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Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen James W. Loewen, in my opinion, makes a very valid argument in Lies My Teacher Told Me. He argues that teaching (of history) today relies too much on the textbooks which glorify the United States and its imperfect leaders and heroes. His examples, in fact, are very surprising to those most unfamiliar, or deceived, in their understanding of American History and are painfully obvious to those fairly educated in the events of our nations past. Personally, I agree with Loewen's statements and find his points to be deserving of merit, myself having been taught from various sources other than text books and already informed of some of the incidents he refers to. Though some wonderful and some ghastly, Lies My Teacher Told Me includes ten chapters of amazing stories in American history.
Arranged in roughly chronological order, these chapters do not relate mere details but events and processes with important consequences. Since the book is about the truth about events that are well-known in history, it is non-fiction and there is no set setting. It begins with the early 1900 s when Helen Keller was a radical socialist and Woodrow Wilson was a white supremacist. It then moves back in time to the late 1400 s, early 1500 s, when Columbus supposedly discovered America, when in truth the Africans did. Next, it moves on to the early 1600 s to when the Pilgrims arrived in Massachusetts and had the First Thanksgiving. Next, the book jumps to the mid 1700 s to early 1800 s to tell about the Native Americans and their struggle with Whites for their ancestral land.
This leads to the mid and late 1800 s, when slavery was a key issue and people like John Brown and Abraham Lincoln were alive. The book ends in the 1900 s, explaining how social class affects everyone and also about the Vietnam War. Loewen provides the reader with an introduction to the book, explaining the reason why he wrote this book. He explains to us his thesis about how history textbooks alter what really happened and even sometimes make up inaccurate detail to make the story or even sound better. His last two chapters of the book uses all the amazing stories that he told in the preceding chapters to further support his thesis. Chapter Eleven explains how textbooks are created to explain what causes them to be so bad.
Chapter Twelve explains the results of using standard American history textbooks and how they can actually make students stupid. At the beginning of each chapter, Loewen used three or four powerful quotes to foreshadow what the chapter is about. They also help the reader to establish what mood Loewen would like us to feel and to keep in mind while reading the chapter. Also, throughout the chapter, Loewen also uses quotes and passages from people, but mainly from textbooks. These passages are used to help the author show how vague textbooks are and even to show how textbook authors twist stories around what really happened. In addition, captivating pictures and charts are also included to illustrate some images and events that happened.
In this book, Loewen examines twelve United States History textbooks that "averaged four and a half pounds in weight and 888 pages in length. " (p. 3) The underlying message in Lies My Teacher Told Me is that one can not trust their history books or their teachers because they [textbooks] are a security to teachers, manipulate our feelings, glorify heroes, and provide erroneous information and detail. First, relying on textbooks makes it easier for both the teachers and students to put forth minimal effort. Many think that textbooks countless lists of main ideas, key terms, people to remember, dates, review identifications are the main things students should learn and memorize. Also, "teaching against a textbook can also be scary.
Textbooks offer security. Teachers can hide behind them when principals, parents, or students challenge them to defend their work. " (p. 284) They are also afraid of being put on the spot and not knowing the answer to they students questions. Therefore, textbooks provide them with all they think they need to know and to teach. Textbooks also manipulate our feelings and ideas to form our views accordingly and to make us fell more sympathy towards a certain side. For example, "the civil rights movement has allowed us to rethink our history.
Having watched Northerners, black and white, go south to help black win civil rights in the 1960 s, todays textbook authors display more sympathy for Northerners who worked with Southern blacks during Reconstruction. " (p. 190) Textbooks most likely downplay all this because they do not want to offend white Southerners today. The first chapter is about heroes, such as Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson, and what textbooks do to these heroes. Many do not know that Keller was a radical socialist and Wilson was a white supremacist because textbook authors choose to leave out these facts. "As part of the process of hero fication, textbook authors treat America itself as a hero, indeed as the hero of their books, so they remove the wars. " (p. 206) America needs heroes, so textbooks try to make them as sympathetic as possible sometimes omitting blemishes and even making up stories to make it sound more heroic. Though many think Christopher Columbus was a great hero for discovering America, which he did not, he was actually a cruel, barbaric man, who raped women and chopped of the hand of those who did not obey his commands. And, America was not even first discovered by the Europeans, but by the Africans. "The possibility of African discovery of America has never been a tempting one for American historians. " (p. 37) Thus, many textbooks and teachers fail to tell us this when we deserve the right to know. Next, textbooks provide irrelevant and even erroneous detail failing to provide readers with pivotal information and facts.
An example is Christopher Columbus because his very life is made up in the textbooks. Though textbooks say that he was born in Genoa of poor parents who in the end died poor and penniless, none of that is certain. (p. 54) Also, contrary to the popular belief and what we learn in textbooks, Native Americans and Whites worked together and even sometimes lived together. Thanks to the Natives, their influence on food, words, names, farming methods, and other contributions have made a lasting impact on all our lives. But, because of the many wars over land the Native Americans were thought as a conflict partner and Americans eventually forgot everything they had once taught them. (pp. 110 124) Lies My Teacher Told Me should be read by every American because it provides the truth about some of the misconceptions and lies in history.
