August 12, 2010
History with Attitude
Lies My Teacher Told Me is one of the funnest, most informative rants I've read in quite a while. James Loewen is ticked at the stupidity of American history high school textbooks, and he has reason to be.
One 1990-era textbook offered this whopper: "President Truman easily settled the Korean War by dropping the atomic bomb" (p. 320), which has so many errors in it I hardly know where to begin.
But there's more. Lots more. The textbooks are wrong when they say that . . .
There's more still. The textbooks also neglect to inform students that
The vastness of the omissions, misrepresentations, myths and outright falsehoods that Loewen covers in the second edition of his book (published 2007) is staggering. But he's even more incensed at the results of teaching American history as a mindless collection of dates and names, as a series of cardboard heroes, and as the story of a country that never did anything wrong. Not only does it make students dumber, it prevents them from being informed citizens who can help the country avoid similar mistakes in the future.
Worst of all, it makes history boring. When he teaches students what actually happened, they are fascinated and totally engaged.
Some may accuse Loewen of having an "anti-American" bias. But what he presents in the book is virtually identical to what is found in all college level texts where professors are constantly trying to help students unlearn what they were taught in high school. And if any of his facts are wrong, he'd only be delighted to have someone do the research to prove it.
Many readers will no doubt find Loewen's tone tiring. He complains and complains and complains. As I said, it's a rant. I usually tell authors not to write like this, actually; any intense tone (be it cheerful, sad, angry or optimistic) sustained over two, three or four hundred pages is just exhausting. It wearies the soul.
Nonetheless, given how much there is to complain about in Loewen's subject matter, I understand why he does so much huffing and puffing. He probably feels that sometimes you need a two by four to get the mule's attention. The wealth of informative correctives he offers throughout make it a very worthwhile knock on the head.