There can be no surprise that the school is the place which forms the basis for the development of critical thinking of many people. Children get their basic knowledge in the most important disciplines. One of the most important disciplines is history: there is even the famous saying that people / nations who do not know their past are doomed to repeat it.
Of course, American scholars understands the importance of students’ understanding of past events, however, some academics claim that there are too many controversies in history that are not revealed in textbooks on history which can produce negative consequences for the development of the entire nation.
One of such academics is James Loewen who considers the controversies of history education in the USA in his famous Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. The entire book is permeated with the idea that students in schools are taught “refined” history which distorts their perception of reality.
Loewen states that the vast majority of textbooks provide only one-faceted opinion, they present the “Disney version of history” omitting controversies and blemishes in the American history (Loewen 27). He also states that such erroneous approach to history education can lead to wrong passive position of people who believe in their heroic country which had no difficulties throughout its history.
Loewen points out that the majority of people in the USA know the history of their country from the school course and the textbooks. He states that many textbooks have few references to secondary sources. Thus, Loewen stresses that there is a large gap between the knowledge of historians and the amount of facts the rest of Americans are taught (Loewen 267).
Moreover, Loewen provides the results of the research held in 1990 which revealed that 40% of teachers (who participated in the research) had a B.A. or M.A. (Loewen 280). This situation only contributes to the fact that students get information about the history from their textbooks only.
Of course, not only textbook authors but teachers as well try to omit any controversies in history. It is easier to enumerate particular names, dates and events without discussing various backgrounds, downsides and impacts on the further development. Thus, textbooks authors pick up some historic events that seem to them heroic or essential and omit many other details associated with these events.
One of such erroneous representation of facts is illustrated by the period of Woodrow Wilson being the President of the USA. According to Loewen numerous textbooks depict this personality as a hero who led glorious policy, but in reality introduced many controversial changes in political and social life of the country (Loewen 25).
For instance, Loewen pays a lot of attention to Wilson’s racism and anti-communism (Loewen 25). There is no information in the majority textbooks as for Wilson’s policies in these areas. Numerous textbooks omit mentioning suppression of African-American people. It was Wilson who succeeded in depriving African-Americans from their rights; for instance, even positions in government which were assigned for African-American during Wilson’s presidency were occupied by white Americans.
Many textbooks ascribe the witches hunt to Wilson’s government not him, but, in fact, he was a great supporter and initiator of many anti-communism campaigns (Loewen 29). Thus, textbooks in history have created a heroic president instead of a man who made many mistakes, however, at the same time introduced lots of positive changes.
Another good illustration of the wrong representation of historic events which Loewen provides is another American president, Lincoln. Loewen stresses that correct depicting of this remarkable leader can be very useful for the development of analytical skills of students who could learn that politics address every audience in different ways and that it is important to analyze officials’ words rather than take them literally (Loewen 172).
Moreover, the “internal struggle” of this man can be a very good example how people can develop under the pressure of circumstances (Loewen 172). Loewen points out that it is essential to provide different points of view instead of trying to create positive image of the country and the government. People should understand that sometimes their government may act inadequately, erroneously. Students should learn about various blemishes in the history of their country to be ready to some controversies in their real life.
Loewen also mentions that textbooks in history are often produced from the perspective of the upper-class. He states that such sources omit dwelling upon some social issues since a “theory of social justice” can hardly be in line with the data about wealth distribution in the country (Loewen 206).
Another disputable question is a depiction of immigrants. As a rule, textbooks in history reveal successful stories of immigrants who became respectable members of society, but they do not dwell upon those difficulties immigrants had to cope with (Loewen 195). According to Nieto Loewen raises very important issues in his book: he stresses the importance of presenting different points of view on the same event or personality (Nieto 44).
The “linear and fixed” representation of events from the perspective of the dominant group makes student think that they are “passive in making any changes” (Nieto 44). Of course, such dangerous perception should be changed.
Loewen stresses that students should be able to analyze the historic events carefully and make corresponding conclusions. He suggests a possible way out and states that it can be helpful to include fewer events in textbooks and pay significant attention to discussion of controversies or different points of view on the same event (Loewen 309). Thus students will be able not only to remember some important landmarks in the history, but will understand the background of these events and their impacts on the modern life. Of course, students will have critical perception of the reality and will be able to influence the course of history when it is necessary.
Thus, the main idea Loewen reveals in his book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong is that students should have the opportunity to consider various points of views and different facets of the same historic event to have the right perception of the past, present and future.
Students should know about the controversies of the American history to respond adequately to different events taking place in the contemporary times. Students should know that not only wise government is responsible for the development of their countries: first of all, each person should make the necessary contribution to build a strong and really democratic state.
Loewen, J.W. Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. New York: New Press, 1995.
Nieto, S. Language, Culture, and Teaching: Critical Perspectives for a New Century. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002.