Lies My Teacher Told Me

by James W. Loewen

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 04, 2024
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Lies My Teacher Told Me

What are the big ideas? 1. The book emphasizes the importance of recognizing power dynamics and societal attitudes in shaping historical narratives, arguing that hi

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What are the big ideas?

  1. The book emphasizes the importance of recognizing power dynamics and societal attitudes in shaping historical narratives, arguing that history textbooks often present a sanitized version of American history that omits or distorts facts to serve the interests of those in power. This perspective is distinct from other education or social history literature, which may focus more on methodology or specific historical events.
  2. The book argues that nonthinking, or the lack of critical thinking skills, is a common problem among students when it comes to understanding historical events and issues. It proposes novel approaches for encouraging genuine learning in history by awakening students' curiosity, opening their minds, and helping them see the relevance of historical events to their own lives and futures.
  3. The book introduces the concept of "future lies" in history education, emphasizing the importance of becoming independent learners who can sift through arguments and evidence to make reasoned judgments about historical events and issues. This perspective is distinct from other critical thinking literature, which may focus more on logic and argumentation in abstract contexts.
  4. The book proposes novel techniques for dealing with historical sources, suggesting that students ask five key questions when examining a source: why it was written, whose viewpoint is presented, its believability, if it's backed up by other sources, and how one is supposed to feel about the history presented. This approach provides a specific framework for teaching critical thinking skills in historical contexts.
  5. The book emphasizes the role of citizenship in understanding history, arguing that individuals who understand historical events become formidable forces for democracy by checking historical assertions and using sources to determine what really happened in the past. This perspective is unique in its emphasis on the practical application of critical thinking skills in real-world contexts, highlighting the importance of historical knowledge for informed civic engagement.


Introduction: Something Has Gone Very...


  • High school students dislike history due to its perceived irrelevance and boring nature, resulting in poor performance and avoidance.
  • African American, Native American, and Latino students show particular disdain for history.
  • Many history teachers feel demotivated by their students' lack of interest, leading to half-hearted teaching.
  • College professors criticize high school history education and see it as a hindrance rather than a benefit.
  • American history is full of compelling stories, but students often sleep through classes that present them.
  • Textbooks are the primary culprit for students' disinterest, with predictable storylines and exclusion of conflict or real suspense.
  • Textbooks seldom use the present to illuminate the past or vice versa, resulting in a lack of understanding of history's relevance.
  • History textbooks often contain errors of omission and distortion.
  • Historians produce secondary works, but textbooks fail to synthesize them into comprehensive tertiary works.
  • Textbooks present history as facts rather than debate informed by evidence and reason.
  • Most high school graduates will not take further American history courses, making what they learn in high school a significant portion of their historical knowledge.


“Whether one deems our present society wondrous or awful or both, history reveals how we arrived at this point. Understanding our past is central to our ability to understand ourselves and the world around us. We need to know our history, and according to sociologist C. Wright Mills, we know we do.8”

“Textbooks in American history stand in sharp contrast to other teaching materials. Why are history textbooks so bad? Nationalism is one of the culprits. Textbooks are often muddled by the conflicting desires to promote inquiry and to indoctrinate blind patriotism. “Take a look in your history book, and you’ll see why we should be proud” goes an anthem often sung by high school glee clubs. But we need not even look inside.”

“History is furious debate informed by evidence and reason.”

“One is astonished in the study of history at the recurrence of the idea that evil must be forgotten, distorted, skimmed over. We must not remember that Daniel Webster got drunk but only remember that he was a splendid constitutional lawyer. We must forget that George Washington was a slave owner . . . and simply remember the things we regard as creditable and inspiring. The difficulty, of course, with this philosophy is that history loses its value as an incentive and example; it paints perfect men and noble nations, but it does not tell the truth. —W.E.B. DUBOIS2”

“By idolizing those whom we honor, we do a disservice both to them and to ourselves. . . . We fail to recognize that we could go and do likewise. —CHARLES V. WILLIE3”

