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Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen

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James Loewen is a renowned historian, sociologist and author. He was born in the family of a medical director, Dr. David Loewen, and a librarian cum teacher, Mrs. Winfred Loewen, on February 6, 1942. He grew up in Decatur Illinois, where he attended the MacArthur High School. Loewen attended the Carlton College before earning a Doctorate degree in sociology at Harvard University. In two years, Loewen surveyed and compared twelve widely used high school textbooks about American History only to discover an embarrassing blend of plain misinformation, misleading nationalism and bland optimism. In 1995, his findings were published in his compelling book “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong.” Apart from presenting some of his own historical themes that are supposedly ignored by many historical books, Loewen contends that many history books are full of outright lies, misinformation, and mindless optimism. He attributes this to the omission of all the passion, drama, conflict, and ambiguities of the America’s past by the authors.

As a student, I am of the opinion that history, ultimately, is a collection of facts whereby events are communicated exactly as they happened. However, Loewen convincingly proves that most history textbooks that are used in American high schools go against this assertion because they are full of wrong facts. Students should learn and understand all the aspects of American history instead of being spared the real facts. For example, they should learn the unpleasantness of slavery and racial violence in Mississippi; the kidnapping and deportation of hundreds of Mexican American by the government; the situation in concentration camps that were filled with Japanese Americans after World War II, or perhaps learn that Paul Robeson was the most gifted performing artist in the history of America. Loewen is able to identify, highlight and seal these loopholes.

Loewen also reveals that American history books are filled with heroes, as if no one has ever done anything sinister. Through his analysis, it can be seen that there were no slaves in America but slave-owners, there were no crimes but criminals, and there were no wars but war mongers. The assertion that the history of America was false rewritten by the government to conceal most of its sordid and ghastly aspects has become literally true. It can be seen that the commonest theme in all these textbooks is the belief that America is a land flowing with milk and honey, and that anybody, no matter how poor, can make it by working hard.

Despite the fact that Loewen is clear and precise in his analyses, the details he provides to support his arguments are staggering to some extent. For example, in the chapter where Loewen discusses what high school students are commonly taught about how “The Thanksgiving Feast” became a yearly tradition and even ends up backing up his assertions with documentations, another hidden facet of his analysis is discovered. While Loewen made his case in this analysis, he kept on heaping more and more unnecessary evidence on top of this story. The fact that Loewen examines different textbooks in two years to establish which of them completely miss the mark and which ones got it right shows that he was just parroting the common thanksgiving myth. In the end, it seems like Loewen was discrediting the authors and their works. It goes without saying that this is wrong to consider that the authors of these books had sacrificed their time and resources to complete their work. This is also evident in his arguments on other chapters such as Race history, Christopher Columbus, the American Indians, Abraham Lincoln, and the heroification of Woodrow.

A seasoned reader would easily discover that this book comprises of so much history to such extent that it becomes not just a critique, but also a history counter-textbook the retells what the criticized history textbooks tell readers about the past. Looking at the manner in which Loewen discusses slavery, he seems to propagate racism from African Americans to the whites. He is very biased in his arguments concerning racism, Native American Policies and antiracism. Unfortunately, this bias prevents the book form achieving its overall quality and objectivity. In fact, Loewen seems to be pitting African Americans against their fellow whites by painting a grim picture of the Native Americans. He is of the opinion that all whites are cruel, dishonest, greedy and stupid. A seasoned reader cannot fail to notice that Loewen uses this book as a vehicle for achieving his personal agenda, and this corrupts the project that promises so much to the reader in its title. It is apparent that Loewen is trying to divide Americans among racial affiliations as well as stain an already positive view on American history.

Despite these minor pitfalls, “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your High School History Textbook Got Wrong” is a good to read for both students and their teachers. Through the book, Loewen has been able to deconstruct the shoddy works that pass for history textbooks in America. The good thing about the book is that the author summons everyone involved in misleading American students including parents, teachers, authors, adoption committees as well as publishers. I recommend this book to all readers who have an interest in history, whether professionals or laymen, and conservatives or liberals because of its factual analyses.

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