Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Book Review

Pages: 4 (1376 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: ≈ 8  ·  File: .docx  ·  Topic: American History

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

The ignorance of American students is often bemoaned in the public discourse and attributed to student or teacher laziness. But according to James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me, the ways in which American history is taught to students as much as work ethic of students must come under scrutiny. The ways in which the teaching process takes place is inherently problematic -- riddled with misstatements and outright lies. History textbooks reduce American history to sound bites and to an easy trajectory of positive 'progress' in which history is shown as ever-advancing in a beneficial direction.

James Loewen is uniquely qualified to write a book critiquing how American elementary, middle, and high school students learn their history. Not only is he a professor of history but according to his official website, "Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History. What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple, weighing in at an average of four-and-a-half pounds and 888 pages." Loewen thus has an in-depth knowledge of how history is presented in both more 'liberal' and 'conservative textbooks; textbooks designed for both old and young; textbooks intended to be used for AP classes and for lower-level students. He finds all of them lacking, albeit sometimes in different ways.Get full Download Microsoft Word File access
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An excellent example of how history is taught in American schools is manifested in the example of Helen Keller. Keller is often championed as a disabled person who bravely overcame being blind and deaf. However, this aspect of Keller's life only encompasses a sliver of her existence. Keller was a radical socialist and a champion of women's rights (Loewen 11-12). But her life story is literally infantilized -- only the safe aspects of her girlhood narrative are included in American history books. Similarly, President Woodrow Wilson is primarily remembered as the founder of the League of Nations and for his victory during World War I. His racism and willingness for America to become involved abroad in many smaller, more questionable conflicts is forgotten (Loewen 19). The lives of individuals are thus very easy to distort by ignoring the aspects of their lives that conflict with the story that the author of history books wish to tell. The most infamous example of this is Columbus, a figure who is disassociated from the ideology which he supported as he portrayed as someone who embodies 'progress' because he understood that the world was round. This is despite the fact that many other explorers reached the Americas before him, and that America had already been visited by the Vikings, and given the state of navigation at the time, it is likely that other Europeans would have 'discovered' it soon after (Loewen 31). Columbus' pursuit of wealth, knowledge, and the expansion of Christianity becomes kind of like a prototype of the American Dream. Similarly, just as the conquest of native persons were said to be evidence of their 'inferiority,' when people do not 'make it' in America today and suffer because of class inequalities, they are judged harshly as if their failure to measure up to societal standards is proof of their lack of worth. Columbus judged all societies by his own standards, much as today we judge societies as 'developing' or 'underdeveloped' if they do not embrace industrialization and Western capitalism. This is reinforced in the perception of history conveyed in student history books.

Likewise, entire historical movements are likewise denuded of their original significance. Consider the Pilgrims, who are portrayed as pioneers starting with nothing -- ignoring the fact they actually lived in Indian villages that had been decimated by European colonialism and the plague (Loewen 90). History becomes the selective enforcement of particular ideologies. Even the colonization of the Americans Spanish is not included in the history of the early Americas, because this might cloud the narrative of people 'making good' upon the promise of a new, unsullied world empty of anyone but White, Anglo-Saxon Protestants (Loewen 70). Some relatively good history books characterize native… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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