Originally broadcast: July 8, 2012
In 1995, James Lowen published Lies My Teacher Told Me, a powerful critique of how American history is taught in schools. He surveyed twelve leading textbooks and found, in his words, ”an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple, weighing in at an average of four-and-a-half pounds and 888 pages.” His book won the American Book Award, the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship, and the AESA Critics’ Choice Award. The book has sold over 1,250,000 copies.
On this episode of Why? we will take another look at Loewen’s arguments and ask whether his critique still stands. More philosophically, we will ask how we should teach history. Do we present famous figures as heroes or flawed people? Do we write from the perspective of the victors or the losers? Do we investigate America as a multicultural land or as one people, undivided?
James Loewen taught race relations for twenty years at the University of Vermont. Previously he taught at predominantly black Tougaloo College in Mississippi. He now lives in Washington, D.C., continuing his research on how Americans remember their past. He has also written: Lies Across America, Sundown Towns, Teaching What Really Happened, and The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader. He has been an expert witness in more than 50 civil rights, voting rights, and employment cases.