Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
By James W Loewen
This book is a treasure trove of hidden US history. Loewen’s primary goal is to analyze why high school students universally hate US history. He mainly blames US history textbooks. The way they filter out embarrassing facts makes them incredibly dull and boring ir tendency to filter out embarrassing facts makes them dull and boring, especially given their unrelenting promotion of corporate capitalism, American exceptionalism*, growth, progress and unconditional optimism about the future.
As he so handily demonstrates, real US history (of the kind you find in primary sources**) is both exciting and compelling. Yet because it sometimes portrays the Europeans who colonized North America in an unfavorable light, it rarely finds its way into high school textbooks.
The sections I found most interesting concerned Columbus, the first Thanksgiving, Woodrow Wilson and Helen Keller.
- Prior to reading this book, I was unaware that Columbus started the North Atlantic slave trade – nor that he was responsible for kidnapping and transporting more slaves (5,000 Native American slaves) than any other slave trader in history.
- Prior to reading the section on the first Thanksgiving, I was unaware that only 35 of the 102 passengers on the Mayflower were Pilgrims. The other 67 thought they were headed for Virginia tobacco plantations and, according to Loewen, were most likely “kidnapped” by the Pilgrims and forced to sail to Massachusetts against their will. He believes the purpose of the Mayflower Compact (which gave them a democratic voice in governance) was to keep them from rebelling and overpowering the Pilgrims. When the ship arrived at Plymouth Rock, the settlers found nearly the entire indigenous village of Patuxet had been wiped out by plague (which they caught from European fisherman several years earlier). This meant the Europeans could take over indigenous fields without clearing new land – which they did with the help of Squanto, the sole indigenous survivor.
- The chapter on Woodrow Wilson gave me new insight into the president who promised not to embroil the US in World War I during his campaign and promptly reversed himself once he took office. Wilson holds the record for the most Latin American interventions of any period in history. He also invaded and occupied Haiti, as well as invading the Soviet Union (which was concealed from the American public via an elaborate coverup).
- I was previously aware that the renowned humanitarian Helen Keller was a socialist. The information that she quit the socialist party to join the anarchosyndicalist International Workers of the World (IWW) was totally new to me.
*American exceptionalism is an ideological belief that the US outpaces all other countries in nearly every field of endeavor.
**A primary source is an artifact, document, diary, manuscript, autobiography, recording, or any other source of information that was created at the time under study.