgiving, Helen Keller, the My Lai massacre, 9/11, and the Iraq War.

Along the way, Stefoff isn’t shy about poking holes in the common textbook versions of history. IMHO this is the book that SHOULD be used to teach U.S. history to students. I loved it. Five stars. And IMHO, although it is ostensibly for students ages 12 to 18, it is probably written at a good level for a huge number of adults as well
Profile Image for Never Without a Book.
468 reviews100 followers
May 1, 2019
Wow! When you think you know everything but end up knowing nothing. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition shook me. As an adult it's clear that growing up I was lied too. I know this is the young readers edition, but my goodness, so many adults can benefit from this book. I am definitely passing this on to my daughter as her summer reading.
Profile Image for Beth Anne.
1,179 reviews93 followers
June 30, 2020
This was my final COVID library book, originally checked out in March and finally picked up in June. I flew through this book in just a few days, the young readers version (which I believe just has less about writing and publishing of textbooks than the original).

For the record, I do find the title a bit off-putting. However, this book is extremely constructive, and I believe the ultimate goal is to challenge us to teach truthfully, as life-long learners, rather than just teach what we were taught. I appreciated chapters that highlighted errors often taught in history books, but more than that I engaged with the idea that history is full of opportunities to see people in all their flaws, not just as a hero to emulate. The author spent considerable time on the story of Lincoln, and I think its so valuable to see the way Lincoln's opinions changed over time, and how his personal opinions at times differed from his governing choices.

Also notable are the ways photographs and art can influence our opinions. A painting of Columbus in fancy armor planting a flag as naked "savages" watch is far more heroic than the carvings Natives made of their people dying from smallpox or being slaughtered when they wouldn't comply. A painting of "crazy" John Brown is far more "interesting" than the photograph of him looking determined and handsome. A photograph of Johnson with smiling US troops in Vietnam is far more appealing than the slaughter at My Lei.
Profile Image for Wellington.
669 reviews20 followers
September 5, 2022
This book picks apart the history curriculum you (probably) learned growing up. Actually, I liked enjoyed history class. I could have liked it a lot more when I found historical fiction (which do take literary liberties to make the story more interesting) and learning more about historical figures behind the shiny veneer.

Even as a kid, I especially like finding the shade behind the heroes. This book does find an incredible amount of shade for Christopher Columbus. A lot of this book looks at the angle from the disservice in history for Native Americans and Black Slavery.

In the final chapters, the author steps back and gets philosophical. When do we give children the truth? It's a big milestone when a child learns their heroes, historical and real life, actually have flaws.
Profile Image for Shabbeer Hassan.
587 reviews37 followers
August 2, 2019
Why is it that history books don't inculcate the habit of idea generation, questioning past motives more often than rote learning of watered-down facts?

As I finished this rather excellent book, this is the only question which echoed in my mind. Why do we need books like this one to tell us what shoddy history we have been learning since childhood? Why do teachers in schools think that we should just gulp down inaccurate historical incidents without ever questioning its provenance, motivations etc?

One pervasive answer we get is that at that age, we should just get our facts and then later when we go into college or thereafter we can question the heck out of history.

Now this answer is just plain balmy! We shouldn't wolf down "so-called facts", for to be a rational human being or at least a close facsimile to that, one needs to learn to question the sources of those "facts". From absolute untruths like Columbus being the hero to what really happened in First Thanksgiving and to other horrors draped as Murican signs of greatness (read Vietnam & Iraq Wars).

A must-read for anyone to start questioning what they have learned!

