Tuesday, January 7, 2014

"Lies My Teacher Told Me" by James W. Loewen

 Originally, my brother gave me this book years ago. I recall being on a plane headed for South America reading it. I do not recall seeing it when I returned. Whatever happened to the poor text is forever a mystery, but it inspired me to pick it up as an audio book for Tami and I to listen to on the way to work. 

Summary: Loewen selected the twelve most used textbooks in high school American History classes. He then spent years reading and analyzing all twelve and talking with college students in his classes. This book is the result of that research. Loewen's major conclusion should be obvious from the title. He argues strongly that American History textbooks are not vehicles for historical facts, but a way for students to learn the multitude of American myths that our nation has come celebrate. He criticizes textbooks for pretending that good old USA is always the good guy, no matter what. Similarly, textbooks deify our founding fathers and other famous figures by either hiding their crimes or justifying them in bizarre ways. He spends a lot of the book clearing up many of the big myths to give the reader clear and factual information. He also goes into the metadata, discussing the amount of space devoted to different purposes, for example comparing number of words used for the War of 1812 and the Vietnam War and other such events. He talks about the historians who work for the publishers to show that many of them have published very truthful academic work outside of school textbooks, and goes into the dynamics of textbook publishing to show how a person fully aware of the truth might end up echoing the same old myth.

What I Liked: This book is a refreshing look at the way in which history classes are used for reasons other than teaching history. I also learned a lot from this book about what really happened when Columbus came to America, bringing with him an endless tide of Europeans.  

What I Didn't Like: It was a little outdated. This book was published in 1994 and the success of the internet has made myth-busting both easier and harder. This book is written right at the end of the non-internet era and so it never comes up in the discourse.

Rating: This is a must read if the only thing you know about history is what you learned in school.

Also Read By This Author: None.

Reviewed By: Nick

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