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Loewen

James W. Loewens Lies my Teacher Told Me;


Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong Book Review
Andrea Wilson
Baker College

Loewen

James W. Loewens Lies my Teacher Told Me;


Everything your American History Textbook Got Wrong Book Review

American History is a heartrending subject ( Loewen, 2007, p. 342). James W.


Loewens American Award winning, Lies my Teacher told Me; Everything your American
History Teacher Got Wrong, uses research from eighteen high school books which consisted of,
ten bestselling American History high school books and two inquiry textbooks which Lowen
read from cover to cover, to write his nineteen-ninety-five and revised in two thousand and
seven, best-seller. Loewen explains that most American students learn in high school through
heavily filtered , modified resources that provide irrelevant details . Loewen provides excellent
examples of what he calls; lies on the landscape, explains that history lessons omit relevant
facts from history books that show the emotional and controversial side of historical events
(places and players involved) for many different reasons such as political or social motivation
and provides questions to keep in mind on how to deal with the bad resources that accompany
American History lessons and build Americans historical knowledge.
Loewens contributes about ninety- five short comments regarding specific landmarks
from Alabama, Massachusetts, to Alaska producing powerful essays to assist in interpreting the
information and facts of the actual history behind the historical events and the main players.
Robert Wilson said, What he really means, it turns out, is that people should raise questions
about interpretations they find inaccurate or offensive, in his the review for the New York Times
( 1999). In an C- Span interview conducted by Brian Lamb ( 2015), Lamb asks Loewen if he
were driving along the highway in the United States and saw a historical landmark with

Loewen

information describing the landmark, what his thoughts would be? Loewen answered that, he
believes half of what he reads on historical markers and refers to the historical markings in the
interview and in his book as lies on the landscape ( Nallely, 2015).
To combat unreliable resources, or lies on the landscape, Loewen offers good advice
and explains questions to ask while exploring a historical resource such as a museum, historical
landmark, textbook, or exhibit .The first question is to ask why this was created, whose is stating
the viewpoint, asking how this historical resource makes Americans look, and finally what
lessons should we take away from this experience. Loewen proclaims that these questions
should remain in the mind while reading history because these questions will improve truth and
relevance of the history. Loewen states that the way American History is taught does not involve
critical thinking or supply teachers with help with for providing evidence for students to support
critical thinking . Loewen supplies suitable evidence of American ignorance through viewpoints
about how Americans view the Vietnam War or most Americans unfamiliarity regarding
Woodrow Wilsons uncooperativeness for African American civil liberties, that could be found
by asking more questions and digging deeper.
Loewen delivers a sturdy example representing why taking the time to inquire about
historical information is important. Loewen explains that the one hundred and two settlers of the
Mayflower consisted of only thirty-five Pilgrims, the rest of the settlers were in seek of the new
Virginia colonies fortunes. This specific example provides evidence for why readers must ask
more questions at historical sites such as; Plymouth Rock. The Pilgrim legacy of Plymouth
Colony is the leading focal point the Massachusetts landmark, and that most of the settlers

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were immigrating for riches is not mentioned. Ernest Bresiachs American Progressive History;
An Experiment in Moderation, published 1993 , has similar ideas where Bresiach explains that
there is a movement for New history that relates to investigating the true facts of American
History European historians omitted due to the cultural pressure to show European heritage as
correct victors who saved the world from themselves (The Universityof Chicago Press, n.d.) .
Bresiach and Loewen share the same interest in revealing historical truth to our American
students.
Another great example to summarize the American History is taught wrong
theme of Loewens, Lies my Teacher told Me; Everything your American History Teacher Got
Wrong theme, is Loewens example of American History classes description of Columbuss
discovery of America (2007). Every American knows of Columbus and about the American
celebrated Columbus Day on October 12th annually. Students learn about Columbuss voyage out
into the ocean, through this example of a lovely filtered historical poem. The poem provides
impressive introduction to Christopher Columbus, which called In 1492 beginning as : In
fourteen-hundred and ninety two, Columbus Sailed the Ocean Blue, He had three ships and left
from Spain, He sailed through sunshine, wind, and rain, (Mercurio, 2015,p.1). The Poem In
1492, speaks of friendly greetings and presents the natives gave to the new brave and bright
Columbus and his men leaving out emotional stirring, offensive but interesting details
( Merurico, 2015, p.1). Americans do not learn of the controversy surrounding the brutality and
racism the Native Americans endured by Columbus and his men.

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Loewen explains that the twelve high school textbooks he heavily researched in great
detail omit controversial realistic facts and add myths to explain history. For example, the true
and cruel intentions Columbus had towards the Native Americans upon their first encounters.
Similar to Loewen, Howard Zinn also describes the brutality detailing Columbuss intentions
towards the Native Americans in his book, History is a Weapon: A Peoples History of the
United States, by adding person statements from Columbuss personal journal .Zinn and Loewen
remind readers that Columbus did seek gold but also found that the Native Americans would
make good servants and are ignorant towards weapons. A section from Columbuss log wrote,
They would make fine servantsWith fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do
whatever we want ( Zinn, n.d., p.1) . Adding Columbuss journal notes from his first encounter
with Native Americans, Loewen says will add interest to learning the usually watery subject
matter because the encounter involves drama. Publishers Weekly says, Loewen (Mississippi:
Conflict and Change) argues that the bland, Eurocentric treatment of history bores most
elementary and high school students, who also find it irrelevant to their lives ( 1995, p.1).
A strength of Lowens book is, he brings attention that the historical facts may be
omitted from a history lesson because the information is labeled useless for certain students of
lower social class. Loewen provides an account where American History instruction is lacking.
Loewen writes that researcher Reba Page provides examples of the Woodrow Wilsons
accommodation, that entails one class of people receiving a liberal education, and the other
much larger class lower class must receive an education that helps students with specific
difficult manual tasks ( Loewen, 2007, p 2008). Loewen explains that this is an unfair practice
because the economically privileged students with the liberal education will do better on tests

