History Teachers Need it, Too!

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition: Everything American History Textbooks Get Wrong

By James Loewen, adapted by Rebecca Stefoff, The New Press, 256 pages.

Every parent should read this book—especially if they have a student who hates history or social studies class. Better yet, read this book along with your history-hating offspring.

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers' Edition is a must-have for every history teacher and homeschooling parent in the United States. #history #UShistory #homeschool

As a history teacher, I have long struggled with history textbooks. Back in the day, they consisted of dry stories with no pictures to liven up the pages. Then, they data-dumped lots of pictures and graphics, but the stories still seemed dull.

I found a love of history through historical fiction. Those books made me want to look up facts on my own and discover connections, patterns, and themes. Fortunately, I have the luxury of teaching at a private school that doesn’t require that I move lock-step through a history textbook. In fact, I get to use the history textbook as a ‘reference’—although it mostly collects dust.

Loewen articulates everything I’ve ever hated about history textbooks. He talks about the dangers of heroification (and gives readers a great definition as well as solid examples and the consequences of heroification). I’d rather know (and teach) that our forefathers (and mothers) struggled with real problems—some of the same problems that we struggle with today.

The author talks about the danger of social archetypes, “a figure that stands for certain values and emotions in a society, whether it is accurate or not…” Loewen covers the social archetypes of American exceptionalism, the idea that modern technology is a European development, the ‘thinly populated’ American continent, the belief that Europeans were civilized and the Native Americans were primitive, racial archetypes against blacks, and that the United States doesn’t have social classes.

Question Everything

Lies My Teacher Told Me gives the reader permission to question everything. For the past school year, I’ve ditched the U. S. history textbooks as an authority entirely. Instead, I ask students to read small sections and then analyze the text book. Who tells the story (usually older white men)? What perspective does the author want readers to believe (the supremacy of white men)? How do they think (or know) that a white man’s perspective is faulty?

This leads to conversations and research about deep topics such as the markers of civilization—not something that any history textbook I’ve taught from has ever covered. As Native Americans, my students have learned how to question the narrative told by white, male historians. Their questions push them to find answers, which leads them to research and read primary sources for themselves.

When we teach history from the perspective of only one race and sex, we diminish the accomplishments of roughly 65% of the population—the non-white and non-males.

While we criticize communist countries for revisionist history, we should take a closer look at our own history. What have we left out? Who have we marginalized? What lies or half-truths do students find within the pages of U. S. History textbooks? Would we get along better if we had a clear picture of the real history of the United States?

Loewen contends that rather than inspire optimism and hope (textbook publishers’ grandiose ideal for textbooks), students feel less optimistic when they read the bland version of history found in the typical textbook.

Why You Should Read Lies My Teacher Told Me: Young Readers’ Edition

If the purpose of studying history is to prevent ourselves from repeating the mistakes of the past, we should actually study the past—not just the conquering white male perspective. Lies My Teacher Told Me is a must-have for every history teacher and homeschooling parent in the United States.

Studying history should prevent us from repeating the mistakes of the past–unless we study watered-down history told only from the white male perspective. #history Click To Tweet

The young readers’ edition releases April 23, 2019. Rebecca Stefoff does a wonderful job of adapting the content to make it accessible for non-academics–which includes the target audience of students ages 12-18.

Even if you hated history class in high school or college, you should give this book a chance. Most likely you’ll discover the reason for your aversion and come away with an awakened curiosity about our nation’s past.

Don't miss this adaptation of #liesmyteachertoldme by @JamesWLoewen. Every #historyteacher and #homeschooling parent needs to read a copy! Click To Tweet