Lies My Teacher Told Me - friday 2007-08-10 0958 last modified 2007-08-10 2337
Categories: Daily Grind
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James Loewen's analysis and criticism of secondary history education Lies My Teacher Told Me, long on my reading list and lately fulfilled, makes a couple of points in the course of his pursuit to right the record on frequently misrepresented segments of American history.

His thesis hinges on the assertion that the teaching of history is caught up in a tangled web of publishers, educational boards, and historians, all of whom have unwittingly castrated a foundational subject, that is, how and why we are what we are as a people. Yet, unbelievably, he does not appear to question whether the system that hands so much power to the educational boards of California and Texas (by virtue of state-wide curricula and attendant purchasing agreements) should persist. Sometimes broken systems can be fixed; what we might learn from our most tumultuous times - a civil war, the continuing fight for civil rights - is that sometimes broken systems can only be dismissed.

While his subject is understandably focused on the teaching of history in high school, a large enough topic on its own, he seems to insist that this and this alone, if repaired, would right what wrongs bad history inflicts on students, producing critical thinking people. This is too small a picture. At one point, he asserts that the teaching of math and English do not make people dumber, that what gets taught at the least does not later need to be untaught. While taken in contrast to history, where much must be unlearned, he may be correct, the overall sentiment is all too untrue. People hate every subject except recess. Perhaps it is because we separate the subjects so definitely and divorce them from their relationship to one another that they all seem to fail individually and as a whole. Is the ability to analyze a table of data concerning support and opposition for war according to educational level taught in history? What about the ability to write about and discuss its ramifications coherently?

For all his talk on the fears of the history education profession to involve critical thought and ability to assemble scattered pieces into a clear whole, I find Loewen has done much of the same. Perhaps he wishes us to put those pieces together ourselves, perhaps he has other compelling reasons to forgo an indictment of public education as it stands. Or perhaps he should have forsworn any direct commentary on the teaching of history and simply titled his work Racism is Bad. Certainly his historical sketch of America coheres into an unavoidable indictment of the roots and continuing poison of racism, enough to make even non-white people feel a bit guilty - a picture of America that on its own is evidence enough our teachers may not have told us the whole story.


Poplar Hill?

A Google search on "Poplar Hill School" led me to your site, which I had to create a login to access, but then I couldn't find a search on the site or the term. When I was the entry for "Lies My Teacher Told Me" I thought it might be in there because it's an old "colored" schoolhouse, but I don't see it in the index of my copy of the book. Do you know where the reference to Poplar Hill School is on your site?

- Joyce

J D on January 12, 2008 09:39 PM

I'll get to Open...

I'll get to OpenID login one of these days, but just so it's clear to any random reader, one only needs account creation to leave a comment, not to read anything. Everything that's public is already out there; logging in gets you no greater access. There's a handy dandy link in the bottom right corner of every page to a contact form as well so you don't have to leave a comment to reach me.

As for your question, I used Google with the following search: "poplar hill school" The sole result comes from my news feed aggregator, which pulls together things from around the net and not from my own writing. I'm afraid I haven't said anything pertinent to that topic.

It's probably time to take that page out of the Google cache.

Ryan Lee on January 14, 2008 07:05 PM

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