1. Handicapped by History: The Proces...


  • American history textbooks present a sanitized version of Helen Keller's life, focusing on her childhood and overcoming disabilities rather than her later advocacy for workers' rights and social justice
  • Textbooks also heroify Woodrow Wilson, downplaying his foreign interventions and other controversial aspects of his presidency
  • Heroification can limit students' understanding of history by presenting figures as one-dimensional and avoiding controversy or ambiguity
  • The absence of complex historical figures as role models may discourage students from developing critical thinking skills and a sense of personal agency
  • Columbus is often heroified in American history textbooks, with his achievements presented in glowing terms and any negative aspects downplayed or ignored
  • The reality of Columbus's life was more complex than the mythology that has grown up around him, including his role in initiating the transatlantic slave trade and his brutal treatment of indigenous peoples.


“Americans need to learn from the Wilson era, that there is a connection between racist presidential leadership and like-minded public response.”

“There are three great taboos in textbook publishing,” an editor at one of the biggest houses told me, “sex, religion, and social class.” While I had been able to guess the first two, the third floored me. Sociologists know the importance of social class, after all. Reviewing American history textbooks convinced me that this editor was right, however. The notion that opportunity might be unequal in America, that not everyone has “the power to rise in the world,” is anathema to textbook authors, and to many teachers as well.”

“Could it be that we don’t want to think badly of Woodrow Wilson? We seem to feel that a person like Helen Keller can be an inspiration only so long as she remains uncontroversial, one-dimensional. We don’t want complicated icons. “People do not like to think. If one thinks, one must reach conclusions,” Helen Keller pointed out. “Conclusions are not always pleasant.”41 Most of us automatically shy away from conflict, and understandably so. We particularly seek to avoid conflict in the classroom.”

“If you truly want students to take an interest in American history, then stop lying to them.”

2. 1493: The True Importance of Chris...


  • Columbus's arrival in the Americas was a meeting of three cultures: European, African, and indigenous.
  • The role of people of color in exploration has often been downplayed or omitted from history textbooks, perpetuating Eurocentric views of history.
  • Columbus's actions had both heroic and exploitative aspects.
  • The myth of Columbus as a lone heroic figure is not an accurate representation of history.
  • Omission of indigenous perspectives in history textbooks "otherizes" indigenous peoples and encourages cognitive dissonance.
  • European powers began the transatlantic slave trade, which has been omitted or downplayed in many history textbooks.
  • Las Casas, a Spanish priest who advocated for humane treatment of indigenous people, is an important figure whose contributions have often been overlooked in history textbooks.
  • Perpetuating simplistic and inaccurate portrayals of Columbus and Thanksgiving serves to justify past actions and maintain narrow patriotism rather than pursuing truth.


“People have a right to their own opinions, but not to their own facts. Evidence must be located, not created, and opinions not backed by evidence cannot be given much weight.”

“On his first voyage, Columbus kidnapped some ten to twenty-five American Indians and took them back with him to Spain.55 Only seven or eight arrived alive, but along with the parrots, gold trinkets, and other exotica, they caused quite a stir in Seville. Ferdinand and Isabella provided Columbus with seventeen ships, twelve hundred to fifteen hundred men, cannons, crossbows, guns, cavalry, and attack dogs for a second voyage.”

“It is always useful to think badly about people one has exploited or plans to exploit.”

“Cherishing Columbus is a characteristic of white history, not American history.”

“So long as our textbooks hide from us the roles that people of color have played in exploration, from at least 6000 BC to the twentieth century, they encourage us to look to Europe and its extensions as the seat of all knowledge and intelligence. So long as they say “discover,” they imply that whites are the only people who really matter. So long as they simply celebrate Columbus, rather than teach both sides of his exploit, they encourage us to identify with white Western exploitation rather than study it.”

“When history textbooks leave out the Arawaks, they offend Native Americans. When they omit the possibility of African and Phoenician precursors to Columbus, they offend African Americans. When they glamorize explorers such as de Soto just because they were white, our histories offend all people of color. When they leave out Las Casas, they omit an interesting idealist with whom we all might identify. When they glorify Columbus, our textbooks prod us toward identifying with the oppressor. When textbook authors omit the causes and process of European world domination, they offer us a history whose purpose must be to keep us unaware of the important questions. Perhaps worst of all, when textbooks paint simplistic portraits of a pious, heroic Columbus, they provide feel-good history that bores everyone.”

