Have you ever wondered why American History textbooks seem to portray the American experience in such an optimistic way? Did you wonder why high school history seemed to make Americans seem like heros, even when they did wrong? Did you often find yourself falling asleep in history class because the subject was so predictable and boring?
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If you can answer yes to any of these questions, youíre not alone. Author James Loewen, a professor of sociology at the University of Vermont, wrote this book "Lies My Teacher Told Me", to expose the rhetoric, the deceptiveness, and the blind patriotism thatís often found in the American History textbooks that are used in high schools.
Whatís Wrong With American History Textbooks?:
As Loewen points out, American history textbooks are approved by school boards and are edited to ensure that they contain politically correct perspectives on events. When I took history in junior high, and in high school, I was often skeptical in regard to what I was being taught. I found it hard to believe that the United States was so infallible and so perfect in every way. I always knew that the truth was not being told.
In the first chapter, Loewen talks about the process of hero- making. He points out how certain people, like George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, etc., are always portrayed in a positive way. Think back to your history classes in high school. Didnít you often think that these people were just too perfect to be true? Like Loewen points out, history textbooks are edited to present these people as heroes, minus most all of the negative attributes, so that impressionable kids will not think badly of them in any way.
In the next chapters, Loewen covers early American history. He devotes a full chapter to Christopher Columbus and another chapter to the Pilgrims and the first thanksgiving. Columbus, once again, is portrayed in most textbooks as a hero; the first European to reach the new world and the man responsible for laying the foundation that would soon become the United States of America. What the textbooks donít say much about, is the brutal way that Columbus enslaved and tortured the native people.
With the Pilgrims, we were all told the fun, happy story about how they came to America in search of religious freedom and how they were so thankful and grateful for discovering a new land to be free. Of course, as any educated person knows, the Pilgrims were hardly champions of religious freedom! What they really did was establish their own authoritarian regime, where everyone was expected to follow a strict moral code, or else be subjected to physical torture, and even death! High school textbooks conveniently leave out this part of the story.
Next, Loewen discusses Americaís shameful treatment of the Indians and the problems with racism. From what I can remember, my high school history class made mention of the Indians getting defeated by American military leaders, but it didnít really describe these events as morbid or morally wrong. Once again, the textbooks twisted the truth, making it sound like the Indians had it coming to them and that we should be proud that our American military prevailed in the end.
Racism is a delicate issue, and our school textbooks are very careful not to judge American leaders too harshly, even though many of them, like president Woodrow Wilson, deserve to be. Students are led to believe that, while racism and slavery were immoral, there were still laws on the books that upheld these practices, so it wasnít that bad to hold these beliefs. And, in other cases, history textbooks fail to even mention the fact that many of these people held racist beliefs at all.
The next part of the book deals with the way textbooks portray the American government. Again, most all textbooks describe our system of government as being as close to flawless as humanly possible. There is almost no mention at all, in these textbooks, about conspiracy theories, abuses of power, or anything else negative. For example, with the assassination of John Kennedy, most textbooks focus on the Warren Commission and how it determined that Lee Harvey Oswald was the lone assassin. There is usually just one single paragraph (and sometimes, nothing at all) that touches on the possibility of a larger conspiracy.
The final topic that Loewen covers is the Vietnam War. Because this war was such an embarrassment to the United States, textbooks usually edit out as much as they can. They make it look like this war was relatively insignificant. Here, we again can see a clear pattern of patriotic editing; trying to minimize the damage so that young minds will remain patriotic and loyal to their "beloved" American government.
Loewen presents a fairly incriminating book on American history books and the obvious omissions that they have. He also talks, at the end of the book, about why history is taught this way and how damaging it is to kids, when we purposely hide the truth.
If you have ever taken a college history course, you can clearly see the difference between high school history and the history taught at institutions of higher learning. Because college textbooks are not subjected to such rigorous editing, they present the facts, even if the facts are less than ideal. High school textbooks are all required to be "politically correct", in order to avoid offending anyone, and to instill a feeling of blind patriotism in the minds of the young children.
If you like the subject of American history, then you will like "Lies My Teacher Told Me". Itís straight- forward and hard- hitting. Americaís past is not without its flaws, and people should be told the truth, even if it doesnít sound pleasant. In this book, Loewen tells it like it is, and leaves behind any signs of political correctness.
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