Lies My Teacher Told Me: A Review

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong is an exceptional book, written by James W. Loewen. It's engrossing, thought-provoking, and truly something that should be read by every American student, anyone interested in American history, and anyone who has ever looked inside a textbook and wondered, "Can I really accept all of this as truth?"

This book challenges, refutes, and rebukes much of what has been and continues to be taught as U.S. history in elementary, middle and high schools throughout the country. The format is very easy to follow: well-paced and engaging introductory sections, followed by thematic examinations of different chapters and aspects of American history, from Columbus to Reconstruction to the Vietnam War - topics that are utterly maligned, mischaracterized and turned into shameful myths by textbooks and by the history of how those with power and influence have wanted to write history for the American people. This is not some sort of conspiracy theory. It is rather the reality that what American children hear and read in their classrooms is not the whole truth and nothing but the truth, but a narrative filled with heroification, myths, lies of omission and lies of commission, all perpetuated by textbook companies and curriculum creators who hold non-controversial social conformity, and not true education, as their highest priority.

I might describe Lies My Teacher Told Me chapter by chapter, listing the different myths and maligned topics that are explained and rectified by Loewen's important research, which includes his having read and investigated many different national history textbooks, some of them used today, others from past decades. However, I don't think I should really write out a "Sparknotes" version of the book, when what is key, beyond just the facts, is how you feel reading the entire book. Personally, I never ended up taking a course on American history in high school, (though I did in 8th grade), and I also know that many teachers do much to teach what they know to be true, including what they know textbooks gloss over or mischaracterize. Nevertheless, after reading this book I know that many American students are not getting what they should out of history, and I feel it is a real injustice.

Instead of being engaged with the interesting and controversial truths of the past, as I luckily was in my high school history courses, many students simply have 1,000-page textbooks dumped on them, filled with blandly-stated untruths as part of an all-American-goodness narrative that leaves no room for debate and no room for critical thinking. Not only is this sort of history wrong; it's boring. It's also rotting kids' brains when they could actually learn a lot. That's why I encourage you to read this: You'll not only learn a lot, as I did, but I hope you'll also be encouraged to think critical about history education - what you received and what students today receive. It's more important than you think.