“Lies My Teacher Told Me” (1995, 2007) by James W. Loewen looks at 12 high school American history books in common use and tells you what they lie about and what important facts they leave out. Loewen looks at how and why history books get written that way. He is the same Loewen who wrote about sundown towns.
If you like this blog you would probably like this book too. I have even done posts based on some of its chapters:
- The truth about the First Thanksgiving (from chapter 3)
- The lies you were taught about Native Americans (from chapter 4)
- American history books and racism (from chapter 5)
- What they do not teach you about anti-racism at American high school (chapter 6)
- Why American high school history teachers say little about the past 30 years (from chapter 9)
- Why American history gets whitewashed (from chapter 11)
Those posts are not pure Loewen, though, since the chapters were processed through my brain and then written about for the purposes of this blog.
Whenever I write about American history I always check what Loewen has to say. Not that Loewen does not have his own set of blinders, but at least he gets beyond the Standard Lies. He seems to be one of those honest white souls who does not suffer from Fragile White Ego Syndrome. Like Howard Zinn, he taught history at a black college in the American South during the height of the civil rights movement.
Loewen knows of what he speaks: he helped to write “Mississippi: Conflict and Change” (1974), a history book for Mississippi high schools that put race at the centre of the story. Crazy, I know. The Mississippi Textbook Purchasing Board would not touch it because – it talked too much about race. The publishers would not touch it because those who liked the book, black teachers, are a limited market.
At university if you take a history course they tell you what is in fact known about a particular piece of history, the good, the bad and the ugly. You will also find out what is in dispute or in doubt.
At high school, however, they will flat-out lie to you and leave out all kinds of stuff. Because there the aim is not to help you to understand the country’s past, like you might expect, but to make you proud of your country and respect authority. It is a patriotic fairy tale.
Unfortunately for eight out of ten Americans, the history they learned at high school is as far as they ever get.
Therefore most Americans should read this book to help make up for their miseducation. One of the great things about it is that the chapters can be read independently in any order you like.
He does not have all that much on black history, yet almost every single person who has told me I should read the book was black! Probably because Loewen makes it plain as day how high school history is a set of self-serving lies and half truths that rich and middle-class whites want to believe.