My Rating - 5/5
Profile Image for Joan.
1,963 reviews
October 2, 2020
This was superb! Solid history as NOT taught in secondary schools. The theme of this book is that publishers insist on writing bland non controversial garbage that only has a passing relationship with actual facts in order to have sales. They are going to make sure nothing offends those who might influence the purchase of a textbook so emotion is exacto-knifed out and students are not taught that there could be several reasons why an event happened. They are not taught how to check out information and think critically about it. And if they are not taught accurate history then how can they take that messed up pablum and use it to judge current events in their lives? The author point blank told students reading this book that he decided to leave out 2 of the most disturbing photos about the Vietnam War because he hopes that this book will be in school libraries and was afraid those two photos would be found offensive!
I do have some criticism of this book. The authors were so determined to show how badly the Native Americans were treated that they made them into essentially “Noble Savages”. There were plenty of Native Americans who did bad things. Plenty were not noble at all. Very few qualified as savages since they had their own civilizations.
Most of the book was very well written and adapted by Rebecca Stefoff. I highly recommend this title especially with ongoing protests by Blacks who want current events as well as historical events to be based on uncomfortable facts that we Whites may not have encountered before.
Profile Image for Jessica Caskey.
16 reviews
August 24, 2019
This should be required reading for any teacher of SS. I am going into the school year with a fresh perspective about how I will teach American history. I will be mindful of the texts I read for American exceptionalism archetypes and present all of my essential questions as discoveries and not “here’s the answer, kids”. I will probably even share excerpts of this with them.
Profile Image for Lauren Reed.
188 reviews8 followers
April 20, 2019
With a catchy, but misleading title, LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME, certainly grabs your attention. Having read through the original by James W. Loewen, I was prepared for what to expect from this YA version, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff, (appropriate for age 12+). Instead of attacking teachers, as the title may suggest, Loewen points out the grave misinformation or complete omission of significant events and entire communities of people in our students’ text books, and sees these as powerful, missed teaching opportunities. Teachers, in many cases, have no choice but to use the curriculum provided, and within the texts and materials available, are where the inadequacies lie.

“When textbooks make racism invisible in American history, they make it harder to see it in the present”.

Throughout the book such themes as heroification are discussed, (significant people of our past presented as ideals, instead of as imperfect role models), as well as a blatant avoidance of socialism and racism in historical figures, so that they will appeal to the general public and not be seen as “unpatriotic”. Finally, he thoroughly reveals how we’re presented with the standard colorless, classless, male dominated definitive answers to all of our history, instead of the complex, diverse, conflicted, deep questions of our shameful and shared history.

Loewen is admonishing is his approach, but ever hopeful for our collective progress and that “young people can bring about change”, if only they are provided the resources.

4.5/5 🌟 I docked 1/2 a star for the misleading and objectionable title. Thank you to The New Press for providing me with this review copy available 4/23/19.

I’m leaving a few of the many meaningful quotes below in hopes of giving you a better understanding of the spirit of this book.

“Students typically blame the poor for not being successful. They have no understanding o how social structure pushes and shapes... most do not realize that opportunity is not equal in the. U.S.”

“In fact, textbooks have trouble admitting that anything might be wrong with white Americans or with the U.S. as a whole. We have moved beyond it [slavery], so we can talk about it’s evils. But that is hollow and meaningless unless we can also talk about what enslavement mean to us in the present moment.”

“Many Americans do not know that 1/3 of the United States, from San Francisco to Florida, has been Spanish longer than it has been “American”.

“It brings up the idea that America HAS social classes, that opportunity might depend on social class, and that not everyone has the same power to rise in the world.”

“When they glorify Columbus, they nudge us toward identifying with an oppressor.”

“... our environmental crisis is also an educational problem.”
Profile Image for Stephanie .
1,089 reviews42 followers
May 30, 2019
These days, I find myself wavering between obsessively watching/listening to the news (I HAVE to know! What’s going on?) and wallowing in despair, avoiding news. Either way, I truly fear the direction we are headed in, in large part due to the lack of critical thinking and understanding of current events I see everywhere.

Back in 1995, James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me was published. It started as a survey of the dozen leading history textbooks, and over the years has been revised and updated, selling nearly two million copies, winning an American Book Award and the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship, and been on the front page of the New York Times.

Now Rebecca Stefoff, a writer of nonfiction for children who previously who Howard Zinn’s bestseller A People’s History of the United States for young readers, has written an adapted version of Lies My Teacher Told Me, aimed at younger students.

It starts before the events around Columbus “discovering” America (!) and includes people and events such as the first Thanksgiving, Helen Keller, the My Lai massacre, 9/11, and the Iraq War.

