Author: James W. Loewen
Title: Lies My Teacher Told Me
Narrator: L.J. Ganser
Publication Info: Recorded Books, Inc., 2019 [Originally published in 1994]
Other Books Read by the Same Author: Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
This book is an expose on why high school students hate history and why Americans in general are ignorant of the historical facts of the United States. With the teaching of American history once again being challenged as “woke” and more ridiculously as “critical race theory” I thought it was a good time to revisit this book. Despite the title, this book is not an attack on teachers but on history textbooks which Lowen describes in detail as containing many inaccuracies and irrelevant details, as well as a boring writing style.
I have to note that when I was in middle school and high school, far from being bored, I was obsessed with history. I was privileged to have teachers who somehow dodged many of the pitfalls of American history teaching as well as the proclivity to learn a lot on my own through reading, watching documentaries, and visiting historic sites. I read the first edition way back when it came out in the mid 90s and remember it being mostly debunking the false histories propagated in several prominent history textbooks. On this reading I found it was less about debunking and more about why history isn’t taught in a way that allows for critical thinking.
The original edition evaluated a dozen textbooks, while the 2004 second edition revisited some of those books as well as 6 new textbooks. This third and final edition was identical to the third edition but with a new introduction that pretty much noted that little progress had been made. The problem with history teaching isn’t simple as one might imagine, and while fingers can be pointed at right wing politicians and parents for objecting to teaching warts and all history, they are just part of many complex and overlapping hindrances. From publishers who appeal to the lowest denominator to sell the most books to the authors whose names are on the cover having little to nothing to do with the books (and the ghost writers who do write the book having very little knowledge of the history), there’s plenty of blame to go around.
As someone who loves history and thinks that kids should love studying as much as I did and gain the sense of perspective that critical thinking of history provides, I find this is an important book and highly recommend reading it.
When confronting a claim about the distant past or a statement about what happened yesterday, students—indeed, all Americans—need to develop informed skepticism, not nihilistic cynicism.
- A People’s History of the United States by Howard Zinn
- The Way We Never Were: American Families and the Nostalgia Trap by Stephanie Coontz