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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/05/2007 :  10:39:08  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I have just finished a masterpeice of Skeptical non-fiction and I feel more than compelled to do what I can to encourage others to read it.

The book is called Lies My Teacher Told Me, everything your American history textbook got wrong.

The book details the appaling state of History education in the United States and seeks to prove that not only do students tune out these awful books, but they actually make the students stupider. It does so spectacularly.

It accoplishishes this by examining how twelve widely used texts lie by ommission, mistake, intention, misunderstanding, and lack of education of the authors and teachers. It details vividly how exatcly they go about creating heroes from the less than deserving, downplay actual heroes deeds, generally glorify america, omit controversy and the actual thoughts of historical figures, attribute positive actions of the people to the government, ignore non-whites and overtly disguise racism as much as possible. It also devotes ink to how exactly these texts could come to be this way, the damage they do to those whose study them and the pressure to present an entirely optimistic view of progress and "the American Dream".

As a Skeptic who was aware of the problem, I was still "shocked and awed" by the extent of the disaster and at my own misinterpretaion of the problems of ethnocentrism. The book is exceptionally well researched and it has one of the finest and most complete bibliographys Ive seen. It shows that secondary histories are very accurate because they are aimed at the history buff market and live and die with the reviews of their peers, whereas the high school texts are created entirely to be sold to as many schools as possible without offending anyone. (In particular the lobby groups who control the approval process) It does not present the issues with an entirely pessimistic view nor does it beat you over the head with repeated issues but acknowedges the others as important, (the plights of the natives and Afican Americans are detailed, but many such as women and Asians do not get a chapter)

I feel so strongly about others reading this text, which no doubt has worthy counterparts, that I purchased 10 copies of it to distribute. I feel that any American could gain a great deal from it and non-Americans can gleam insight into why exactly Americans feel they are the best in almost every regard.

Here is an excerpt which I found interesting and poignant, (written in '95)
As Richard Rubenstein has pointed out" the problem will not go away with the departure of Richard Nixon," because it is structural, stemming from the vastly increased power of the federal executive bureaucracy. Indeed, in some ways the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan-Bush administration, a web of secret legal and illegal acts involving the President, the VP, the cabinet, special operatives such as Ollie North and the governments of Isreal, Iran, Brunei and elsewhere, shows an executive branch more out of control than Nixon's. Textbooks failure to put Watergate in this perspective is part of their authors' apparent program to whitewash the federal govenment so that schoolchildre will respect it. Since this structural problem in the govenrment has not gone away, it is likely that the students will again, in their adult lives, face an out-of-control federal executive pursuing criminal foreign and domestic policies. To the extent that their understanding of the government comes from their American history courses; students will be shocked by these events and unprepared to think about them.
....Textbook authors seem to want to inculate the next generation into blind allegiance to our country. Going a step beyond Decatur, textbook analyses fail to asses our actions abroad according to either a standard of right and wrong or real politik....


The last chapters give the authors and editors a chance to speak, though they only end up making themselves look worse by their own blind alliegance to progress and the American way.

P.S. One of the more shocking revelations was that the US, unbeknowst to myself and the contemporary americans, invaded Russia twice in 1918 and 1920, and that this was the basis for the mistrust the Russians had for the US before, during and after WWII.

Edited to add: 60% of US high school history teachers have never taken a history course outside of high-school, many of them are school coaches who are required to teach something, so they give them history.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini

Edited by - BigPapaSmurf on 10/05/2007 11:20:03

Cuneiformist
The Imperfectionist

USA
4954 Posts

Posted - 10/05/2007 :  18:47:52   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send Cuneiformist a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Hey BPS-- I agree that there are problems in teaching (like otherwise untrained football coaches leading a US history course), and high school texts are often imperfect, but my suspicion is that it's not quite that bad. To begin, high school teachers often supplement textbook assignments with other material. And we can hope that those actually trained in history know what is BS in a text and what isn't.

To be sure, some errors will nevertheless be spread, but by and large, I don't think (or hope?) that it isn't so bad.

As a case in point, I'd argue that your observation that a US invasion of Russia in 1918 goes without comment isn't the end of the world. After all, 1918 is right in the thick of WWI! There is only so much one can fit into a few class periods before having to move on. I guess it would be nice to know, but already the whole Bolshevik revolution thing will already be discussed, and it will probably be discussed that the US wasn't a fan, and then things can go from there.

I don't know. Things can be improved. But how much should we expect?

(And if Jerome is reading, do you think this only adds to your argument of a de facto communist USA? I thought so)
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HalfMooner
Dingaling

Philippines
15831 Posts

Posted - 10/05/2007 :  18:51:15   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send HalfMooner a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I suspect that the main operative force behind poor history texts is the fear by publishers of losing markets by being controversial. So that has a tendency to draw back from criticizing the government, even where there might be little or no outright bias by the writers or the publisher.

But bias comes into play, as well.

When I took high school American History, it was during the Centennial of the Civil War, and a lot of attention was given to it. But largely bad attention. My teacher began by spending several days indoctinating the class about "sectionalism," and how this, he insisted, was the primary cause of the war. At no time did he tell us about the many debates that went on in southern legislature. I only found out about, and read, some of those debates on my own, years later. It's clear from those, and from the language of the various succession acts of the southern states that the war was almost entirely about slavery. I still resent that teacher for deliberately presenting a distorted, and essentially racist, picture about the most important event in US history.


