Lies My Teacher Told Me

8 August 2016

A fascinating and informative book, Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen, takes a look at twelve popular American history textbooks and concludes that the information is false, viewed primarily from an European perspective, and made up to credit national myths. In addition, James Loewen presents many key historical events that he feels are missing from many of these textbooks and should be included. Published in 1995 by The New Press, Lies My Teacher Told Me rapidly became a multi-award winning novel. In roughly 400 pages, Loewen unfolds an engrossing critique that is bound to hook any reader interested in history or education.

In the novel, James Loewen provides his readers an in-depth understanding of how the information in U. S. history textbooks is often incomplete and/or even misleading. Loewen makes a compelling argument that what is taught today in history classes consists of only the succession of one president to the next and a few “important” wars.

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He argues that most textbooks portray many events, situations, and people less unpleasant than the reality. Moreover, Americans are always shown to be the hero and they are never in the wrong – bad things just happen to them.

Loewen focuses on several major events/people in our history that are incorrectly portrayed: Columbus, Thanksgiving, slavery, Lincoln, the Vietnam War, etcetera. None of these textbooks mention that Thomas Jefferson owned slaves and also raped some of his slave women or that Japanese Americans were confined in concentration camps during World War II. James Loewen blames textbook editors, writers, publishers, and even teachers for students not knowing enough accurate information, too much inaccurate information, and not caring about any information.

Along with his critique, he also suggests some historical events that might add to existing themes and also some themes that might serve as replacements to inaccurate information. Lies My Teacher Told Me was a work of simple brilliance. Although it was not the fastest read in the world, I found that it was definitely an important read; it was definitely an eye-opener. Countless times while reading this novel, I realized how much U. S. history books cover up parts of a complete picture of historical events that founded this very nation.

James Loewen acknowledges the information inside of these history textbooks, corrects most of the wrong information presented in these textbooks, and advises how we might want to move in a direction where history is more likely to give students a more realistic picture of who Americans are and who Americans were. As a student, reading this book really made me angry at all the textbook publishers, editors, writers, and even history teachers who are all giving countless number of children across America an education that is made up of lies. I have to admit this book has had a profound impact on me.

It really made me question the authority and power we give our education system in America – obviously it is not always accurate and we should not always trust the information that is blatantly handed to us. I hope Loewen’s criticism will reach out to all educators in the American history department and will have a real impact on changing the standardized U. S. textbooks. The writing in Lies My Teacher Told Me was fairly decent and Loewen does deserve much credit for taking on such a difficult project and, for the most part, succeeding in creating an informative novel and relaying his message to his readers/ audience.

You can easily tell that he clearly knows what he is talking about, whether he is talking about the mistreatment of the American Indians by European settlers or how Helen Keller was a radical socialist and also a member of the Socialist Party. Loewen is a very engaging author, who understands how to emphasize his points effectively and captivate his readers. His writing is simple and straightforward and extremely descriptive. Below is one of my favorite passages from the novel, and goes to show you that he, Prof.

Loewen, is one amazing writer: “Racism became dominant in the United States between 1890 and 1920 when African Americans were again put back into second-class citizenship… In the 1880s and 1890s minstrel shows featuring bumbling, mislocuting whites in blackface grew wildly popular from New England to California. By presenting heavily caricatured images of African Americans who were happy on the plantation and lost and incompetent off it, these shows demeaned black ability” (Loewen 160-164).

James Loewen proves himself to be a superb writer, showing off both his skill and talent as a novelist, but also being very intelligent in the numerous topics he writes about. However, I felt that there were a few areas where he could have worked a littler harder on to make the book a much stronger read. In many sections of the novel, Loewen seemed to get a little crazy with punctuation, such as exclamation points – literally every sentence ended in one for a straight page.

It was very distracting as a reader; it was the equivalent of writing in all caps, which loses the readers attention and makes the point he is trying to convey seem silly and irrelevant. Another problem I had with a few sections of the novel was that the writing did not always flow. Many sentences in a paragraph were awkward and disrupted the point Loewen was trying to make. In addition, the chapters did not really fit with one another; he could have rearranged them to fit more accordingly. There were some major ups and some major downs in this novel.

Starting off on a high note, I enjoyed how James Loewen did not just give exciting and intriguing content, but also helped the reader foster a questioning mind. Countless times I was struck by how little I actually knew about American history, and that I should never take a piece of knowledge for granted. Another strength for me was the way Loewen presented the content with a lot of wit and sarcasm, which made for a very enjoyable and great read. Once I was hooked, I could not put the book down. Furthermore, I was really surprised at what a good analysis he provided on all the major subjects he touched on.

I liked how he did not promote only one point of view, as many textbooks do, but insisted that history should be left for interpretation by students. The major weakness, in my opinion, was probably when Loewen offered the reader his biased opinions. Although James Loewen attacked U. S. history textbooks for being too biased and opinionated, Loewen did not refrain from giving his own. I believe that no history textbook is going to be written without some slant or bias, so I did not completely understand why Loewen would even bring it up, while he was offering his own political opinions (i.e slamming down the Reagan/Bush administrations).

This is a novel that I would recommend to a selected audience. This books prime focus would appeal to readers who are interested in history, specifically American history. This well-written novel will also appeal to people who are interested in how the education system works in the United States. Lies My Teacher Told Me gives you an incredible insight on the reality of American history and how it is taught. Although it has its share of flaws, you will not be greatly disappointed. As a whole, I would give this novel a 4 out of 5 stars.

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