2 April 2011

Lies My Teacher Told Me- A Must Read Book.

Posted by Dan Satterfield

You may have noticed that under my list of  subject categories, I have history listed. Not history of science, just history, and this may seem strange for a blog about science. The reason??  I like history, and from time to time I like to write about it (especially to dispel certain myths).

It’s been awhile since I did a history post, but this book is too important to pass up and it brings up issues related to science as well. The “must read” book in the title of this post is Lies My Teacher Told Me- Everything Your American History Text Book Got Wrong. If you have a student in high school, I would suggest you give them that book and tell them it is more important that they read it than it is their school history book. It’s certainly more accurate! Read it yourself too, it’s great.

The book’s author (James W. Loewen) teaches real American History, and at the same time produces a damning indictment of high school text-book writing/selection in America. I thought I had a decent background in history, but I never knew how rabid a racist Woodrow Wilson was. That story is in the first chapter, and makes one wonder why virtually every high school history book makes Wilson look like one of our nation’s great presidents, when in reality he was probably among the worst.

Loewen’s introduction to his second edition gives examples of just how bad history books are in our schools. Indeed, (he says) they are so bad, that most college history professors consider it their first task to UN-teach everything students learned in high school! He dedicates the book to the growing ranks of history teachers who teach AGAINST their text books! To quote Loewen, “History is the one field in which the more courses students take, the stupider they become”.

Loewen points out that the overwhelming majority of  Americans never get a course in college history, and are left with a whitewashed and sanitized view of our nation’s past. Loewen’s book may upset you in spots, and it will definitely open your eyes to a much different reality than is still being taught by such lousy high school history texts such as American Journey. You will not find anything about the fervent socialist views of Helen Keller in that book, or how Woodrow Wilson was totally against women’s suffrage.

Loewen’s favorite comment on his book came “from a lad via email somewhere at AOL.com that said I’ve been using your book to heckle my history teacher from the back of the room!”. Several school systems have made it policy for teachers to read Loewen’s book and incorporate it into their courses. When an Illinois teacher told her students that most presidents before Lincoln owned slaves, they refused to believe her. They argued that the text book would never leave something that important out, so it must be false. This very smart teacher had the students research it themselves, and according to the author, they ended up turning their anger to the author of the book. He never replied, but good for them!

The situation is not getting better, it’s getting worse. Text book publishers are increasingly afraid to put detailed science  on some subjects in high school Earth Science books.  Long settled science such as evolution/natural selection, the age of the Earth, and even basic science about how carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas could force a school system to pass up the book for a watered down version.

We live in scary times. If this attitude prevails,  we may soon need a science version of lies my teacher told me…