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that are written by people with the similar high- class liberal education because they share the
same vocabulary and culture. The superior test scores of the affluent children lead to white
-collared jobs and the lower class will take the blue-collar jobs. Loewen provides a good
argument stating that the history lesson is taught differently in social classes.
Another one of Loewens book strengths is Loewen is effective in communicating the
reason for his research and writing this book. Ronald Kotulak writes in his review for Education
Leadership, explains that people who do not teach will have a lot to learn from Loewens book,
and writes Loewen clearly illustrates how they cheat students of the drama and controversy of
history, ( 1997). Loewen provides a great example and of excluding controversy through
explaining the American high school students lack of knowledge for what might be considered
offensive truth about Hellen Kellers life history. Keller is known as, the blind and deaf girl with
extraordinary abilities to overcome her obstacles and learn to read and write with the help of
her teacher Anne Sullivan ( American Foundation for the Blind, 2015). Americans do not know
of Kellers socialist political interests or of the letter that Keller wrote to the leader of the
American Communist Party, Elizabeth Gurley Flynn while Flynn was in jail. Keller wrote: May
the sense of serving mankind bring strength and peace in your brave heart (Loewen, 2007,
p.15). Loewen provides a great example of how students are sheltered and cheated out of the
knowledge from the controversial side of Kellers history and by adding this information to the
history books the students might be inspired to learn more because Kellers controversy.
A weakness of the book is Loewen describes a victor in each of the scenarios.
Loewen describes and documents the villain ( usually the victor) as merciless, which is not

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boring, but is one- sided. Loewen contributes examples of this attitude through the book. One
example is, William F.Buckley Jrs quote history is the polemics of the victor that is
highlighted in the beginning of chapter two ( 2007, p.31) . One book that offers more
perspectives is American History is Paul Jonsons A History of the American People which
Pauline Maier describes in the New York Times book review that, There are no robber barons in
this book, only benefactors of mankind, and no real victims, since ''the facts'' demonstrate ''a
panorama of general progress in which all classes shared'' ( 1998, para 10) . For example,
Loewen briefly paints a picture of a barbaric bully who ravaged his way through the life, and
offers very little perspective to show any reasoning behind Columbuss actions.
Another criticism of Loewens book is it does not offer much room for critical thinking .
For example, one of his focuses Christopher Columbuss voyage and tells the reader the true
importance of Christopher Columbus ( Loewen, 2007,p. 31). David Horowitz writes in
Students for Academic Freedom that he, as a teacher, is obligated under provisions of academic
freedoms of Penn States, to provide students with texts that will allow students to think for
themselves and that this agenda was not served by providing them with a single extreme and
ill-informed polemic like Lies My Teacher Told Me (2007) . Loewen takes a critically approach
in his book and criticizes how teachers teach American History. Horowitz explains, Loewen
account of American history is bitter rather than scholarly.
Loewen provides excellent examples of the glossed over history lessons that high school
students are taught in school due to social or political motivation or to avoid controversial issues.
Loewens book proves that the way students are taught history is boring, unjust, and wrong.

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Loewen states that to motivate students to learn American History the authentic and offensive
parts of history should not be omitted in the history lesson. Loewen provides brief accounts from
a researched perspective to add some criticism to the lies and myths taught to American students
by history teachers using historical textbooks that do not desire answering questions to
controversial issues. Through many critical accounts the main idea of , Lies my Teacher told
Me; Everything your American History Teacher Got Wrong was to detail what is wrong with
how Americans are taught American history, is clearly understood after reading this book.

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References
American Foundation for the Blind (2005). Hellen Keller Biography. Retrived from
http://www.afb.org/info/about-us/helen-keller/biography-and-chronology/biography/1235
Horowitz, D. ( 2007, May 03).Reply to Loewen. Students for Academic Freedom. Retrieved
from http://www.studentsforacademicfreedom.org/news/2452/reply-to-loewen
Kotulak, R. ( 1996) . Inside the Brain : Revolutionary Discoveries of How the Mind Works.
Educational Leadership. Retrieved from
http://eds.b.ebscohost.com.bakerezproxy.palnet.info/eds/pdfviewer/pdfviewer?sid=def93f
cb-85e1-414e-9dfe-6af675ed91f6%40sessionmgr113&vid=10&hid=126
Loewen, J. W. ( 2007). Lies My teacher told me: Everything your American history teacher got
wrong. Simon & Schuster; New York; NY
Maier, P. (1998, March 01). The Do It Yourself Society. The New York Times. Retrieved from
https://www.nytimes.com/books/98/03/01/reviews/980301.01maiert.html
Mericurio , K. (2015). Christopher Columbus Poem. Lesson Plans. Retrieved from
http://lessonplanspage.com/lasscolumbusdayrhymingin1492poemk1-htm/
Nallely, Jasmine. (2015, January 07). American history textbooks#39 , lies; everything my
teacher got wrong-myths,education. (1995) [you tub file]. Retrieved from
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ALzC9LgfHPY
Publishers Weekly. (1995, August 01). Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your History
Textbook Got Wrong. Retrieved from http://www.publishersweekly.com/978-1-56584100-0
The University of Chicago Press Books. (1993). American Progressive History: an experiment i
n modernization. Retrieved from
http://press.uchicago.edu/ucp/books/book/chicago/A/bo3646495.html
Zinn, H. (2005). History is a Weapon: A peoples history of the United states .Retrieved from

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http://www.historyisaweapon.com/defcon1/zinncol1.html

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