Along the way, Stefoff isn’t shy about poking holes in the common textbook versions of history. IMHO this is the book that SHOULD be used to teach U.S. history to students. I loved it. Five stars. And IMHO, although it is ostensibly for students ages 12 to 18, it is probably written at a good level for a huge number of adults as well.
Profile Image for Morgan Wagner.
84 reviews1 follower
August 12, 2019
THIS should be required reading for all students. There are so many things to take away from this book.
History is taught all wrong. Agreeing with the author; students are bored with it, that we learn enough to pass a test but dont really do any critical thinking.
Textbooks present everything as fact when in reality theres alot to question, to research, and wonder about. We as students are not usually encouraged to do those things in history class. Can you recall a time that didnt revolve around memorizing certain material?
Personally i do feel quite lied to, like my educated had failed me on a level. There are so many things that i didnt know about and not because i didnt pay attention in my classes. This book was fantastic AND educating.
Profile Image for Deanna Detchemendy.
139 reviews4 followers
August 8, 2020
Not a quick read but an important one. Every chapter contains a world of food for thought and action. The habit of lionizing historical figures gets a particular spotlight; so many ills follow from it including a misread of what it takes to be a leader. The book prompted great conversation in the family, and thankfully our kids' input was often to say that their history teacher had made these same points, regularly sending them to source documents and making them think hard through a different lens. Amen. As someone who learned through American Pageant etc, the mental shift is tougher and the need to find different words, pictures, and casting of our history feels urgent.
Profile Image for Melissa.
214 reviews
September 24, 2020
So good and informative. I had tried reading the adult version but non fiction is not my forte so this was perfect. Enough facts to keep me interested and condensed enough not to bog me down. My son is in AP US history right now and I have highly recommended that he read it. This should be the textbook used in schools. I wonder if the huge disconnect between people and patriotism is due to being appalled at the country not being like how we've been taught it is and when people find out it makes them angry- because of the truth and because it's been "covered up" and lied about.

History would be way more interesting and useful if we could discuss what really happened and how if effected people and then thought about how to change or learn from it, instead of just memorizing useless facts.
Profile Image for Bakertyl.
299 reviews7 followers
April 2, 2019
I read the original ( I guess the Old Reader's Edition??) years ago, and as a Social Studies major I loved it.  I read this version, and still love it.

Having a way to effectively communicate history to children will help those children understand the world they'll inherit sooner than they wish to.

One of the things I loved about the first book was how approachable the content was.  Anyone who could read would understand the points of history that led us to now.  I didn't consider how to address these points to a younger student that didn't have the real-world context I did.

The Young Reader's edition establishes the cause and effect that resulted from misunderstanding and active lying about history.  This means, for a student, having real-world experience isn't as important, they can still follow the chain of events that happened after lies were established.

I recommend this book to anyone working with students.  If you teach or homeschool or just want to know why our world is the way it is, this book is a great place to start.

**I received a free copy of this book from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
Profile Image for January Gray.
727 reviews14 followers
April 17, 2019
Informative. Fun to read. I enjoyed it. So many things in school are incorrect or taught wrong. I'm glad I read it.
Profile Image for Cheryl Louise.
19 reviews1 follower
March 17, 2019
I'm so excited that this book exists. I've been a fan of the original, and am glad to see one specifically for the middle and high school set. An excellent choice for homeschooling.
Profile Image for Michelle.
1,074 reviews
March 20, 2019
My 11 year old read this book as part of his history homeschool curriculum. He was fascinated by it and often read parts out loud to me because he wanted to make sure I learned everything he was learning. He loved it so much he is recommending it to his best friend so he can question his teachers at school more than he already does. He especially loved the title and hopes history books include more of the facts he learned.
Profile Image for Holly.
106 reviews2 followers
June 13, 2020
One would think the author of a critique of American history textbooks would take great pains to avoid the pervasive pitfall of those textbooks: boring writing style. Nope. Dry as a bone.
Profile Image for Kristina.
31 reviews3 followers
June 5, 2020
On white supremacy in America:
pp. 106-8
Racism in the Western world stems mainly from two activities that unfolded through history and were related to each other. One is the taking of land by Europeans from the peoples who lived on it, and the destruction of those peoples. The other is enslaving Africans to work that land. Slavery and racism reinforced each other. (...) The social and economic system of slavery died with the Civil War in the middle of the nineteenth century. The idea system of racism, however, has lived on. The essence of what we have inherited from slavery is the idea that it is right, even "natural," for whites to be on top, blacks on the bottom. Our culture tells all of us, including African Americans, that Europe's domination of the world came about because (white) Europeans were smarter. This message is white supremacy. It is driven home in so many ways that many whites, and even some people of color believe it.
White supremacy is not just left over from slavery. Since slavery ended, other developments in American history have maintained it. (...) If students aren't asked to think about what causes racism, they may conclude that it's "natural." But it isn't. Racism is a result not of biology, but of history.