Biology is just physics that has begun to smell bad.” —HalfMooner
Here's a link to Moonscape News, and one to its Archive.
Edited by - HalfMooner on 10/05/2007 18:53:56
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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/08/2007 :  05:03:28   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Its far worse than you might imagine Cune, and as for the Russian wars, the problem is that less than 1% of Americans even know it happened. And The war ended in november 1918, Only a month after our first attempt to destroy the Bolshviks.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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The Rat
SFN Regular

Canada
1342 Posts

Posted - 10/08/2007 :  14:03:45   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit The Rat's Homepage Send The Rat a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Sounds like a good read BPS, and that quote from it is eerily prophetic. What level is it aimed at? It might be nice to have a version that could be required reading in high school.

Another good one is 'I Love Paul Revere, Whether he Rode or Not', by Richard Shenkman. He doesn't so much examine history teaching, but simply pick various well known 'facts' about American history and shows them to be false, the Boston Tea Party comes to mind.

Bailey's second law; There is no relationship between the three virtues of intelligence, education, and wisdom.

You fiend! Never have I encountered such corrupt and foul-minded perversity! Have you ever considered a career in the Church? - The Bishop of Bath and Wells, Blackadder II

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BigPapaSmurf
SFN Die Hard

3192 Posts

Posted - 10/09/2007 :  04:57:55   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send BigPapaSmurf a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I think it may cause riots if read in high school, it was certainly not a difficult read by any means.

"...things I have neither seen nor experienced nor heard tell of from anybody else; things, what is more, that do not in fact exist and could not ever exist at all. So my readers must not believe a word I say." -Lucian on his book True History

"...They accept such things on faith alone, without any evidence. So if a fraudulent and cunning person who knows how to take advantage of a situation comes among them, he can make himself rich in a short time." -Lucian critical of early Christians c.166 AD From his book, De Morte Peregrini
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KaranTrehan
New Member

2 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  03:05:02   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send KaranTrehan a Private Message  Reply with Quote
hey it sounds like a good read BPS. the title Lies My Teacher Told Me is pretty nice too.i dont know how much controversial the subject matter is, but it makes a good reading for sure!
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Hittman
Skeptic Friend

134 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  10:35:25   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Hittman's Homepage Send Hittman a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I hated history in High School. Then I graduated and learned some.

According to HS History there wasn't much difference between the founding fathers. They were all pretty much the same, and did some different things, and everything worked out well. They were all smart and nice and had no nasty habits or foibles. But real history shows otherwise. They were a mix of radically different personalities, ideas, and approaches.

I'm just about finished reading a book on Sam Adams. He spent a decade carefully coercing the public to want independence, ignoring his own wealth and comfort. It was a delicate dance, which required him to avoid actually mentioning independence while stimulating the desire for it. Without him, the revolution probably would never have happened.

"What If" is a great book of how very small things could have changed history dramatically. For instance, several battles in the American Revolution were helped by the weather and one critical battle, which we would have most surely lost was stymied by it. We came very close to losing several times. That was never, ever taught in HS History.

When a vampire Jehovah's Witness knocks on your door, don't invite him in. Blood Witness: http://bloodwitness.com

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astropin
SFN Regular

USA
970 Posts

Posted - 01/06/2009 :  18:17:30   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send astropin a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Funny you should mention that book....it's been on my wish list at Amazon for over a year(maybe two). Just hadn't gotten around to ordering it.

I would rather face a cold reality than delude myself with comforting fantasies.

You are free to believe what you want to believe and I am free to ridicule you for it.

Atheism:
The result of an unbiased and rational search for the truth.

Infinitus est numerus stultorum
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Siberia
SFN Addict

Brazil
2322 Posts

Posted - 01/07/2009 :  05:28:33   [Permalink]  Show Profile  Visit Siberia's Homepage  Send Siberia an AOL message  Send Siberia a Yahoo! Message Send Siberia a Private Message  Reply with Quote
Y'know, it's a common meme in Brazil (and, I'm sure, other countries) to mention how little of history and geography (especially when it comes to confusing Brazil and Argentina, two markedly different countries - we don't speak even the same language) Americans in general know. When it's said seriously, of course I argue against generalizations - I know to many Americans, after all - but books like this make the bias ring a bit truer than I'd like...

"Why are you afraid of something you're not even sure exists?"
- The Kovenant, Via Negativa

"People who don't like their beliefs being laughed at shouldn't have such funny beliefs."
-- unknown
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filthy
SFN Die Hard

USA
14408 Posts

Posted - 01/07/2009 :  06:15:44   [Permalink]  Show Profile Send filthy a Private Message  Reply with Quote
I read somewhere to the effect that the only way to teach Americans geography is to go to war. This seems to be pretty much true; how many of us knew, for example, where Kabul was prior to Bush's Folly?

As for high school history, Ambrose Bierce says it best:

"HISTORY, n.
An account mostly false, of events mostly unimportant, which are brought about by rulers mostly knaves, and soldiers mostly fools. "


"When I think back on all the crap I learned in high school,
It's a wonder I can think at all...."
~~ Simon and Garfunkel




"What luck for rulers that men do not think." -- Adolf Hitler (1889 - 1945)

"If only we could impeach on the basis of criminal stupidity, 90% of the Rethuglicans and half of the Democrats would be thrown out of office." ~~ P.Z. Myres


"The default position of human nature is to punch the other guy in the face and take his stuff." ~~ Dude

Brother Boot Knife of Warm Humanitarianism,

and Crypto-Communist!

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