Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Lies, Lies, Lies!

After reading a chapter of James Loewen’s Lies Across America this week for my Intro to Public History class, I remembered how much I enjoyed Loewen and his writing. In my American history seminar class last year, we read his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, which was awesome. Yes, Loewen is very biased, but I really enjoyed this book. It was an interesting book that read like a novel, and here follows a quick synopsis for anyone interested in checking it out.

In Lies My Teacher Told Me, James Loewen assesses the American history textbooks that most American high school students use to study history. He comes to the conclusion that most of the books are missing several important parts of American history, and that some include downright lies. As a sociologist and history professor who concentrates on race relations in the United States of America, Loewen provides readers with some really interesting historical truths that are not commonly known and even gives suggestions on how textbooks can be improved. And although he does have a very strong sociological bias, his book exposes the many problems of teaching of history in America, which are pretty worrisome.

A memorable example that he gives is that of Helen Keller. Textbooks tell students that she was blind and deaf, yet overcame adversity to be an inspiration for people everywhere. This is heart-warming and true, but textbooks “forget” to mention that she was a radical socialist who praised the Russian Revolution. This isn’t so inspiring. But maybe it is, just not for a nation who would go on communist witch-hunts a few decades later. This is a prime example of what he calls "heroification", the tendency of textbooks to gloss over the undesirable aspects of national heroes and emphasis the good. It’s exactly what happens with historical sites too. People want to remember things that present themselves in a favorable light and forget the bad, and glorify their nation while they’re at it.

He gives this example and so many more to prove his point, which I think he does a good job of. So if you’re looking for an interesting book to read over the Christmas holiday, I would definitely recommend this one. It’s really funny and you’ll probably be surprised with a lot of the mistruths that exist in the study of American history.

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