On the impacts of racism:
pp. 124-126:
Since the nadir (1890-1940), race relations have improved, due especially to the civil rights movement. But massive racial inequality remains. For example, in 2016 the median family income of African-Americans was 61.5% of white family income. Wealth was even less equal. White families owned about 10 times as much in property and investments. This is partly due to sundown suburbs that shut African-Americans out of Veterans Administration and Federal Housing Administration home-ownership programs after World War II.
Money can be used to buy many things in our society. It can buy life itself. In the form of better healthcare and nutrition, as well as freedom from danger and stress. It’s no surprise, then, that in 2015 African-American men could expect to live four and a half years less, on average, than white men. African-American women’s life expectancy was five years less than a white women’s.
On average, African-American still have worse housing, lower scores on IQ and SAT tests, and higher percentages of young men in jail. The sneaking suspicion that African-Americans may be inferior lurks in the hearts of many whites and some blacks. It contributed to the modern revival of the KKK and to backlash against schools affirmative action policies, which some whites felt had given unfair advantages to people of color in college admissions. Ideas about racial interiority also feed into the belief that black men who are brutally killed by the police are somehow responsible for their own deaths. It is too easy to blame the victim and decide that people of color are responsible for being on the bottom. It is impossible to explain these differences without knowing about the nadir of race relations and the continuing influence of racism in US history.
When textbooks make racism invisible in American history, they make it harder to see the present. Teachers say history is important because it gives us perspective on the present. If there is one issue in the present that should be related to the history our teachers and textbook tell, it is racism. If white supremacy remains in visible in our textbooks in history courses, young people have no tools to think intelligently about race relations in our future.

On the impacts of integration:
p. 143
Maryland was a slave state that, at the beginning of the (Civil) war, showed considerable support for the Confederacy. But it stayed with the Union and sent thousands of soldiers to defend Washington, DC. For Maryland whites to fight a war against slave owners while allowing slavery in their own state created tension. In 1864 Maryland abolitionists brought the issue of emancipation of the enslaved to a vote. Emancipation seemed to lose by a narrow margin - until the votes of absent soldiers and sailors were counted. Then it won by a large margin. The minds of those men had changed to favor freedom for African Americans.

On societal change:
African Americans, often with white allies, nonviolently challenged an unjust law or practice. This led whites to violently "defend civilization." This violence, in turn, horrified enough people across the land to bring about changes to the law or practice. The civil rights victories of the 1960s came about not because the government thought it was a good idea, but because of the courage of civil rights volunteers.

On patriotism v. nationalism and the teaching of American history:
(...) all of us need to understand the difference between patriotism and nationalism, which is an extreme kind of patriotism in which people feel that their country is superior to all others, and that its interests override everyone else's. African American abolitionist Frederick Douglass said that patriots hold their country accountable for its sins and do not excuse them. A nationalist, on the other hand, denies that the country ever committed sins and cannot think rationally about them.
By taking a nationalist approach to the federal government, downplaying its secret and illegal acts, textbooks discourage young people from thinking about important issues, such as how the executive branch uses power. By presenting government actions without the pressures that caused them - whether from multinational corporations or civil rights organizations - textbooks miss the chance to show how the people and their leaders make history together.
Nationalist history doesn't really work. Surely we need education that helps young people critique their government intelligently. Nationalistic education is not what we want. Indeed, nationalism is not patriotic.