3. The Truth about the First Thanksgi...


  • The popular story of Thanksgiving glorifies the Pilgrims and downplays or omits the violence, exploitation, and conflict that characterized their relationship with Native Americans.
  • This feel-good history is dangerous because it obscures the reality of the past and can fuel ethnocentrism and intolerance in the present.
  • Honest and inclusive history would allow students to learn both the good and the bad aspects of the Pilgrim tale, helping them develop thoughtfulness and tolerance.
  • Understanding the making of Anglo-America requires close attention to its indigenous predecessors, allies, and nemeses.
  • Propaganda played a significant role in shaping the ideology surrounding the Pilgrims and their relationship with Native Americans, and this ideology continues to influence how we view the past.
  • Indians have long criticized the way they are portrayed in textbooks and have called for more accurate and inclusive representations of their history.


“In sum, U.S. history is no more violent and oppressive than the history of England, Russia, Indonesia, or Burundi - but neither is it exceptionally less violent.”

“The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history.”

“Of course the people do not want war. . . . But, after all, it is the leaders of the country who determine the policy, and it is always a simple matter to drag the people along, whether it is a democracy, a fascist dictatorship, a parliament, or a communist dictatorship. Voice or no voice, the people can always be brought to the bidding of the leaders. That is easy. All you have to do is tell them that they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism. —GERMAN FIELD MARSHALL HERMANN GOERING, NUREMBERG, APRIL 18, 1946”

4. Red Eyes


  • The portrayal of Native American history in textbooks has long been oversimplified, focusing on the tragic struggle for assimilation rather than the complex realities of Indian societies and their relationship with European settlers.
  • Textbooks have often minimized or ignored the role of whites who advocated for fair treatment of Native Americans, such as Roger Williams and some Christian denominations, and key events like the Cherokee removal and the Whig Party's stance on Indian rights.
  • The lack of attention to contemporary issues facing Native Americans, including the struggle to maintain distinctively Indian cultures in the face of acculturation and discrimination, persists in many textbooks.
  • A more nuanced understanding of Native American history is essential for recognizing the ways in which Indian ideas have shaped American culture and for fostering syncretism between Native and non-Native societies.
  • Improved histories could help bridge the ideological frontier by acknowledging the harm done to Native Americans while emphasizing the importance of critical self-knowledge and the potential for learning from the past.
  • The black-white rift, which stands at the center of American history, is another important issue often oversimplified in textbooks. The story of slavery and Reconstruction has been romanticized in popular culture, while the harsh realities of these periods have been largely overlooked or distorted.
  • A more truthful and nuanced portrayal of this history is crucial for understanding the deepest aspirations to freedom and the challenges we continue to face as a society.


“Native Americans are not and must not be props in a sort of theme park of the past, where we go to have a good time and see exotic cultures. “What we have done to the peoples who were living in North America” is, according to anthropologist Sol Tax, “our Original Sin.”

“As Benjamin Franklin put it, “No European who has tasted Savage Life can afterwards bear to live in our societies.”48”

“Europeans were always trying to stop the outflow. Hernando de Soto had to post guards to keep his men and women from defecting to Native societies. The Pilgrims so feared Indianization that they made it a crime for men to wear long hair. “People who did run away to the Indians might expect very extreme punishments, even up to the death penalty,” Karen Kupperman tells us, if caught by whites.49 Nonetheless, right up to the end of independent Native nationhood in 1890, whites continued to defect, and whites who lived an Indian lifestyle, such as Daniel Boone, became cultural heroes in white society.”

“After Col. Henry Bouquet defeated the Ohio Indians at Bushy Run in 1763, he demanded the release of all white captives. Most of them, especially the children, had to be “bound hand and foot” and forcibly returned to white society. Meanwhile, the Native prisoners “went back to their defeated relations with great signs of joy,” in the words of the anthropologist Frederick Turner (in Beyond Geography, 245). Turner rightly calls these scenes “infamous and embarrassing.”

