Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong

3.9 199
by James W. Loewen

ISBN-10: 0684818868

ISBN-13: 9780684818863

Pub. Date: 01/28/1995

Publisher: Touchstone

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; "bo-o-o-oring" is the adjective most often applied. James Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American history. What he found…  See more details below


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; "bo-o-o-oring" is the adjective most often applied. James Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American history. What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and out-and-out misinformation. In response he has written Lies My Teacher Told Me--winner of the American Book Award and a national best-seller--in part a telling critique of existing textbooks but, more importantly, a wonderful retelling of American history as it should--and could--be taught to American students.

Product Details

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Edition description:
Older Edition
Product dimensions:
5.90(w) x 9.10(h) x 0.70(d)

Table of Contents

Introduction: Something Has Gone Very Wrong1
1Handicapped by History: The Process of Hero-making9
21493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus29
3The Truth about the First Thanksgiving67
4Red Eyes91
5"Gone with the Wind": The Invisibility of Racism in American History Textbooks131
6John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: The Invisibility of Antiracism in American History Textbooks165
7The Land of Opportunity195
8Watching Big Brother: What Textbooks Teach about the Federal Government209
9Down the Memory Hole: The Disappearance of the Recent Past233
10Progress Is Our Most Important Product249
11Why Is History Taught Like This?265
12What Is the Result of Teaching History Like This?293
Afterword: The Future Lies Ahead - and What to Do about Them307

