Lies My Teacher Told Me

In writing my message to Dr. Roberts asking for instances of times when the deception of the American public helped garner support for an effort that would otherwise have not survived (and in retrospect it was positive that it did survive,) I started thinking about the practice of historical revision in general.

I got my copy of Lies My Teacher Told Me by Julie Loewen out. The book specifically deals with high school textbooks and the highly skewed perspectives that it presents. I skimmed it a couple of years ago, and I was curious the sorts of things that it would have to say about the American Civil War which is what we are approaching in my History class.

On the whole Roberts has given a very complete picture of history. Specifically not hiding the unseemly parts. Perhaps the only thing that I would fault him is the concreteness that he gives it. One thing that Loewen focuses on that I haven’t gotten as much from Roberts is that the facts of history are only a part of the wide tapestry. What is chosen to contextualize and how it is used plays as much of a part as the actual facts.

His teaching style though is very much like he is telling a story and it is difficult to present a variety of perspectives in that context. Also, doing so waters down the presentation some. I think all in all he has likely made the best decision to reduce ambiguity some in order to present a more digestable picture.

On the book though, things I have learned so far… Helen Keller was a socialist, big time. She went around in her work trying to help blind people and found that very many of them we not blind by birth, but by circumstance. In particular syphilis left many prostitutes blind and poor working conditions left many factory workers without their sight. She also recognized that the remarkable progress that she made was only possible because of the circumstaces that her family came from. She wrote that “the power to rise in the world is not within the reach of everyone.”

The other major figure in the first chapter is Woodrow Wilson and on the subject of how we give rise to terrorism and wars during Russia’s civil war we sent troops into Russia to fight against the Bolshevecs. Something that is very rarely mentioned in history books, but unarguably had an effect on Russia’s perception of America and indubitably shaped relations between the countries in the coming years of the cold war.

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