“As a symbol of the new United States, Americans chose the eagle clutching a bundle of arrows. They knew that both the eagle and the arrows were symbols of the Iroquois League. Although one arrow is easily broken, no one can break six (or thirteen) at once. John”

“These Americans believed that one great male god ruled the world. Sometimes they divided him into three parts, which they called father, son, and holy ghost. They ate crackers and wine or grape juice, believing that they were eating the son's body and drinking his blood. If they believed strongly enough, they would live on forever after they died.”

“Ironically, Adolf Hitler displayed more knowledge of how we treated Native Americans than American high schoolers today who rely on their textbooks. Hitler admired our concentration camps for American Indians in the west and according to John Toland, his biographer, “often praised to his inner circle the efficiency of America’s extermination—by starvation and uneven combat” as the model for his extermination of Jews and Gypsies (Rom people).94”

“History is, by and large, a record of what people did, not of what they failed to do. On the other hand, making the present seem inevitable robs history of all its life and much of its meaning. History is contingent upon the actions of people. "The duty of the historian," Gordan Craig has reminded us, "is to restore to the past the options it once had." Craig also pointed out that is an appropriate way to teach history and make it memorable. White Americans chose among real alternatives and were often divided among themselves. At various points in our history, our anti-Indian policies might have gone another way.”

“No matter how thoroughly Native Americans acculturated, they could not succeed in white society. Whites would not let them. "Indians were always regarded as aliens, and were rarely allowed to live within white society except on its periphery," according to [Gary] Nash. Native Americans who amassed property, owned European-style homes, perhaps operated sawmills, merely became the first targets of white thugs who coveted their land and improvements. In time of war the position of assimilated Indians grew particularly desperate. Consider Pennsylvania. During the French and Indian War the Susquehannas, living peaceably in white towns, were hatcheted by their neighbors, who then collected bounties from authorities who weren't careful whose scalp they were paying for, so long as it was Indian. Through the centuries and across the country, this pattern recurred.”

“We jettisoned our medical practices of the 1780s while retaining the Constitution. But Native American medicinal practitioners who abandon their traditional ways to embrace pasteurization from France and antibiotics from England are seen as compromising their Indian-ness. We can alter our modes of transportation or housing while remaining "American". Indians cannot and stay "Indian" in our eyes.”

“Indian history is the antidote to the pious ethnocentrism of American exceptionalism, the notion that European Americans are God’s chosen people. Indian history reveals that the United States and its predecessor British colonies have wrought great harm in the world. We must not forget this—not to wallow in our wrongdoing, but to understand and to learn, that we might not wreak harm again. We must temper our national pride with critical self-knowledge, suggests historian Christopher Vecsey: “The study of our contact with Indians, the envisioning of our dark American selves, can instill such a strengthening doubt.”124 History through red eyes offers our children a deeper understanding than comes from encountering the past as a story of inevitable triumph by the good guys. 5.”

“History, despite its wrenching pain, Cannot be unlived, and if faced With courage, need not be lived again. —MAYA ANGELOU1”

5. “Gone with the Wind”: The Invisibi...


  • The nadir of race relations in American history lasted from approximately 1890 to 1940 and was marked by widespread racial discrimination against African Americans, including segregation, disenfranchisement, lynching, and violence.
  • Textbooks often minimize or ignore the nadir period in their coverage of American history, leaving out important context and analysis for students.
  • The invisibility of white racism in textbooks during this period hinders students' ability to understand the causes of racial disparities in American society today.
  • Key figures such as John Brown and Abraham Lincoln are often presented in a way that downplays or ignores their anti-slavery activism and the broader historical context of racial discrimination.
  • To provide students with a more accurate understanding of American history, textbooks should include a more thorough analysis of the nadir period and its impact on race relations in the United States.


“Very few adults today realize that our society has been slave much longer than it has been free.”