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Lies My Teacher Told Me 3.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 198 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I knew when reading this book that I would have to examine my own education in history, which I thought was always subpar. However, none of these 'revelations' Mr. Loewen writes about startled me. I knew our US presidents owned slaves, that the civilizations of the natives who were here before Europeans (Loewen, for all his PC-ness, still calls them Indians) were wiped out due to violence and disease. But what truly disturbed me was his chapter about contemporary history, specifically the 80s and 90s. I agreed in that recent history is not taught as it should be, preventing students from applying the concept of causality. But, when discussing 9/11, he makes the claim that after the events of that day, we should have not focused on extreme Islamic policies and instead focused on what we did wrong and change our policies. In earlier chapters, he notes many textbooks make the mistake of blaming the victims of history. As a military member and one who is familiar with Middle Eastern culture, the language, and the religion, I took great offense to this. Loewen, at best, is an apologetic. To him, there were no good people in history. Every hero we've ever had was a racist hothead who made sure the white race always stayed above the other races. I realize there are dark points in American history and he is in the right to point them out since many textbooks do not address them. However, going the other extreme is not a way to solve anything. He claims history books are really propaganda, make human beings into gods, and bore children. What he has written is propaganda on the other side of the spectrum, makes human beings into White Devils, and discourages children from seeing any good points about the history of their own country.
Guest More than 1 year ago
As most of us know, the winners write the textbooks and if you know much about the textbook industry, it is blatantly obvious that politics plays a huge role in what gets published. There can be absolutely no doubt that this country has refused to acknowledge its own sins of the past, particularly where the Native American issue is concerned. As a career educator and administrator in the public sector, I have witnessed (and unfortunately, been guilty of) teaching sketchy, often misleading, and sometimes completely false historical information to public school students. We don't have a choice oftentimes, because to teach in opposition to the adopted textbook, or to even expand on it and give a more multi-faceted view, is controversial and could lead to the loss of a teaching job. Again, politics raises its ugly head, at the expense of the truth. So, Bravo! to Mr. Loewen for having the nerve to present an opposing viewpoint. Those who have been completely indoctrinated into the current radical right wing mindset will have much difficulty with this book, because it would require a major paradigm shift for them. And, as we know, the very term 'conservative' implies sameness, follower, unexcepting of differing views, etc. A paradigm shift requires kicking over sacred cows, and re-evaluating belief systems it requires casting a critical eye on why we believe what we believe. If you are interested in the truth behind the myth of American History, READ THIS BOOK!
k8smomma More than 1 year ago
Enlightning beyond belief. The belief that if we were told it in school by someone of authority, then it HAD to be true. BUT SO MUCH OF IT WASN'T! This book will set you straight on many aspects of our country's "history" as nothing else I've ever read. An important and necessary book for all people no matter what your race, social background or age. If it isn't required reading for high school students, then we can only hope that one day it will be. Not the fast-paced kind of read that fiction can provide but has facts so startling new and true, for many of us, that you will be amazed at what you find out.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The most brilliant book I've ever read on US history. This is US history as I learned it in Europe. Why do Europeans learn the truth and Americans don't? You have nothing to be ashamed of, not even of the truth. Yes, it is brutally honest, but the history of every country is full of extremely brutal things. We can't make anything better in the future if we aren't aware of our past. In order to be proud of our heritage, it is absolutely necessary to also know the negative things our native country did. No country on this planet only did good things, that's just not human nature. You can be proud of your country anyway. So this is an absolute must read book, not only for Americans.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Picture the American history as a pitcher of water. Typically, the author sugars the mixture into the ground. What Loewen has done here is provide us with a nice, tart packet of Kool-Aid mix. Lies My Teacher Told Me is an interesting, if very deliberately angled, window on what some might call 'revisionist history.' Taken on it's own, the book may be seen as incredibly biased (to overextend an already ridiculous metaphor, Kool-Aid made without sugar is bitter indeed), but any such criticism of the book must take into account the fact that it is not MEANT to be taken on it's own. Lies My Teacher Told Me labors under the challenge of having to examine almost 6 centuries of history's accumulated misconceptions and omissions, which generations of Americans have had drilled into them over thirteen years of primary school, and counterbalance them all in the span of a single one-or-two hour read. He really goes out on a limb with some of his conclusions, but if the volume in general comes off as abrasively liberal and revisionist, it is only because he has given himself so little space to challenge (radically) so many two-dimensional historical notions. Challenge may not be the right word, though-- little of what Loewen has to say will be news to anyone but junior-high and high-school kids just starting to realize that history's grand heroes were real, flawed men and women, and not the marbleized demigods and easily defined villians laid out in their inoffensive grade-school texts. The funny thing here is that, in writing a book whose obvious intent is to shock the reader into a broader awareness of history, the author uses many of the same techniques he rails against- specifically, the charicaturization-by-omission of key historical figures and events. An eye for an eye? Fair enough, but to revisionist readers he's singing a song they already know by heart, and to many of the more moderate readers, like myself, the picture of history provided here is left jagged and distorted unless one keeps firmly in mind that it is best read as a counterbalance to traditional history, and not an intended replacement.
JGarRAL More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be very informative and a must read for all high school students. I think this book illuminates the dark history that the United States has effectively hidden. I agree with the author that showing historical persons flaws along side their positive attributes is very important to show that they were actually humans. I can see that many might see Loewen's writings as slanted but that being said I still find the information in the book to be very valuable. Overall this book is a great read and very informative, it offers many solutions to huge problems in American History classes.
ErinMichelleBailey More than 1 year ago
This book was recommended to me by a highly-respected professor who truly wanted his students to have a well-rounded understanding of our history. Textbooks make great outlines but leave out the juicy details of events that fueled the fire behind revolutions, revolts, etc. The book itself is revolutionary in reshaping history as we know it - as we were taught it - by presenting an unbiased perspective of world events (rather than pushing a thesis).
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everyone has an opinion about the past and will carefully select what they want to justify their world view. Be wary of someone claiming to present an unbiased and therefore more intellectually honest portrait of history. As just one example of the author's illogic, how can one glorify a murderer and traitor 'i.e., John Brown' and vilify a president like Woodrow Wilson, who was admittedly a flawed individual, but hardly an anti-woman, racist, ideologue? There is always more to people and history than can be captured in a book but to assert that yours is the true version of what happened is just silly.
Guest More than 1 year ago
