Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen

Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen (unabridged audiobook read by Brian Keeler): Though the title sounds like a rant on education in general, this book deals specifically with what history textbooks get wrong, using a dozen textbooks as examples. It’s no mere quibble. In the very first chapter I learned that Woodrow Wilson was a flaming racist and Helen Keller was a radical socialist, neither of which were even hinted at during my schooling.

It’s a little depressing in spots. I’m young enough that much of my history class dealt with how white people have done nothing but screw things up – whenever white people meet non-white people they bring disease, abuse, enslavement, and death. This book taught me that it’s actually much worse than I knew. For example, the Pilgrims were grave robbers, the North during Reconstruction was almost as bad as the South, and white people managed to get Indians to fight most of their wars for them the first couple centuries they were here.

It’s not all bad. There is, for instance, a chapter on anti-racism immediately following the one on racism. (For all history textbooks ignore the effects of racism, they also ignore racial idealism.) After several chapters on correcting common myths and omissions, the author follows up with not only reasonable justification for learning history in the first place, but also ideas for improving curricula without suggesting there is a One Right Way to teach history. It’s a fascinating read, and for all the negative reviews I’ve read, very easy to figure out which parts are facts and which parts are the author’s opinions. I certainly do not agree with everything in this book, but it gave me quite a bit of food for thought. More importantly, it instilled in me a curiosity about American history – something my teachers were never able to do.

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