James Loewen does a great job with providing us the true information of people such as Helen Keller, Woodrow Wilson, Christopher Columbus, John Brown, and Abraham Lincoln. He also tells us what really happened during the First Thanksgiving and the Vietnam War. I would recommend this book to every student studying United States history because the ten chapters are filled with amazing stories that one will not ever forget. It shocked me that I was not aware of certain beliefs of the people listed above, as well as what really happened during renowned events in history. The book also advises the reader to be careful when reading history textbooks, because even textbooks provide irrelevant detail and even create erroneous ones, too. Word Count: 1243
Free research essays on topics related to: helen keller, christopher columbus, united states history, woodrow wilson, lies my teacher told
Research essay sample on Lies My Teacher Told Me By James Loewen
Mel. Sheffler's Book Review
- Lies My Teacher Told Me
- By James W. Loewen. Touchstone. 318 pages.
According to James W. Loewen in Lies My Teacher Told Me, American students enter college less knowledgeable about their own history than any other subject. American history is the least liked and worst remembered subject in American curricula. Loewen argues that history is the only subject one has to unlearn in college because high school presents inaccurate information to students. Who is to blame? Despite the indicting title, James Loewen does not appear to be blaming only teachers for student ignorance. Loewen blames textbooks, publishers, and instructors for students knowing too little accurate information, too much inaccurate information, and not caring about any information.
Loewen states the main cause for students lack of awareness is textbooks. Written to meet strict requirements of page length, design, and content, it has become practically impossible to write a history textbook that is interesting and acceptable to a national audience. Loewen proves that between authors, publishers, school boards, approval boards, and undereducated/overworked teachers, American textbooks have become a parade of uncontroversial, boring bites of information to be memorized and then quickly forgotten.
The general trend in history, Loewen says, is overwhelmingly positive. That is the problem. Loewen examined twelve textbooks in circulation during 1994, and every conflict in American history has been boiled down to: there were some problems, but great (white and wealthy) Americans overcame. In an effort to make American history uplifting for modern students and Texas textbook review boards, textbooks have taken agency and history away from American Indians, African Americans, Helen Keller, Lincoln, or anyone else who might have questioned conservative white rule in America. According to textbooks, no one in all of American history did anything because they thought things through, questioned the status quo, or made wrong choiceseven the enemy! People simply win because they are American, or loose because they are in the way of freedoms progress.
The amount of suspense left out of current textbooks was not as surprising as the outright lies that went in! Following textbook-like time order, Loewen focuses on several major events/people in our history that are inaccurately portrayed: Columbus, Thanksgiving, slavery, Lincoln, and the Vietnam War to name a few. Columbus, for example, still leaves Spain to prove the world round, though his contemporaries knew the world was round! What a pointless excursion. Loewen says Columbuss real purpose for leaving Spain (other than discovery) is always left unclear. I think the closest I heard in school was, he was looking for the Indies. No one tells students Columbus was looking for gold and slaves, just what he took from the new world.
Columbus is not the only textbook-favored pillager. Pilgrims, who textbooks say started from scratch, really started with a fully functional American Indian village previously emptied by European plagues (90). Loewen then quotes primary sources that say after Pilgrims settled, they then proceeded to dig graves to find whatever else they needed! These lies about our fledgling colonies are not small, and Loewen states these examples as reasons for African American and Native Americans lower test scores in History. After all, it is hard enough for students to remember lists of facts; forcing facts into their minds that they know from their family history to be incorrect and racist is difficult as well as immoral. Textbooks creators, however, are not interested in difficult. They want whatever will sell textbooks.
Pleasing the majority sells textbooks. In an effort to pacify those who still prefer to remember events like the Vietnam War in a positive light, Loewen says textbooks water down history. Each textbook chapter covered by Loewen leads high school students closer to the present, which should be more detailed and interesting, since we have more information on the recent past than on our founding fathers. Instead, history becomes more blurred. In a chapter called Down the Memory Hole, Loewen cites non-confrontational pictures used to illustrate the Vietnam War. Instead of using pictures that made an impact on American culture, war illustrations depict President LBJ chatting up the troops (246), which is not only uncontroversial, but also uninteresting. That does not mean textbooks need full-color bloody spreads of photos, but something more than a presidential handshake will be required to catch students attention and make them think.
Textbooks also exclude interesting protests and important phrases like Hell, no; we wont go! Loewen reminds us that leaving recent history out of textbooks not only separates youth from truth, but also youth from an interest in the previous generation. All of the information students parents thought of as common knowledge is lost as popular culture, thereby giving the next generation fewer ways to relate to their elders. One can easily to identify with that. I remember reading MAD books from the 1960s and 70s during high school in the 1990s and not understanding various anti-war jokes. I also remember finding Forest Gump war scenes half as dramatic as people who lived through Gumps era. There is a lack of recent history taught in schools, and students do feel this lack of connection to information. If they do not connect with the information, Loewen would argue, they will have problems learning it. However, this may be a mute point for the Vietnam War. As Loewen jokes at the beginning of his tenth chapter, no one ever makes it to the end of the textbook. If schools in America cannot even get past the nineteenth century, the Vietnam War certainly will not receive much of a showing. Having accurate and interesting information available, however, is still important.
Well documented and researched, Lies My Teacher Told Me is astounding. I could never dream of covering all the topics Loewen discusses in his book, and on every topic Loewen not only states what is wrong with the text (i.e. Native Americans were wiped out rather than befriended at Thanksgiving), but also argues why having the facts right is important (i.e. the truth gives Native Americans some exigency and everyone learns accurate knowledge). Lies is an example of what a high school textbook should be: interesting, informative, well documented, and detailed. Loewen clearly has a passion for history that comes through in his work, and I would recommend this book to anyone interested in Americas true history.
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