Apr 3, 2009

Book Review: Lies my Teachers Told Me

The book "Lies My Teacher Told Me", is filled with concrete examples of important details that are left out of history books because they will create controversy and might make students ask questions.

Instead the goal of history has become to bore a student with unrelated and mostly useless facts – that any bored person will do his/her best to avoid. The human brain learns and remembers what is emotionally stimulating. If you tell history as a story with drama then it will tend to stick, "Emotion is the glue that causes history to stick". Author: James W. Loewen (Visit his webpage)

"Study after study shows that students successfully resist learning “facts” like these. Indeed they resist all too well. When two thirds of American seventeen year olds cannot place the Civil War in the right half-century or 22 percent of my students reply that the ‘Vietnam War was fought between North and South Korea’, we must salute young people for more than mere ignorance. This is resistance raised to a high level. Students are simply not learning even those details of American history that educated citizens should know about. Still less do they learn what caused the major development in our past. Therefore, they cannot apply lessons from the past to current issues.

Unfortunately, students are left with no resources to understand, accept, or reject historical referents used in arguments by candidates for offices, sociology professors, or newspaper journalists. If knowledge is power, ignorance cannot be bliss."

In textbooks the goal seems to be to present history NOT as a human drama of evolving understanding with progress and reversals (1 step forward, 2 steps back) – but instead as an ever improving evolution to a better way of life.

Page 172 "Perhaps the most letting critic Frances Fitz Gerald made in her 1979 survery of American history textbooks, America Revised, was that they leave out ideas."

The problems with ideas is that sometimes it can be obvious which ideas are better yet the ones with the right ideas don’t always win. It is easier to force memorization of useless facts than the show the students that the world doesn’t work as continuous evolving society. The students would ask why. We all know how irritated some adults get when children keep asking why. Especially when they don’t know the answer and it is below them to accept that.

His basic message is that our history books are dooming us to repeat our mistakes of the past by forcing America to make decisions based on infomercial snippets, or angry racist talk show hosts as we have no background knowledge to make informed decisions. Lack of knowledge means a person can be controlled by using fear of the unknown. This is a situation that applies to the planet as a whole.

Read a limited preview at Google books.

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