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Josie Spencer 27 August 2011 AE AP US History 11 Mr. Stoner Book Review James W.

Loewen published his first book in 1996, and it became a national bestseller. Loewen himself attended Carlton College and earned his PhD in sociology from Harvard University. He has taught at two colleges, University of Vermont and Tougaloo College in Mississippi. His book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong is exactly what the title says. Loewen has gone through twelve commonly used American history textbooks, including the American Pageant, and criticized them for presenting history as fact, rather than many conflicting possibilities. It is written in a scholarly style, and does not focus on one time period, but rather goes chronologically from event to event, starting before Christopher Columbus with other possible theories of the first discovery of America and ending with Vietnam War in the 1960s. This book was written to change the way American history is taught, and when it was written, according to responses to the book published on Loewens website, it shocked and disillusioned many, and inspired others to become more interested in history. Loewens thesis is most American history textbooks, having been imbued with a nationalistic spirit, aim to present history in such a way that students come out believing that the United States is a near-perfect country, that even from its founding it was destined to become great. He explains that many of the titles support this view, such as The Great Republic or Rise of the American Nation, and points out that Chemistry books, for example, are called Chemistry or Principles of Chemestry, not Rise of the Molecule. (Loewen 14). He supports his thesis by

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giving examples of events, such as Columbus discovery of America, that are told in such a light that the student comes to believe that the story is gospel, while not realizing that even the words used, like discovery, show the ignorance of the textbooks (Loewen 37-74). The title of Loewens book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, shows his aggression toward both textbooks, which he claims are often muddled by the conflicting desires to promote inquiry and to indoctrinate blind patriotism, as well toward the teachers who teach from the books. One of his main arguments is that textbooks are written to present fact, rather than possibility. As previously discussed, Columbus was not the first to discover America, nor did he do it for the reason books give- that he was trying to prove the world round. Mel Sheffler, in her review of Lies My Teacher Told Me, points out that the closest she heard was that he was looking for the Indies, rather than slaves and gold. In reading Lies My Teacher Told Me, it must be taken into account that Loewen is writing to prove why the textbooks are wrong. He believes that textbooks present history from a white, optimistic and definite point of view, while it should be taught from the perspectives of all the races, cultures, and social classes which history affects. He gives examples of events, such as Reconstruction in the South after the Civil War, where students have been taught that Reconstruction was the time when African Americans took over the governing of the Southern states, including Mississippi. But they were too soon out of slavery, so they messed up and reigned corruptly, and whites had to take back control of the state governments (Loewen 156), and argues that the textbooks should make it obvious that most of the racial violence was performed by white people.

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This book is the first of many books written by Loewen to show how inaccurate American history has become. He has written them all in an almost complaining way, begging the publishers and writers to provide a more accurate, less definite manner. He argues that, despite textbooks painting United States history as a series of conflicts in which the winner was whoever was on the side of Liberty and Freedom, there are more factors involved that the textbooks skip over. He uses the Civil War as an example. Textbooks tend to emphasize the ideological reasons for the Norths victory, while Loewen notes a myriad of other factors, such as the Norths already established government and their advantages in industry, while the South had more notable officers, were fighting on their own turf, shortening supply lines, but lost two of their most capable generals early in the war. Both sides had troops who were too slow, and a number of other handicaps and advantages, meaning that the outcome was not inevitable (Loewen 350). I found Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbooks Got Wrong to be a very good book. It was fascinating to hear another perspective on history. Though it is now fairly common knowledge that Leif Erikson landed in America prior to Christopher Columbus, it was immensely interesting to hear other theories, such as the possibility of Phoenicians and Egyptians having come earlier. I can neither agree nor disagree with the author as of yet, as this is the first time I have come across such views, and so I do not have the authority to challenge them or the views expressed in textbooks, though I do believe it would be a very good idea to learn more about the way textbooks present facts. I can say that Loewen made good use of his evidence, from the giant stone heads of Mexico to the photographs that are and are not used in textbooks to describe the Vietnam War. This book would be highly

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recommended to anyone interested in either having a more rounded view of history or who simply like to rebel against the establishment. James W. Loewen book, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, is a fascinating book which takes a deeper look at the way history textbooks present Americas past, from discovery all the way to the Vietnam War. It looks at the manner in which textbooks gloss over less appealing characteristics of our heroes and how they present history from a one-sided view, which can exclude members of other races, which have just as much a right to be here as the English settlers and their white descendents.