Lies My Teacher Told Me (James W. Loewen) - Touchstone Simon & Schuster - 1995 - 383 pages

I did not like history courses in high school and now I know why.  Author Loewen explains in this book that U.S. history texts generally give the Eurocentric view of the world, omitting anything that could be viewed as offensive or that may give a negative view of U.S. governments.  For example, students will never learn of the brutality of Columbus to the indigenous peoples of Haiti, the systematic near-genocide of native tribes in the eastern U.S. caused by western diseases, the extent of slavery in pre-Civil War America, or the blatant racism of President Woodrow Wilson.  This well-researched volume contains 57 pages of reference notes to assist future teachers if they will take the time to read them.  This quote from Chapter 12 is a good summary: "History textbooks and most high school teachers give students no reason to love or appreciate this subject.  We must not ignore the abysmal ratings that history courses receive, and we cannot merely exhort students to like history more.  But this does not mean the sorry state of learning in most history classrooms cannot be changed.  Students will start learning history when they see the point of doing so, when it seems interesting and important to them, and when they believe history might relate to their lives and futures.  Students will start finding history interesting when their teachers and textbooks stop lying to them."

I was a good high school student with a thirst for knowledge.  For the first three years of high school, I attended college prep History and English classes.  These offered the best teachers who sought to stimulate us over-achievers.  However, in my senior year I asked to opt out of college prep courses so I could take a French II course that was only offered in the mornings at the same time as the college preps.  Therefore, I took an ordinary History class for sixth period.  I was shocked by the differences between college prep courses and non-college preps.  The course was taught by the book without means for questioning the conclusions of the book and the tests were simple.  There were no group projects or interesting diversions.  But if you wanted to get a "B" or better, you had to complete two exhaustive book reports from a strict list of boring titles.  This was clearly just busy work.  In the first semester, I procrastinated about the book reports and did not do them.  I got an "A" on each of the exams.  On the last day of the semester, the teacher called us to his desk one-by-one to put a grade on our report cards.  When he called me, he saw that I already had five "A's" on the report card from my other classes.  He said, "You did not do the book reports.  Do you know what that means?"  I said, "Yes, a 'C.'"  He gave me a "C+."  For the second semester, I decided to do the book reports because I did not want another "C."  The teacher did not like my reports but gave me a "B-."  The material was bland and the tests were embarrassingly trivial.  I have learned much more about American history from independent reading after leaving high school. [JAM 1/21/2013]