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Monday, October 17, 2005

Lies My Teacher Told Me

I've been reading a thought-provoking book by James W. Loewen called Lies My Teacher Told Me - Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong. Since there are 302 reviews of this book at that Amazon link, I won't review it; I'll just give you some excerpts.

"A colleague of mine calls his survey of American history 'Iconoclasm I and II' because he sees his job as disabusing his charges of what they learned in high school. ... The stories that history textbooks tell are predictable; every problem has already been solved or is about to be solved. ... They leave out anything that might reflect badly upon our national character. ... 'Despite setbacks, the United States overcame these challenges,' in the words of one...

From the chapter about Columbus - "Every textbook account of the European exploration of the Americas begins with Prince Henry the Navigator, of Portugal ... The textbook authors seem unaware that ancient Phoenicians and Egyptians sailed at least as far as Ireland and England, reached Madeira and the Azores, traded with the aboriginal inhabitants of the Canary Islands, and sailed all the way around Africa before 600 B.C. ... Omitting the accomplishments of the Afro-Phoenicians is ironic, because it was Prince Henry's knowledge of their feats that inspired him to replicate them. But this information clashes with another social archetype: our culture views modern technology as a European development. So the Afro-Phoenicians' feats do not conform to the textbooks' overall story line about how white Europeans taught the rest of the world how to do things. None of the textbooks credits the Muslims with preserving Greek wisdom, enhancing it with ideas from China, India, and Africa, and then passing on the resulting knowledge to Europe via Spain. ... 'people didn't know how to build seagoing ships, either.' Students are left without a clue as to how aborigines ever reached Australia, Polynesians reached Madagascar, or Afro-Phoenicians reached the Canaries."

Loewen provides a terrific chart of known or suspected early voyages to the Americas and adds - "While the list is long, it is still probably incomplete. A map found in Turkey dated 1513 and said to be based on material from the library of Alexander the Great includes coastline details of South American and Antarctica. Ancient Roman coins keep turning up all over the Americas, causing some archaeologists to conclude that Roman seafarers visited the Americas more than once. Native Americans also crossed the Atlantic: anthropologists conjecture that Native Americans voyaged east millennia ago from Canada to Scandinavia or Scotland. Two Indians shipwrecked in Holland around 60 B.C. became major curiosities in Europe."

"...In 1823 Chief Justice John Marshall of the United States Supreme Court decreed that Cherokees had certain rights to their land in Georgia by dint of their 'occupancy' but that whites had superior rights owing to their 'discovery.' How Indians managed to occupy Georgia without having previously discovered it Marshall neglected to explain."

From the chapter on Thanksgiving - "The notion that "we" advanced peoples provided for the Indians, exactly the converse of the truth, is not benign. It reemerges time and again in our history to complicate race relations. For example, we are told that white plantation owners furnished food and medical care for their slaves, yet every shred of food, shelter, and clothing on the plantation was raised, built, woven, or paid for by black labor. Today Americans believe as part of our political understanding of the world that we are the most generous nation on earth in terms of foreign aid, overlooking the fact that the net dollar flow from almost every Third World nation runs toward the United States."

Memory says, "I did that." Pride replies, "I could not have done that." Eventually, memory yields.
--Friedrich Nietzsche

From the chapter on slavery - "In 1848 Thomas Hart Benton, a senator from Missouri, likened the ubiquity of the issue to a biblical plague: 'you could not look upon the table but there were frogs. You could not sit down at the banquet table but there were frogs. You could not go to the bridal couch and lift the sheets but there were frogs. We can see nothing, touch nothing, have no measures proposed, without having this pestilence thrust before us.'

"History textbooks now admit that slavery was the primary cause of the Civil War ... Before the civil rights movement, many textbooks held that almost anything else -- differences over tariffs and internal improvements, blundering politicians, the conflict between the agrarian South and the industrial North -- caused the war. ... Before the 1960s publishers had been in thrall to the white South. In the 1920s Florida and other Southern states passed laws requiring 'Securing a Correct History of the U.S., Including a True and Correct History of the Confederacy.' Textbooks were even required to call the Civil War "the War between the States," as if no single nation had existed which the South had rent apart."

From the chapter called 'Watching Big Brother' - "J. Edgar Hoover explained the antiblack race riot of 1919 in Washington D.C. as due to "the numerous assaults committed by Negroes upon white women." In that year the agency institutionalized its surveillance of black organizations, not white organizations like the Ku Klux Klan. In the bureau's early years there were a few black agents, but by the 1930s Hoover had weeded out all but two. By the early 1960s the FBI had not a single black officer, although Hoover tried to claim it did by counting his chauffeurs. ... the FBI refused to pass on to [Martin Luther] King information about death threats to him ... The FBI repeatedly claimed that protecting civil rights workers from violence was not its job."

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At 12:26 PM, Blogger Jean-Luc Picard said...

Thanks for visiting my Journal, That was an excellent post.

At 2:05 PM, Blogger kenju said...

That book ought to be required reading!

At 12:22 AM, Blogger Kelly @ said...

It definitely should be required reading, especially in high schools! This was one of my favorite books that I read in 2005.

At 9:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

At my high school they are making me read it


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