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Shannon D.

Foster Foster 1

EDCI 512 Response Paper #5

Mr. Alan Christensen

1 November 2017

The Tale of Two Fs (Facts or Fiction)

In James W. Loewens book Teaching What Really Happened (Loewen, 2010) he

presents the value of teaching students historiography. Historiography is the study of history

not studying history (p.68). This term and the underlying concept are one of our best tools

for developing critical reading and analytic thinking (p. 68). For students, rather than just

learning facts given to them, historiography is the study of the why and how history changes


Mr. Loewen begins the chapter with the idea that every historic site is a tale of two

eras: what its about and when it went up (p. 68). He goes into explicit details about historical

facts that are presented as true, but in reality do not portray history at all or in truth. His first

fact presents a monument marker in Almo, Idaho that The Sons and Daughters of Idaho

Pioneers erected. As an engraved memorial, this marker commemorates an event that never

happened. If one looks closely, the markers erection date is 1938. Thus, the two eras are the

alleged story itself and the ideals of the people who erected it. Another historical fact is how

Americans surmise the image of Native Americans. Loewen exposes the flawed behavior of

Native Americans as the archetype of whooping Indians (p. 70). In reality, this perception

developed because of the Buffalo Bills Wild West show in the 1883. By teaching students

historiography, students can see both eras from which the facts derived.

Loewen continues this topic of historiography with a section dedicated to the Civil

Rights Movement, Cognitive Dissonance, and Historiography (p. 71). Again, Loewen states, [i]f
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every historic site is a tale of two eras, the same holds for every historic source (p. 71) as well.

He recounts the change in how books written in 1870s taught the history of John Brown, to a

review written by The New York Times in the 1990s, and up until today. In a discussion with a

group of fifth graders, they concluded that authors determine what to write about based on

when the author writes (p. 71). Loewen then explains the transformation of history because of

cognitive dissonance, a concept developed by Leon Festinger (p. 71). Cognitive dissonance is

when our ideas or ideals are out of harmony with our actions, [so] there is a mental push to

change our ideas (p.72). He cites three examples. First, he conducted an experiment on

undergraduates that was intentionally boring. When asked, rather than admitting the activity

was boring and a waste of time, the participants changed their perspective and said the activity

was interesting. Another example given is the change of attitude of white Americans toward

African Americans after the U.S. Supreme Court ruled freedom of choice desegregation plans

unconstitutional (p.74). Prior to this, segregation was acceptable. However, after the ruling

and the enrollment of African Americans enrolled in white schools, white Americans changed

their attitudes. As cognitive dissonance espouses, peoples beliefs change because being bad

or jerks (p. 74) is not an acceptable opinion of ones self. Finally, he addresses how different

texts handle the era of Reconstruction. When students look at historical accounts from various

books, they quickly see that the time period in which the author wrote as well as their race

and region can influence their writing more than what actually took place (p. 75). By

practicing historiography, students critically evaluate the truth of what really happened.

Next Loewen discusses how students can approach the presentation of bad history (p.

7-77). He gives questions students can consider when evaluating topics in history. He mentions
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the Nadir of race relations, the lack of history surrounding President Franklin W. Pierce, and the

dishonest portrayal of history. He exhorts us to be thoughtful citizens who share both a united

and divided common history (p. 80) and to carefully when asking students to critique

textbooks due to the vast amounts of resources available to study.

Loewen finishes with four other ways to teach historiography (p. 80). First, students

can analyze historical content as they see it change during their lifetimes. Also, students can

access to not only quantity but also quality historical resources (p. 81). Maintaining other

textbooks for comparison can enlighten students in how various publishers present history.

Finally, considering first person resources (zamani history) or people who lived through current

events in history (sasha history) can help students verify what they are learning.

Our primary goal as educators is to teach students the truth about others and ourselves.

Whether we like what we learn is unimportant, history is what it is. Students who learn to

evaluate and test historical facts with accuracy will have a better understanding of history, their

country, and good citizenship. As a teacher, I can incorporate first person accounts (written or

oral), search out documented proof, and help build a students foundation of history on what

really happened. Thus, students can base their knowledge of history on fact and truth rather

than that which is biased and flawed. The ability to critically read and analytically think helps

children develop a healthy image of historiography

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Works Cited

Loewen, J. W. (2010). Teaching What Really Happened. New York: Teachers College Press.