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

Lies My Teacher Told Me

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Mimi Young Since middle school, I have had an interest in history, especially American history. I recently received a copy of James W. Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Get Wrong. I was enthralled by this book from the first chapter, which was about how American history textbooks make historical figures into idealized heroes. I liked how Loewen analyzed the depictions of historical events and figures such as Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller in several American history textbooks in comparison to what actually happened in history. I learned things that I never knew about historical figures. For example, I did not know that Helen Keller was a radical socialist who helped to find the National Civil Liberties Union. It explored the moral greyness of American history as seen through the modern perception of Woodrow Wilson and the actual policies of his administration. Loewen did a lot of research for this book, which shows in each of its chapters. I was surprised by the positive perception of this book from people of all backgrounds because when books normally challenge the traditional view of American history that Americans have been raised with, people seem to respond to it controversially. People on the left are likely to criticize it for not focusing enough on minorities, and people on the right are likely to denounce it as painting a negative picture of American history. However, the positive critical, commercial, and public response to Lies My Teacher Told Me shows that Americans want better American history textbooks in their classrooms. I would recommend this book to anyone with a passing interest in history. I hope anyone who decides to read Lies My Teacher Told Me enjoys it and gains a new aspiration for American history.

Vicki I agree that this is an excellent book and one that everyone with an interest in history should take the time to read. I realized, as a part-Native middle school student in the 70's studying the "Dakota Uprising" in a Minnesota history class, that much of what was being taught was, at best, grossly one-sided and, at worst, flat-out lies. It wasn't until I read this book (a number of years ago, now) that I realized that much of what is taught in history class is quite inaccurate. Unfortunately, I think that part of the reason for the positive reception is that the title seems to promise that teacher-bashing will ensue. It doesn't, of course, but it was a brilliant way to get people to read the book. If you discuss this book with actual history teachers (and I did) what you learn is that most history teachers realize that textbooks are often closer to pro-American propaganda than they are to factual history but that it can be highly risky for teachers to depart from the "official version" of history.

Hereford Concur with above comments re the book itself. Inspired me to begin looking at what we teach in our schools. The following arose from a blurb about the Dakota Uprising and its aftermath on the History Channel in 2007. Here are a few websites I discovered. They each have a unique perspective on the event. They include the first negative comment about Abraham Lincoln that I have ever seen. I was 66 in 2007.

Nebraska Indian Community College

The Catholic Encyclopedia

Paul Weber, The Texas Mercury, 26 Mar 2002

Thomas J. Dilorenzo @ May 2, 2002

Vicki Lockard,

Jim Epperson, Free Republic, 4 Apr 2004

Digital History, University of Houston

Miss Bessie Pettigrew, Flandreau School District, Elders Speak Project

Inside Lincoln's Clemency Decision Making, P.S. Ruckman, Jr. & David Kincaid, Rock Valley College’s Ed Net, Illinois

Then, I went to used book stores, bought a handful of contemporary history books to discover that not one of them has a reference to the uprising or the mass execution that followed.

The American Nation, Volume One, A History of the United States to 1877; Carnes & Garrity; Copyright 2003, Pearson Education , Inc.
Creating America, A History of the United States, Garcia, Ogle, Risinger, Stevos, & Jordan, Copyright 2001 McDougal Littell.
American History Revised Edition; Garraty, Singer, Gallagher; Copyright 1986 Harcourt Brace Jovanovich, Inc.
The Reader Digest Family Encyclopedia of American History; Copyright 1975 The Reader’s Digest Association, Inc.
The Brief American Pageant; Kennedy, Bailey, Piehl; Copyright 1993 D.C. Heath and Company
The American Idea, The Best of the Atlantic Monthly, Edited by Robert Vark; Copyright 2007 The Atlantic Monthly Group, Inc
A People’s History of the United States, 1492 – Present; Howard Zinn, Copyright 2003

I don't want to talk about what they have to say about the Vietnam War. Well, next to nothing. All of which seem to me to confirm the thesis of Lies My Teacher Told Me.

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