“Perhaps telling realistically what slavery was like for slaves is the easy part. After all, slavery as an institution is dead. We have progressed beyond it, so we can acknowledge its evils. Slavery's twin legacies to the present are the social and economic inferiority it conferred upon blacks and the cultural racism it instilled in whites. Both continue to haunt our society. Therefore, treating slavery's enduring legacy is necessarily controversial. Unlike slavery, racism is not over yet.”

“Critical thinking requires assembling data to back up one’s opinion. Otherwise students may falsely conclude that all opinions are somehow equal.”

“Everyone named in our history made a positive contribution (except John Brown, as the next chapter shows). Or as Frances FitzGerald put it when she analyzed textbooks in 1979, “In all history, there is no known case of anyone’s creating a problem for anyone else.”

“No book can convey the depths of the black experience without including material from the oppressed group. Yet not one textbook in my original sample let African Americans speak for themselves.”

“When textbooks make racism invisible in American history, they obstruct our already poor ability to see it in the present.”

6. John Brown and Abraham Lincoln: Th...


  • Textbooks present John Brown and Abraham Lincoln in a distorted manner, focusing on their perceived fanaticism rather than their idealism and contributions to the abolitionist and civil rights movements.
  • Textbooks fail to acknowledge the diversity of people who supported Reconstruction policies, using derogatory terms like "carpetbaggers" and "scalawags."
  • Northern Republicans who went south to work with African Americans during Reconstruction faced significant risks but were motivated by a genuine belief in racial equality.
  • The legacy of John Brown and Abraham Lincoln extends far beyond race relations, inspiring movements for social justice around the world.
  • Textbooks need to present these figures more accurately and positively to help students understand their importance in American history.


“Taking ideas seriously does not fit with the rhetorical style of textbooks, which presents events so as to make them seem foreordained along a line of constant progress. Including ideas would make history contingent: things could go either way, and have on occasion. The 'right' people, armed with the 'right' ideas, have not always won. When they didn't, the authors would be in the embarrassing position of having to disapprove of an outcome in the past. Including ideas would introduce uncertainty. This is not textbook style.”

“Rethinking Our Past: Recognizing Facts, Fiction, and Lies in American History Social Science in the Courtroom”

“When students are not asked to assess, but only to remember, they do not learn how to assess or how to think for themselves.”

“History textbooks still present Union and Confederate sympathizers as equally idealistic. The North fought to hold the Union together, while the South fought, according to 'The American Way', 'for the preservation of their rights and the freedom to decide for themselves'. Nobody fought to preserve racial slavery; nobody fought to end it. As one result, unlike the Nazi swastika, which lies disgraced, even in the North whites still proudly display the stars and bars of the Confederacy on den walls, license plates, t-shirts, and high school logos. Even some (white) Northerners vaguely regret the defeat of the 'lost cause'. It is as if racism against blacks could be remembered with nostalgia. In this sense, long after Appomattox, the Confederacy finally won.”

7. The Land of Opportunity


  • American history textbooks present a distorted view of social class in America's past and present, often claiming that America has been exceptionally equalitarian when in fact it is one of the most unequal developed countries in the world.
  • Textbooks downplay or ignore the benefits and drawbacks of free enterprise and capitalism in American history, presenting an overly simplified and uncritical view of these economic systems.
  • The absence of social-class analysis in American history courses contributes to working-class students' alienation from education and reinforces the myth of a meritocratic society that blames victims for their own poverty or lack of achievement.
  • To provide an accurate and comprehensive understanding of American history, it is essential to acknowledge and analyze social class, race, and gender as interconnected dimensions of societal stratification.
  • By ignoring the unpleasant realities and complexities of our past and present, textbooks prepare students for a lifelong misunderstanding of America's role in the world and its own internal struggles.


“Consider a white ninth-grade student taking American history in a predominantly middle-class town in Vermont. Her father tapes Sheetrock, earning an income that in slow construction seasons leaves the family quite poor. Her mother helps out by driving a school bus part-time, in addition to taking care of her two younger siblings. The girl lives with her family in a small house, a winterized former summer cabin, while most of her classmates live in large suburban homes. How is this girl to understand her poverty? Since history textbooks present the American past as four hundred years of progress and portray our society as a land of opportunity in which folks get what they deserve and deserve what they get, the failures of working-class Americans to transcend their class origin inevitably get laid at their own doorsteps.”

