Lecture Review: “Lies My Teacher Told Me”
Jacey Mismash, Contributor
Lies My Teacher Told Me, a book written by author and professor James W. Loewen, explores how the education system tells history in a way that fails students of color, as well as the history of people of color and other marginalized groups in America. In this lecture on the book, Loewen discussed the third edition of the book and he covered a myriad of topics regarding how history is often incorrectly told.
Overall, I think the lecture offered a lot of information as well as a good structure for how he told the group about misinformation about history. Loewen would often tell a story of his own in which he witnessed the impact of history being mistaught, and would then accurately tell the history that was mistaught and explain to the audience why that specific bit of information was important to properly tell, and how it contributed to the broader problems that people of color face today.
I did appreciate that Loewen acknowledged the makeup of his audience; most people were older white educators or former educators and they represented the issue of why so often history is mistaught. The makeup of the educational field has always been predominantly white, and this has allowed for the history of people of color to be manipulated and intentionally misrepresented time and time again.
One of the best parts of the lecture, in my opinion, was when Loewen asked the group to identify out of four choices why the south seceded from the United States. The four options were the following; slavery, state’s rights, the election of Lincoln or taxes and tariffs. Our group voted about 45% for slavery, 45% for state’s rights, 9% for taxes and tariffs and 1% for the election of Lincoln. Loewen then showed the nationwide statistics, which were 68% for state’s rights, 20% for slavery, 10% for tariffs and taxes and 2% for Lincoln. He then disproved the theory that the south was in any way trying to preserve the state’s rights because they were, in fact, trying to control the northern states from giving African-Americans rights. Loewen then forced everyone to acknowledge that they are still learning misinformation, and that many of the people who had already stated they were educators were most likely contributing to the spread of misinformation. It forced us, the audience, to acknowledge that we are a part of this system and we may be actively contributing to it even if we do not know it.
Some issues I had with this talk surrounded some of the hypocrisy that Loewen showed during the question and answer section. Earlier on in the talk, he had said that being silent is choosing the side of the oppressor, a sentiment I have heard and personally try to live by. He then later said in response to a question about Donald Trump, that typically he tries to be “apolitical” but that this administration was making it difficult. Fighting for the rights of students in school is inherently political. The classroom and the pedagogy that educators choose to follow is also inherently political. To claim to be “apolitical” and also claim to fight for the aforementioned things is extremely hypocritical to me, and was the main thing that bugged me towards the end of the lecture.
Nonetheless, I thought the lecture was extremely thought-provoking, and I did learn a lot. After going home I looked up many of the things that were talked about and found myself relearning subjects and moments in history I had been misled to believe happened differently in the past. It was challenging to receive this information, some of the realities were difficult to hear and see, but that’s also the point; the history of how information was doctored in the United States is very ugly, and it is imperative to face our true history in order to change the present and future.
This article was originally published in the November 1, 2019 issue.