On teaching the truth:
pp. 202-3
Citizens deserve to be able to understand and discuss what their government has done wrong, and what it can do better.
p. 245
Achieving justice in the present helps us tell the truth about the past. (...) telling the truth about the past helps achieve justice in the present (...) you can use accurate history to support positive social change.
Profile Image for Cindy.
455 reviews1 follower
April 1, 2021
This was interesting but didn't totally agree with his reasoning on racism and when it began. The way I understood his statement, racism didn't exit until slavery from the America's and Africa. (that is a simply statement from me) The more I thought about it I wondered if he took in to account that in Europe and other places class systems were very real at that time. Perhaps the color of their skin was the same but many people were treated differently and thought of as less than because of the social status they were born into. Just a thought.
18 reviews
June 12, 2019
Before I read this book, I was oblivious to the extent school textbooks had been lying to me. I was homeschooled, and received my curriculum from a prestigious academy, so I got a better education than most people. But this prestigious academy was still feeding me some false information.

And it’s not just about what the textbooks say; it’s also what they omit. Helen Keller’s activist adult life, for instance, and we instead focus on her triumphs in childhood. The book talks about how a statue of her at 6-years-old in the U.S. Capitol has “[frozen] her in childhood”.

The reason textbooks have omitted Keller’s adult life is quite clear: she was a socialist. I am personally not a socialist, but I agree with James W. Loewen that there’s no good reason to ignore what she did later in life. The idea that children aren’t capable of handling opposing (and yes, even “dangerous”) viewpoints is silly, in my opinion.

A lot of the information in the book I had already learned. The romanticizing of Christopher Columbus, for instance, was something I was familiar with. However, who he really was was something I knew that I didn’t know. I bought into some of the lies when I was younger, but when I grew up I heard enough amendments to the tall tales that I gave up trying to figure out exactly what he did. Lies My Teacher Told Me cleared up a lot of the things I didn’t know what to think about, and made me feel validated for feeling skeptical about everything I’d heard about him thus far.

Sorry, that paragraph was a mouthful.

Anyway, on to the criticism. Having not yet read the original edition of Lies, I’m not sure how this adaptation compares. But I knew I would regret getting the young readers’ edition, since it seemed less detailed than the original. It was aimed to younger readers, after all.

But as much faith as Loewen puts in young readers, it seems kind of ironic that this edition feels so watered down. He even acknowledges that young children have already written to him about his original publication, and so I’m not sure whether this edition was really necessary. But maybe it will be helpful in enlightening younger children to some of the inadequacies of modern state-sanctioned education.

All I know is it wasn’t for me. The tone was too dry, and even though it was a simple read it was sort of boring. Another irony, considering that Loewen criticizes textbooks for being boring in the way they present facts. It’s probably just this edition, but even for a short read it was at times frustrating trying to get through.

I just hope children find this book useful, fun, enlightening. And I hope that teachers will recommend this book, and that parents will sit down with their children to discuss these topics. After all, children deserve the truth; we all do, even when it disagrees with us.
Profile Image for Jessica.
1,349 reviews
April 24, 2019
Thanks to Netgalley for the ARC! I was excited to access and read this book because I had the adult, first version on my wish list for a while. As I teach teens, I was ready to dive into this YA version because I wanted to see if it would be something I could recommend to my students. I did enjoy it, and it was very eye-opening for me. There were stories that were mentioned in here where I thought-Yup. I remember learning that and having my textbook lead me to believe that, and it was wrong!
I have talked to the social studies teacher I work with at my HS and told him to check out the book, and I just mentioned it to some students today when they said something about Columbus. I also did some online searching for more information on many of the figured mentioned in the book. So, if you want to know if it is a book that strikes up conversation and a hunger for knowledge, then the answer is yes.
Along with that, though, there were some things I did not like. It was not what I expected. The organization was not very clear and seemed to jump around sometimes. It also seemed more like a book that criticized textbooks than anything. I get it-textbooks do not incite conversation and a thirst for research. Sadly, we as teachers cannot change the textbooks. So, if you are a history teacher, I think this book is valuable to maybe give you some ideas on how to take things in the textbooks with a grain of salt and to realize you need to have kids make discoveries and research to really get a true taste and picture of history. If you are someone interested in the flaws in history lessons like me, then it may not be exactly what you are looking for but still a good read. I had to switch from this book to some others because I found myself getting a little bored as some of the writing was a little dry. Again, not a deal-breaker for me, but not what I wanted to expected.
Overall, a good read with valuable info. Just might not be the kind of book kids reach for, but more something a good history teacher would use to let young people pay more attention and do more research so they are more informed about our past.
3.5-4 starts overall
Profile Image for Bookwyrmguy.
5 reviews1 follower
October 21, 2019
I hadn’t heard of this book before, and when I found it on a library shelf, I was excited to start turning the pages. I experienced the history education that he rails against in this book, and feel like I’ve always known that our textbooks are full of propaganda. I couldn’t wait to see what the author could tell me about what I might not have known.