“The historian must have no country. —JOHN QUINCY ADAMS”

8. Watching Big Brother: What Textboo...


  • American history textbooks downplay or omit the role of African Americans in bringing about civil rights legislation and instead give undue credit to the federal government, creating a false narrative that the government has always acted in the best interests of African Americans.
  • The failure to acknowledge the struggle for civil rights as a result of citizen activism also means that textbooks do not teach students how they can effect change in their own communities or governments.
  • American history textbooks' uncritical portrayal of the federal government as always acting for the greater good creates an unrealistic and misleading understanding of the role of government in society.
  • The omission of negative actions by the federal government, such as the FBI's campaign against the civil rights movement, further distorts students' understanding of history and undermines trust in their government.
  • By presenting a one-sided view of history that ignores the complexities and contradictions of the past, textbooks fail to prepare students for active citizenship and informed engagement with contemporary issues.


“Not only do textbooks fail to blame the federal government for its opposition to the civil rights movement, many actually credit the government, almost single-handedly, for the advances made during the period.”

“There is a reciprocal relationship between truth about the past and justice in the present. When we achieve justice in the present, remedying some past event or practice, then we can face it and talk about it more openly, precisely because we have made it right. It has become a success story.”

9. Down the Memory Hole: The Disappea...


  • Textbooks downplay the recent past in American history courses, leaving out issues that most affect students.
  • The omission of the recent past denies students perspective and hinders their ability to understand and participate in contemporary debates.
  • Textbook authors, publishers, and teachers avoid discussing controversial topics from the recent past due to timidity and fear of offending parents.
  • The sasha is essential for understanding current issues, as politicians and society continue to grapple with the lessons of Vietnam, women's rights, race relations, and other topics.
  • Textbooks often present a sanitized version of the past, neglecting key events, issues, and emotions that shaped American history.
  • The absence of historical perspective on the recent past can lead students to carry misconceptions or inadequate knowledge into their adult lives.
  • High school graduates deserve a more comprehensive understanding of the sasha to engage with contemporary debates and navigate the complex world they will enter.
  • Excluding the recent past from history education perpetuates cultural amnesia, leaving students unprepared for the challenges and opportunities of adulthood.


“Many African societies divide humans into three categories: those still alive on the earth, the sasha, and the zamani. The recently departed whose time on earth overlapped with people still here are the sasha, the living-dead. They are not wholly dead, for they still live in the memories of the living, who can call them to mind, create their likeness in art, and bring them to life in anecdote. When the last person to know an ancestor dies, that ancestor leaves the sasha for the zamani, the dead. As generalised ancestors, the zamani are not forgotten but revered. Many … can be recalled by name. But they are not the living-dead. There is a difference.”

“Surely the desired end product of high school U.S. history courses is graduates who can think clearly, distinguish evidence from opinion, and separate truth from what comedian Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness.”

10. Progress Is Our Most Important Pr...


  • The idea of progress is deeply ingrained in American culture, leading many to believe that past societies were less advanced than they may have been and that present-day non-Western societies have little to offer.
  • History textbooks promote ethnocentrism by emphasizing the role of Western civilization in world history and ignoring or downplaying the contributions of other cultures.
  • The ideology of progress leads students to overlook important issues, such as environmental degradation and social inequality, that are relevant to their future lives.
  • The rosy endings of history textbooks, which emphasize progress and American exceptionalism, undermine critical thinking and make it seem that history is irrelevant.
  • Textbook authors may write upbeat conclusions in order to appeal to publishers and gain adoption in schools, but this approach does a disservice to students by limiting their understanding of the complexities and challenges of history.


