Sunday, November 21, 2010
Lies My Teacher Told Me
Since the time we have began school, teachers have lied to us. Not all teachers, however. The teachers who have lied are the ones that drone on about dates and attempt to cement into students minds everything from the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Second World War in a clear, no questions asked manner. These teachers are history teachers and this way of teaching is wrong. History is not fact; it is not a list of accepted concepts and actions to be memorized. It is, in fact, an argument, with as many answers as there are opinions.
History is "a furious debate informed by evidence and reason"(16), as James W. Loewen, the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me, openly states. From the time we enter school we start to memorize dates and events in history. This material is presented by textbooks that "employ a god-like tone"(16) and by teachers in the same manner to present history as only one story, one group's opinions.
Our textbooks focus so much on attempting to shed a positive light on America's history that they, in essence, are no longer so much about history as they are about glorifying a nation despite its history.
For example, our textbooks present Columbus as a herald to America's beginning. Most text books fail, however, to mention that the material they use to shape Columbus' arrival at the New World is "an outrageous concoction of lies, half-truths, truths, and omissions". Text books also fail to mention Columbus's shear abuse and exploitation of the natives that he encountered during his journeys. The sheer atrocities of what our "discoverer" did have never graced any American textbook in any significant way. This is just one minor example of history texts' abuse of historical information to suit their purpose.
That being said,
1) Have your history classes presented the subject as a list of facts without argument? If yes, do you think learning more of the argument would make the class more enjoyable?
2) Do you think that history teachers should present history as an argument? Is there time enough for this to be plausible or do we need to take more history classes?
3) Does the responsibility to present history as an argument fall more on the history teachers or the history texts?