New Edition of "Lies My Teacher Told Me" Receives Praise

Historians in the News
tags: books

In the introduction to his magnificent critique of American historical education, James Loewen starts provocatively: “High school students hate history. When they list their favorite subjects, history always comes in last. They consider it ‘the most irrelevant’ of twenty-one school subjects commonly taught in high school. Bo-o-o-oring is the adjective most often applied.”

Since the initial publication of “Lies My Teacher Told Me” in 1995, I have regularly read this passage to my UCLA students in my course on the history of social protest. The overwhelming majority of my students have enthusiastically concurred with Loewen.

Many decades ago, I too sat in my high school history class, listening to Mr. Jones drearily reciting an unremittant litany of historical facts, mostly without context, intended to be memorized and regurgitated for future examinations. I also drifted off into my own world, thinking about things that teenage boys think about.

This book is subtitled “Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.” In this third edition published last year, the text retains sociologist Loewen’s sharp critique of the 12 American history textbooks he surveyed in his first edition as well as the six books he examined for the second edition. He found, as he describes, “an embarrassing blend of bland optimism, blind nationalism, and plain misinformation, weighing in at an average of 888 pages and almost five pounds.” He showed persuasively how American history textbooks—these ponderous tomes—lied to millions of American students by sugarcoating historical events and persons, encouraging mindless patriotism and faith in unending American progress, and negated any serious critical thinking.

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