The book is “Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen. The tagline is “Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong.”
The following description is based on part, the words from the rear of the dust jacket mixed with some words of my own.
Lies is in part a telling critique of existing textbooks but, more importantly, an excellent retelling of American history as it should-and could-be taught to American students. The author spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution doing an examination of twelve leading high school textbooks of American history. The back of the book says he found an uneasy amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple. The topics range from pre-Columbian times all the way to the 1990’s and include a wide range of famous people and events, some less well known to giants of history.
I love this book. The title alone got my attention. I thought this book would be the ranting of a man with an ax to grind. Instead, the book made me feel about other people through their eyes and see the world as they perceive it. The book has some good questions to ask yourself. I’ll list them now as they are listed in the book.
- Why was it written (or painted)? Locate the audience in the social structure. Consider what the speaker was trying to accomplish.
- Ask whose viewpoint is presented. Where is the speaker, writer, etc. located in social structure? What interest, material or ideological, does the statement serve? Whose viewpoints are omitted?
- Is the account believable? Does each acting group behave reasonably as we might, given the same situation and socialization? This approach also requires examining the work for internal contradictions. Does it cohere? Do some of its assertions contradict others?
- Is the account backed up by other sources? Or do other authors contradict it?
- Finally, after reading the words or seeing the image, how is one supposed to feel about the image that has been presented? This analysis also includes examining the author’s choice of words and images.
Whew, some heady questions.