- Paperback: 464 pages
- Publisher: Touchstone; Revised edition (October 16, 2007)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0743296281
- ISBN-13: 978-0743296281
- Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1.2 x 9.2 inches
- Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars See all reviews (1,369 customer reviews)
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,559 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong Paperback – October 16, 2007
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From Publishers Weekly
Loewen's politically correct critique of 12 American history textbooks—including The American Pageant by Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy; and Triumph of the American Nation by Paul Lewis Todd and Merle Curti—is sure to please liberals and infuriate conservatives. In condemning the way history is taught, he indicts everyone involved in the enterprise: authors, publishers, adoption committees, parents and teachers. Loewen (Mississippi: Conflict and Change) argues that the bland, Eurocentric treatment of history bores most elementary and high school students, who also find it irrelevant to their lives. To make learning more compelling, Loewen urges authors, publishers and teachers to highlight the drama inherent in history by presenting students with different viewpoints and stressing that history is an ongoing process, not merely a collection of—often misleading—factoids. Readers interested in history, whether liberal or conservative, professional or layperson, will find food for thought here. Illustrated.
Copyright 1994 Reed Business Information, Inc.
When textbook gaffes make news, as with the tome that explained that the Korean War ended when Truman dropped the atom bomb, the expeditious remedy would be to fire the editor. Loewen would rather hire a new team of authors bent on the pursuit of context instead of factoids. In Loewen's ideal text, events and people illuminating the multicultural holy trinity of race, gender, and social class would predominate over the fixation on heroes and acts of government. Such is the mood adopted throughout this critique of 12 American history texts in current use. Vetting 10 topics they commonly address--from the Pilgrims to the Vietnam War--Loewen bewails a long train of alleged omissions and distortions. To account for the deplorable situation, he offers this quasi-Marxist explanation: "Perhaps we are all dupes, manipulated by elite white male capitalists who orchestrate how history is written as part of their scheme to perpetuate their own power and privilege at the expense of the rest of us." Certainly students' appalling ignorance of history is troublesome, and broken families and excessive TV viewing are at least the equals of white male conspirators as the cause. However, libraries located where dissatisfaction with textbooks exists should be interested in Loewen's critique. Gilbert Taylor
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Top Customer Reviews
One of my friends has cited this book as a list of "leftist talking points." In one respect that is a fair analysis. Much of the concerns that Loewen expresses might be expected to be discussed by teachers with a liberal mindset. Global warming, class discrimination, anti-colonialist sentiments, and incessant talk of exploitation are just a few of the things one might expect to hear about from a democrat running for office. The fact of the matter is that while Loewen has attempted to deny this he does not help his cause in this new edition. It would be easy to say that Loewen finds himself infrequently at odds with Conservative values even though he sees himself as something of a moderate. Unfortunately, the political nature of his discussion has a polarizing effect at times and anchors him on one side of the fence.
His strong denunciation of George W. Bush serves to clearly show his political allegiance. While I am certainly no fan of Mr. Bush's policies I was not exactly sure that he was presenting him in a clear and objective manner. At times I think that Mr. Loewen allows his political passions to cloud his objectivity in reviewing topics he feels passionate about. For example: he wants to denounce the Vietnam War and trudge up war crimes committed by U.S. soldiers. This is not an issue that I am willing to contest but I would like to say that in spite of this he fails to talk about war crimes committed against soldiers. My Father was there and remembers well the fear of a small child who may come up at any time strapped with explosives. I think that while we are certainly guilty it should be remembered that this is not just a feature of U.S. policy but rather an ugly aspect of war.
Nevertheless, despite this there is a genius to this book. First of all, we are never told that Loewen agrees with everything he says. In one place he cites a review that referred to him as a socialist and then goes on to say that his real views of capitalism might surprise the reviewer. There are things that he says about Christianity for example that fly in the face of liberal sentiments. His perspective on John Brown uniquely pointed out that John Brown is crazy not because of his psychological status but because of his ideological perspective. Brown acted on what he believed was the "biblical" thing to do and now history judges him severely. In the final section he denounces the idea that the power elites are controlling the information and believes it is just not that simple. While he does acknowledge a level of class oppression he believes history books and lessons are controlled by different forces. This certainly flies in the face of leftist ideology about the elite. All of this raises questions as to the genuine motives of Loewen. Is he a liberal shoveling leftist propaganda or is he playing 'devil's advocate?'
I believe while he is a moderate liberal this is not his main goal. I think the point of the book is to be provocative for the purpose of generating listeners. The title itself "Lies my Teacher Told Me" is meant to have a shock value! In a way, Mr. Loewen wants you to get mad and he wants to derail the reader off his or her little train tracks. The point of the book is to dispose of naive history that is propagated through faulty textbooks. Loewen believes there are a lot of colors in the story and he wants to make sure that you noticed them. The point is to teach us to try and cultivate multiple sets of eyeballs and leave behind our own self-caused ignorance so we can know. Loewen is not seeking to shame us although a little shame does not hurt from time to time. Loewen wants us to see that "the antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honesty and inclusivism."
The main arguments of this book are as follows: First, Loewen believes that rote memorization and naive historical narrative creates a "disney view" of history that does not foster a coherent and useful view of social life. Secondly, he argues that presenting history with "warts" and all is the most effective way to help young people make sense out of a complicated world. He argues that presenting ourselves and our culture as the "international good guy" is harmful fostering prideful nationalism and promoting imperialistic viewpoints that blind us when we are doing wrong to others. He believes that the real catalyst for this or at the biggest symptom of the problem is the textbook. Textbooks have glaring problems with all of this and are often written by people who have little to no background in history. Ghost writers write them and names are basically rented to put on the front to make it seem credible. Loewen wants the authors who lend their names to know what goes out under their names and he wants teachers to make sure their students get the full account.
All in all this book was worth reading and I would recommend it to anyone. Do I agree with everything this man said? No but I appreciate what he was doing. Challenging people makes them mad and if you don't believe that then keep reading the other reviews. However challenging people makes them think. If all they do is study and solidify their position at least it is solidified. However, naive acceptance of half-truths is not the way to move our students towards civic and social competence in an ever changing world.
Lies My Teacher Told Me examines dozens of falsehoods and inaccuracies common to current textbooks. It's a valuable study of the field for teachers, parents, and students, however I cannot rate it more highly because the unrelenting tone of scolding made it exhausting to finish.
Of course there are the quibblers who try to impose different sets of "facts" to show this book is "wrong." That's a bit like a prominent candidate for President who declares victory when he suffers a loss.
Of equal value with the rearranged or corrected "facts" of American history, Mr. Loewen shows HOW we learned our history askew, WHY our history textbooks are distorted, and WHO steered the ship of textbook approval and purchasing. Now there's an eye-opener. It's what changed my approach to consuming "history."
Since this book appeared in 1995, Mr. Loewen published at least eight more books that take issue with well-learned "history" that just does not square with facts. He does ask a lot. He asks that we, individually, take responsibility for the "history" we use as the foundation for decisions. To adjust one's views when much-loved "facts" are shown to be misconstrued or just plain wrong is hard. It takes courage. Think of this adjustment as a test of character.
You can easily find other books by Mr. Loewen on Amazon, such as Sundown Towns: A Hidden Dimension of American Racism.
Nearly 1,300 reviews have already been posted for this book. Still, I hope you find something here was helpful for you.
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Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong