Content Area Reading #1 – Lies!

“Lies My Teacher Told Me” by James W. Loewen – Chapter 1 (Handicapped by History; The Process of Hero-Making) and Chapter 2 (1493: The True Importance of Christopher Columbus)

I read the first two chapters of Lies My Teacher Told Me for my first content area reading assignment. I chose to read these chapters because of the accessibility of the reading – I could read this online while I was waiting for my other required books to be delivered in the mail.

The first chapter provided an overview of the book’s purpose:  that history textbooks and high school history teachers are more than often  not teaching history accurately.  Specifically, the first chapter focuses on heroification – that is, making people into heroes, regardless of whether or not they truly deserve that title.  In this chapter, Loewen identifies two important figures commonly found in textbooks – Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller – and describes how these people are not accurately portrayed in history textbooks (Wilson, often sensationalized, was very racist and heavily intervened in Latin America, Mexico, and the Caribbean; Keller, known for overcoming her disabilities, was actually a radical socialist and supported causes such as the American Civil Liberties Union and the NAACP).

In the second chapter, Loewen specifically analyzes how history textbooks falsely portray Christopher Columbus.  Children from an early age are taught about the hero Columbus, who discovered America and changed the course of American and European history forever.  While the Columbian Exchange certainly is a significant point in world history, Columbus did not discover America, a land already inhabited by Indians.  Once there, Columbus enslaved, exploited, and killed countless numbers of natives in order to extract their resources – namely gold.  These facts starkly contrast what is outlined in textbooks.  In their pursuit to uphold their ethnocentric white European name, textbook authors have neglected to describe, let alone even acknowledge, the exploratory achievements of Africans and Phoenicians and the destruction of the Arawak and other tribes, which is not only offensive to these specific groups, but also does not allow students to ask important questions or think critically about the history of the world they live in.

3 important things I learned that I don’t want to forget:

  • Helen Keller was a socialist, and Wilson was a racist – “heroic” figures are not always what textbooks have taught us!
  • Las Casas (who I had never heard of) accompanied Columbus on his voyage and believed Columbus’ Indian slave trade as “amongst the most unpardonable offenses ever committed against God and mankind” (p.65)
  • Many college history professors often assume that their students were mistaught in high school – “history is the only field in which the more courses students take, the stupider they become” (p. 2)

2 controversial things:

  • Teaching the more “touchy” issues to students relating to Columbus – sexually exploiting native women, dismembering Indians, enslaving countless Indians
  • Textbook authors don’t feel like completely rewriting books based on new research that disproves their content – why is this allowed???

1 question related to key concept/learning

  • If a school’s curriculum requires you to use a specific textbook to teach, but you find that the textbook is inaccurate or fails to cover many important topics, what do you do? Do you find a way to avoid using the book or do you only use selected parts?



Content Area Reading #1 – Lies!

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