Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Powerful Essays
Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

High school history textbooks are seen, by students, as presenting the last word on American History. Rarely, if ever, do they question what their text tells them about our collective past. According to James W. Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me, they should be. Loewen has spent considerable time and effort reviewing history texts that were written for high school students. In Lies, he has reviewed twenty texts and has compared them to the actual history. Sadly, not one text measures up to the author's expectation of teaching students to think. What is worse, though, is that students come away from their classes without "having developed the ability to think coherently about social life"(Lies p.4). Loewen blames this on the way that today's texts are written. This paper will compare one text, The American Pageant, to Lies.

One of the biggest problems with today's texts is the process of heroification. This process turns real people, from our past, into "pious, perfect creatures without conflicts, pain, creditability, or human interest"(Lies p.9). Several examples, including the lions from our history, in Pageant include Christopher Columbus, Thomas Jefferson, Abraham Lincoln, and Woodrow Wilson. Others are defamed, like Stephen A. Douglas, and John Brown.

In Pageant Christopher Columbus is one of the first people named as relevant to our history. He is built up as a hero, with words such as "a man of vision, energy, resourcefulness, and courage" used to describe him (Pageant p.4). We are told that he knows the world is round, but that nobody will believe him. Finally he convinces Spain's monarchs to fund him, and is given "three tiny but seaworthy ships manned...

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...ils to explain why this song was so popular. In this case not giving all of the facts about a historical figure is to that person's detriment.

The lengths that many textbook writers go to keep our history on a positive note, and to make heroes out of many of our historical figures comes at a high cost, according to Loewen. These costs include incorrect history, and boring history. The end results are students who hate history class, and who come out of those classes not equipped to think about our past in a rational or coherent way.


Works Cited

Thomas A. Bailey and David M. Kennedy. The American Pageant, A History of the Republic. Eighth edition. D.C. Heath and Company: Lexington, Massachusetts, 1987.

James W. Loewen. Lies My Teacher Told Me, Everything Your American History Teacher Got Wrong. The New Press: New York, 1995.
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