“Old myths never die—they just become embedded in the textbooks. —THOMAS BAILEY”

11. Why Is History Taught Like This?


  • History textbooks often omit or distort facts, resulting in a sanitized and idealized version of American history
  • These distortions serve the interests of those in power and reflect societal values and attitudes towards various groups, such as women and people of color
  • The pressure to present a positive image of American history is due in part to the belief that children should be sheltered from unpleasant realities and ideals about the country's progressiveness and fairness
  • This approach can lead to confusion and disappointment when students encounter more complex, nuanced interpretations of history later on
  • The distortion of history also undermines the democratic values of critical thinking and informed citizenship.

The following are some suggested key takeaways:

  • History textbooks often present a sanitized and idealized version of American history, omitting or distorting facts that do not serve the interests of those in power or reflect societal attitudes towards various groups.
  • This approach serves to protect children from unpleasant realities but can also lead to confusion and disappointment when students encounter more complex interpretations of history later on.
  • The pressure to present a positive image of American history is due in part to the belief that children should be sheltered from unpleasant realities, but it undermines the democratic values of critical thinking and informed citizenship.
  • The distortion of history also reflects societal attitudes towards various groups, perpetuating stereotypes and reinforcing power structures.
  • It is important for educators to recognize the role of power dynamics in shaping historical narratives and to prioritize accuracy and critical thinking skills in teaching history.


“Not understanding their past renders many Americans incapable of thinking effectively about our present and future.”

“If members of the elite come to think that their privilege was historically justified and earned, it will be hard to persuade them to yield opportunity to others.”

“Paulo Freire of Brazil puts it this way: “It would be extremely naïve to expect the dominant classes to develop a type of education that would enable subordinate classes to perceive social injustices critically.”

12. What Is the Result of Teaching Hi...


  • The Vietnam War was a turning point for American public opinion on war and foreign policy.
  • The allegiance and socialization processes help explain why educated Americans were more hawkish on the war than less-educated Americans.
  • American history textbooks often present misleading or incomplete information, leading to misunderstandings about historical events and issues.
  • Nonthinking, or the lack of critical thinking, is a common problem among students when it comes to understanding social issues and history.
  • The ideology of American individualism can reinforce this nonthinking by encouraging students to blame individuals for societal problems rather than considering structural causes.
  • To encourage genuine learning in history, teachers should awaken students' curiosity, open their minds, and help them see the relevance of historical events to their own lives and futures.


“Socialization is not primarily cognitive. We are not persuaded rationally not to pee in the living room; we are required not to. We then rationalize and obey this rule even when no authority figure lurks to enforce it.”

“Social stupidity continues in the twenty-first century. In 2005, for example, the Pew Research Center found that 62 percent of Republicans agreed with the statement, “Poor people today have it easy because they can get government benefits without doing anything in return.” Twenty-seven percent of Democrats also agreed. Such responses can only come from people who have neither had a conversation with a poor person nor imagined their economic and social reality—yet somehow imagine they know enough to hold an opinion. Educated people are more likely to venture such ill-informed opinions.”

“Once you have learned how to ask questions—relevant and appropriate and substantial questions—you have learned how to learn and no one can keep you from learning whatever you want or need to know. —NEIL POSTMAN AND CHARLES WEINGARTNER2”

“He is a lover of his country who rebukes and does not excuse its sins. —FREDERICK DOUGLASS”

Afterword: The Future Lies Ahead and ...


  • Textbooks present distorted and incomplete accounts of history, particularly regarding Hispanic, women's history, gender issues, and other underrepresented topics.
  • To combat future lies in history, become an independent learner who can sift through arguments and evidence to make reasoned judgments.
  • Schools must help students learn how to ask questions about society and history and figure out answers for themselves.
  • Intervene in the cycle of historical distortion by introducing fewer topics and examining them more thoroughly, encouraging historical controversies and independent student learning.
  • Learn how to deal with sources by asking five key questions: why it was written, whose viewpoint is presented, its believability, if it's backed up by other sources, and how one is supposed to feel about the history presented.
  • New factors, such as consumer demands for authentic history and changing textbook adoption processes, make transformed textbooks possible.
  • Citizens who understand history become formidable forces for democracy by checking historical assertions and using sources to determine what really happened in the past.


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