Lies My Teacher Told Me

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Lies My Teacher Told Me is a book by James Loewen describing a number of falsehoods or misconceptions prevalent in many American history textbooks. Loewen also examines why some of these issues are downplayed or misrepresented, often for political reasons.

The lies[edit]

  • Christopher Columbus is often treated as something of a hero in modern times or at least made to look like an innocuous explorer. Loewen describes some of his more controversial actions (such as enslaving the natives who welcomed him) and evidence that he was actually not the first European explorer to reach the Americas.
  • Oftentimes, the effect of plagues and diseases on Native Americans are downplayed. In reality, it was one of the most crucial factors toward Europeans being able to colonize significant amounts of territory with comparative ease and Native Americans still live on this legacy, being a hidden minority.
  • American Indians are often portrayed as "savage" or unsophisticated, even in this day and age. In particular, there's a misconception that the Indians didn't succeed in American society because they had trouble adjusting to mainstream society, when in fact some did, but were deliberately sabotaged: goods confiscated and run out of town when they became too successful, for instance.
  • Racism has a tendency to be underrepresented in American history. Really, racism has had its role in politics throughout all of American history and even the modern political arena.
  • Anti-racism is also somewhat invisible.
  • Issues that are still relevant today are sometimes mischaracterized or glossed over to avoid controversy. For instance, wealth disparity is often not treated as a significant problem.
  • There is not enough discussion of events that occurred recently enough that many people still alive remember them. It leads to an interesting predicament where many students may be able to tell you more about Andrew Jackson than George H.W. Bush. The question in this case is, how recent is too recent?
  • American foreign policy is often presented as uniformly righteous, while it's often influenced by corporate interests or mistaken ideology, if not outright imperialism.

Why textbooks lie[edit]

As tools for education, textbooks have to portray uncontroversial images and ideas to avoid outrage. Unfortunately, this caution prevents authors from presenting many facts that are actually most relevant to students' lives.[please explain]


Loewen followed the book up with Lies Across America, examining lies or inaccuracies in American historical sites. Loewen is especially critical of sites associated with the Civil War and their promotion of Lost Cause mythology. He notes the absurdity of pro-Confederate monuments in the North, including one in Montana (which wasn't even a state during the Civil War).

See also[edit]