A Book Review by Scott Hughes
In Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your History Textbook Got Wrong, James Loewen criticizes the general history curriculum in American schools. He studies twelve popular history textbooks, and compares the presentation of history with the evidence currently available to historians. This book won the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship and the 1996 American Book Award.
Loewen proposes that schools give American students a feel-good non-controversial history. He explains how this not only bores students, but also fosters misunderstanding. Additionally, Loewen points out that a feel-good history - which underplays events that might put the country or government in a bad light, such as the treatment of black and poor people - disaffects poor students and minority students. To support this claim, Loewen provides statistics showing that the largest achievement gap occurs in history courses.
Loewen also criticizes the way history books elevate historical figures to the status of heroes without imperfections. He explains that this leaves students unable to use history to judge current events, because they cannot relate these idealistic heroes with the imperfection of real-life and real-life people.
Loewen suggests history text books should rely more heavily on primary sources. Loewen also suggests that history classes should allow for controversy, and let the students see that there is more than one side to every story. Loewen correctly points out that students cannot use history as an educational tool for the present if they see history as simplistically black-and-white. Students cannot use such a view of history to understand the complex real-world in which they live.
Loewen's book deserves a read, not only by teachers and other people involved in American education, but also by all Americans. Especially if you received most of your education in history from American schools, Lies My Teacher Told Me is a real eye-opener.