We’re privileged to live in a country where education is a priority, teachers are well-trained, and knowledge is at our fingertips. But James W. Lowen, author of the dramatically-titled Lies My Teacher Told Me, wants to expose “everything your American History textbook got wrong.”
There are so many examples of little historical anecdotes from grade and high school that we take as gospel. Most people know that Helen Keller was blind and deaf, for example, but few have any idea of what role she played in politics. Many of us can sing “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in fourteen hundred ninety-two,” but the role he played is far greater in our minds than in reality.
The strongest point of this book, for me, was the discussion on heroes. It’s easy to put figures like George Washington, Abraham Lincoln, and Helen Keller on a pedestal–but when we see them primarily as figures instead of actual human beings–flaws and all–we’re not viewing history correctly. As Charles V. Willie once said, “By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves…We faith to recognize that we could go and do likewise.”
America has accomplished a lot of great things, no doubt, but Loewen presents the past historically, not through rose-colored glasses. As I read through some of his corrections, I sometimes found myself saying, “Okay, you’re saying a lot here; skip to the point and just say outright what did happen.” But I sort of realized that that’s the point: it’s easy to make generalizations, to sum up the past in a few lines and cliches. In reality, the past is complex, in both regrettable and beautiful ways a lot, and it deserves a proper telling.
“It would be better not to know so many things than to know so many things that are not so.” – Felix Okoye
You may have been out of school for a while, but I promise it’s worth revisiting some of the things we learned as kids. You might be surprised at what you learn.
Thanks for reading! –Autumn
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