The areas where he does actually address the topic hinted at in the title of the book WERE very interesting. I learned a few new things, and saw some historical events from a different perspective. Some information was a rehash for me as well. This is the only thing that bumped my rating to 3 stars.

You would think this would have been an easy read. The pages are small, with large font, and large borders. It’s only 245 pages of text. Unfortunately, the way this book was written made it difficult to get through.

The author’s tone was superior and condescending towards teachers. He decries the use of emotionally charged language in our textbooks, yet his book is riddled with the same. Much of this writing is meant to stir up an angry emotional reaction.

It starts right on the cover. Reading the title, you are struck with a sense that there has been an effort on your teachers part to actively deceive you. My question when I read and reread his accusations of lying is this; is it really lying if the information you are passing in on is not known to be untrue? Were we misinformed? Yes We’re we lied to? No.

The author tends to spend more time bashing the system and trying to spark activism to change teachers to teach the way he feels is the better way. I don’t see any talk of the challenges that teachers face and how to make this happen in a world of national, state and local core curriculum requirements. What about the standardized tests that minimal achievements need to be made. Add all the other things a middle school and high school teacher must do, and it doesn’t seem realistic to have a teacher turn his/her history class into a college level history class in our current environment.

Profile Image for Laura Gardner.
1,669 reviews108 followers
September 9, 2019
So so so many thoughts after reading this MUST-BUY nonfiction book by #JamesWLoewen. I love when awesome adult NF gets adapted for young people! I loved the original back in college; this version is accessible, relevant and IMPORTANT. Some thoughts below...
Racism is a product of our past and continues to affect the present, but racism is rarely discussed in textbooks. .
After analyzing history textbooks for the last 30 years, Loewen has concluded that the textbook readers are given a sanitized story that erases uncertainty and complexity in favor of a Eurocentric mythical story/history. (It’s also BORING...which is such a shame bc real history is fascinating, dynamic and an awesome opportunity for inquiry!)
Embedded in this text are examples of ways that students can become more critical readers and thinkers. Loewen analyzes language from specific passages from history textbooks to point out words that show a slanted POV.
I found it fascinating to read Loewen’s take on the danger of presenting America as an “international good guy” in textbooks...it is not only inaccurate but also robs students of an inquiry opportunity. .
Most history textbooks and classes never get to discuss our more recent history, which Loewen argues is the most important part to discuss. .
Loewen urges textbook authors to give up the “blind devotion to the archetype or progress...[to] encourage debate about different ways of defining progress”
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39 reviews
February 23, 2022
(For my personal records only.)
Comparing this YA adapted version to Howard Zinn's YA adaptation of A People's History, I really enjoyed this text more. They are both worth reading, but I liked how in-depth this text goes into the deception at work in textbook scholarship (the true "dark academia").

Of course, I'm sure I would like the original non-adapted version better, but I purchased this for potential use in class. The language feels less clunky than Howard Zinn's--even though they're both adapted by the same person. I could still really hear the tone and voice coming through from Loewen. The little textbook style "boxes" really shake up what boxes are meant to do in a piece.

While unfortunately this text does not have the capacity to dive into all lies textbooks teach in every American decade, it's useful in providing case studies for how to approach other histories on your own. This warms my heart because Loewen spells out my exact frustration in teaching. Students are taught how to learn useless facts while I spend my days grappling with controversies and interpretations. Students' minds get turned off. Loewen, indeed as he covers in his intro, does not teacher bash! (If anything he textbook bashes.) Yet, he does provide antidotes to these bad histories along with great approaches to encouraging critical thinking.

