Loewen - Lies my Teacher Told Me

October 22, 2004

James W. Loewen
Lies My Teacher Told Me: [everything your American history textbook got wrong] Audiobook.
Prince Frederick, MD : Recorded Books, p2002.
Narrated by Brian Keeler
Orig Pub: New York : New Press, 1994.

This is an important book.

It is also a preachy book.

Loewen makes some powerful arguments about the problems with history textbooks - they tell feel-good stories for affluent white boys while marginalizing and distorting the histories of non-white, poor people, and women. They tell all their readers that everyone can succeed, and never recount the history of the procedures and systems that made it almost impossible for anyone but affluent white men to do well until very recently, and whose impact continues today. He charges his textbooks with making everyone into a hero, telling happy stories about them instead of digging into what they actually did. So, to use his opening examples, the texts tell us that Helen Keller learned to read, write, and speak. They never tell us that she grew up to be a leading socialist. The texts tell us happy stories about Christopher Columbus, they never discuss his second voyage where he conquered Haiti and began a process of forced labor, expropriation, exile into slavery, random murder, and disease that together killed some 4,000,000 Arawak indians within 40-odd years of his arrival.

It is a powerful book - one strong enough that I seriously considered shifting to teaching high school so that I could tackle some of these problems at the source rather than trying to fix them in college students. If I don't find a full time teaching job, that is probably what I will do, because I do love to teach.

Reading this started me thinking about Louie Simmons, the powerlifting guru, and Lynne Cheney, the conservative critic of history education and former head of the NEH (also Mrs. Vice President at the moment.) I want to say something about an odd contrast between the two, but the thought is not even formed up enough to blog about. So, it will go onto the main blog in a couple of days.

Posted by Red Ted at October 22, 2004 08:56 AM | TrackBack
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