Lies My Teacher Told Me Book Review

Excerpt from Book Review :

Presenting natives as a 'doomed' race is comforting: "Feeling good is a human need, but it imposes a burden that history cannot bear without becoming simple-minded. Casting Indian history as a tragedy because Native Americans could not or would not acculturate is feel-good history for whites. By downplaying Indian wars, textbooks help us forget that we wrested the continent from Native Americans" (Loewen 133).

More liberal textbooks portray native persons as victims, but often as hapless victims. Such attempts at inclusivity smack of tokenism rather than a real, honest attempt to understand history. In fact, tokenism is also rife in addressing women's issues and issues of race: it is either ignored or bracketed into a safe, confined corner of the text. And history is always portrayed as getting progressively more liberal, rather than engaging in 'backsliding,' which certainly occurred during Reconstruction in regards to African-American rights. Woodrow Wilson, for example, re-segregated the Navy, which had been integrated beforehand, and gave many positions formerly held by African-Americans to southern whites, a clear demonstration that America endured an equal level of oppression until the magic of the Civil Rights movement swept all such concerns away (Loewen 19).

When history textbooks have been constructed to encourage students to engage in more critical thinking, the result is inevitably resistant from parents and school boards. For example, when a text was released in the 1970s in Mississippi to take into account the effects of the Civil Rights movement, there was a tremendous outcry and the state rejected it. Schools do not teach students, they indoctrinate them, and that is why students are so bored by history class -- they know what the neat, uniform narrative is supposed to be by a certain age, and they cannot contradict it as year after year they learn as the same stories about citizenship and the American Way. Loewen does acknowledge that history textbooks now accord slavery the prominence it deserves in the history of the Civil War, but this
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has been a long, painful process, and only begins to scratch the surface of the importance race has played in the making of American history (Loewen 140).

Loewen's book was well-received when it was first released by educators as well as critics. Bill Johnson urged teachers to read the book in the journal Educational Leadership, saying "Lies demonstrates why teachers must carefully examine the books they use-some textbooks may actually hinder critical thinking." Bryan Denham of the Journalism & Mass Communication Educator said the book should be a requirement for journalism and history students, to illustrate the potential for distorting facts. "Loewen really does not come across as someone un-American so much as he comes across as someone who is simply tired of nonsense and white-washing. Publishers, he writes, often use patriotism rather than scholarship to sell textbooks, for the publishers understand that the American education system is designed to preserve the status quo."

Loewen's book is an uncomfortable read, and at times it can seem as if the evidence mounting against America is overwhelming. But ultimately, the approach he urges is a realistic one. His point is not that there is an absence of 'bad' information about the U.S. In textbooks, but rather the way the material is presented does not acknowledge that the winners of history were not predetermined. It is said that history is written by the winners, but Loewen makes clear that he thinks that the greatest losers are the students who read such dull and unhelpful textbooks that do little to prepare them to become good citizens. And what could be more un-American than that?

Works Cited

Denham, Bryan. "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got

Wrong." Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 52.3 (1997): 84-5. ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2013.

James Loewen. Official website. 2010. 8 May 2014

http://sundown.afro.illinois.edu/liesmyteachertoldme.php

Johnson, Bill. "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American Textbook Got Wrong."

Educational Leadership 54.7 (1997): 90-1. ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2013.

Loewen, James. Lies My Teacher Told…

Sources Used in Documents:

Works Cited

Denham, Bryan. "Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got

Wrong." Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 52.3 (1997): 84-5. ProQuest. Web. 8 May 2013.

James Loewen. Official website. 2010. 8 May 2014

http://sundown.afro.illinois.edu/liesmyteachertoldme.php

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