The book contains some interesting points, but it is no more objective than the history textbooks it criticizes. The author implies that all white men are dishonest, stupid, greedy and cruel. This is as ludicrous as his complaints that European/Americans are depicted as universally virtuous. I believe the book is worth reading, but it should be read with with caution, and taken with more than a grain of salt. Virtue and vice are individual characteristics that have nothing to do with race, nationality, gender or economic postioning.
Celtic-Mason More than 1 year ago
I sincerely recommend that every American of middle school age and above should read this book! Packed with facts and explanations about our country's history that puts into a proper perspective all that school textbooks at the secondary and college level get all twisted up with misinformation and way too much ethnocentricity to make it plausible, yet I know I perceived my history as I was taught in grades 1 to 12 and at college as the valid word. What an eye-opener on many historical topics. I particularly enjoyed the thorough research and bibliography which pointed me to other interesting history books which have given me what I now feel is a much more solid knowledge of my country's history, scars, scandals, and all. Bravo!
Guest More than 1 year ago
What began as an interesting description of the history not included in most US History textbooks quickly degraded into a primer on left-wing socialist philosophy. Though it seemed through the first half of the book that the author was truly attempting to give a non-biased look at history, even then his politics kept squeezing through. I don't mind reading an author with whom I may disagree however, I was looking for a book about historical facts, not philosophy. I would have much preferred having the history laid out accurately but sans commentary so that I could draw my own conclusions.
Guest More than 1 year ago
Everything wrong in the world is the whitemans fault.He also commits the same aggregous acts of omission that he accuses the authors of textbooks of doing , which seemed to be his reason for writing this book in the first place , also very condescending in tone when 'enlightining us to privileged info or heretofore unknown facts' gee thanks for the heads up on basic info and irrelevant b.s.
KrazyKim More than 1 year ago
I found this book to be extremely enlightening and somewhat scary. It's important for us to remember that so much of what we learn is what "someone" chose to teach us. I highly recommend reading it.
Guest More than 1 year ago
All in all, this book is a very enlightening piece--however, once it reached its end, I found that it became a bit too liberal for my taste. Quite frankly, I was very disappointed with the ending, because the rest of the book was clean, and UNTAINTED by liberal-ness. But, I would still recommend this book to any person who is interested in history (and, if you don't agree with it, you can read it to see what the 'other half' is saying).
Guest More than 1 year ago
When I first began reading this book I was very intrigued. It seemed as if every line the author wrote made me pause and question what I have known as truth all my life. It made me wonder if it was actually possible for history itself to be so distorted by white ideas and American supremacy. But as the book progressed I began to feel as if maybe this book was slightly distorted by another set of ideas. The seemingly redundant and often pointless points made against common U.S. history continued, and the book quickly began to lose my trust and enjoyment. It soon became clear that all questions would not be evaluated from both sides, and that this book would be totally on the opposition of every-day fact. It almost seems as if the author is trying to force the reader to revolt and disbelieve American history on every other line, and the countless and meaningless facts he brings up seem to just fill up page space and make the book more difficult for the every day reader to understand. This book would have been a better read if it would have actually examined all angles and opinions, and covered the topic with only hard facts and little speculation. Instead it seems that the author speculates many figures in history¿s opinions and state of mind during history changing events. It seems like he tries to imprint in your head what he feels happened. Now don¿t get me wrong, the author does make some points and cause you to ask yourself some serious questions. Examples of these would be the sections on Woodrow Wilson and Andrew Jackson. But then you get to a section like the one on Helen Keller, and it makes you wonder why he has any reason to change the way she was viewed. Also in one of the sections he examines a roadside marker that briefly describes the movement of Union troops along a road, calls it a complete lie and then begins to tell the exact same story the road mark told, but this time includes that a few people from the town helped. Why does the roadside marker need to include this extra useless fact? It is very obvious that he has done a lot of research, but again it seems as if he has taken the most obscure and least documented accounts of history as being ¿what actually happened¿. For all he knows those could be total lies and scandals set up by a person trying to distort a rivals place in history. But again that¿s just me speculating. Overall the book didn¿t turn out the way I have expected and never quite covered both sides or provided all the evidence I would have liked to read. I am impressed with the obvious amount of research and time the author spent on this book but would like to see him provide a less biased and more neutral look on possible falsities in history.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I was expecting more out of a book with this title. The author did have valid points but became overly redundant while trying to stress them. Alot of what is written the author tells is common knowledge for most who are into history. I am giving it 2 stars because the book does make a few thought provoking questions.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
You can always tell the people who will have a problem with this book. When history shows us the wrong we have done as a nation, some people get upset, but we have no problem pointing our finger at other nations. It's like the big lie like how Christopher Columbus discovered America, how do you discovered the New World, how do discover and claim land with close to a million people on it? It's the great whitewashing of history and lies we all were taught at school. I hope more people would correct history and it's taught in schools, so children will learn people of all races helped to build this country. No the United States has not always been the nice guy like any nation we have flaws. Enough with the "PC" being pc is the values that were taught to most people growing up it's called treating people with common respect. It's the golden "Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" plan and simple.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
this is a lousy book. The author distorts ideas to promote his own personal views. This is a perfect example of revisionist history defending the indefensible while denigrating any positive parts of American history. It is an excretory work having all of the validity of a Michael Moore film. I wasted my money purchasing it and wasted my time by reading it. Giving this book a rating of one star is being overly generous.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
If, like me, you've sat in history class with an average history textbook, tearing your hair out in incredulity, depressed by it's portrayal of America's "greatness", while you're cognizant of the truth (the eradication of civilized Native Americans, by the real savages, the European settlers, the human nature of our founding fathers and leaders, the prevarications they submited when confronted with their own hypocrisy, the nefarious means of securing the resources we think we need), read this book. No, beyond that, if you're an American citizen, nay, an occupant of this Earth, you should pick up a copy. If you desire a record of the past and present that correlates with reality, read this book. If you just wish to know whats really going on, READ THIS BOOK. These pages contain enlightenment, and if you shun that, you're bound to repeat the same mistakes our ancestors did (mistakes that are detailed in this book), and the destruction of our planet and ourselves will insue. Like Neil deGrasse Tyson said: "The only thing worse than a blind believer is a seeing denier". Do not be either. Be a questioning but accepting when appropiate sponge. And live by another Tyson maxim: "Every day, do two things: know something you didn't yesterday, and make sombody's life better somhow. You'd be surprised how far that gets you."