Public school expectations often belittle my professionalism and make me doubt that I'm "teaching" my students at all--especially when they are called on to regurgitate facts or formulaic essays. That seems to be the only metric the public uses for education. I can't think of many concrete things I ask my students to walk away with memorizing, but luckily after reading this book, Loewen has assured me that students are on my side as well when they resist rote learning.

Three cheers for this book. I think, after reading though, that this will be more a resource for me as an educator, rather than a text I use in excerpts with students.
Profile Image for Dan.
455 reviews5 followers
December 8, 2019
I'm rarely surprised by poor writing. Book publishing is a business first and foremost. There's little integrity left in the business world and one should not expect big business publishing to be any different. Whatever sells is good, if it doesn't sell it isn't good. But The New Press, publisher of this book, is decidedly not big business publishing. So, I was very surprised to read such poorly presented material in the book.
There are probably very few pieces of misinformation in the book. There's nothing there that's not known already to the adult reader. The problem lies in the way it is presented. Here are three quick observations (and then I'll shut up about it):
- the writing is "dumbed down" i.e., in an attempt to attract 21st-century young readers the editors have made the sentences and paragraphs too simple to include any "think-aloud" participation. In effect "this is this" and that's that.
- there are no clear references, i.e., somewhere in the book where we can fact check what the author says. True there are notes in the back of the book but they are sparsely written if prolific in number and do not give a reader much hope of finding out where a statement has come from or what research has shown the statement to be true.
- the book is written in a very argumentative tone which is not healthy for young readers. It will seem to them that the author has an angry, preordained outcome in mind. This is what we are trying to avoid for young readers. Better to write in a style that lets the young reader understand differing points of view and the reasons why certain popular, historical beliefs are incorrect.
To paraphrase and coin a phrase: STAY CALM AND WRITE ON.
Profile Image for Austin Wrathall.
41 reviews4 followers
August 9, 2021
Overall, this was a refreshing and enlightening read. Loewen calls out the heroization and PC softening of history prevalent in American classrooms and texts and makes compelling arguments for a more balanced, nuanced, and accurate telling of US history. The numerous examples of eurocentrism and stereotypes in the classic narrative of US history is enough to make the reader squirm and desire a better narrative for future students.

As for the book’s weaknesses, it could have a more accurate title. “Lies My Textbook Told Me” would be a far more accurate title (and would probably not sell nearly ad well). The book has little if anything to do with teachers. The author is also a sociologist, not a historian, and while he writes with confidence on history, having a trained historian’s perspective on these topics could only have improved the book. This is especially apparent when Loewen presents alternative hypotheses on historical topics that “some historians” share. These alternative hypotheses are sometimes so radical (Africans meeting the Olmecs, the Kennedy assassination as a mob hit) that they likely come from the fringes of academia.

Loewen struggles with a little bit of mixed messaging at times, arguing against lionizing certain historical figures in one chapter and then lionizing others himself. Sometimes it also feels like Loewen will only be satisfied with textbooks that present history from a Marxist perspective. These are minor issues, however. Loewen’s central thesis is that everyone involved in history education should think more critically and examine historical evidence rather than perpetuate myths, and that is a message our country needs to hear.
Profile Image for Karlie Schaefer.
432 reviews16 followers
March 26, 2019
Disclaimer: I received a free ARC of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

I really enjoyed this book.  I had always wanted to read the original but it always seemed too daunting a task, considering my lifelong dislike of history.

To be fair, I realized through this book that I retained more of the US history I learned in public school than I would have thought.  Unfortunately, this book taught me that most of what I had retained was wrong, or at least majorly lacking in context.

I'm not sure how I would have felt about this book though if I were still a teenager.  It's a little dry but it's better than textbooks that reinforce rote memorization of what will be on the test. This book taught me that many high schoolers felt this way about studying history, and offers some suggestions to combat that disinterest in the classroom.

That's why I'd love to see an actual textbook put together by this author, especially if it could be created as a side-by-side comparison book (left side original textbook, right side questioning/correcting/adding context).

I think the younger generations are getting better at questioning things so the rewriting of this book has come at an appropriate time. Everyone really should read it. Young and old, I hope everyone does.
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