map and compass rose

A closer look at history. Image: Shutterstock

Textbooks have historically been written to favor whoever won the war.  It’s not usually a fair assessment, and it is also damaging to students who never get to know the truth.

When you were in school, did they teach you that Christopher Columbus had “discovered” America?  A lot of students did.  You can’t discover a place where people are already living. Would you say that the first African to land in Europe “discovered it?”

Oh, yeah…and did we mention he was lost?  He was looking for the East Indies for goodness sakes. Instead of saying, “We got it wrong,” they gave Columbus a national holiday.  Every October 12, we celebrate a guy who got lost and accidentally bumped into a huge continent.  He wasn’t even the first European to set foot in America

It’s not usually that teachers are trying to stifle the learning process.  It is often that they have old or outdated textbooks, if they have textbooks at all.  Maybe those old lies are what they were taught.

When devoid of the real, history loses its significance.  High school students often say it’s so boring and that they hate history.  Maybe that’s because it’s so white-washed.  They don’t understand why they have to learn about a lot of dead white guys.  They have a point.

America was once known as a melting pot.  Now it is often called a “tossed salad” of races and backgrounds.  Why leave out all the other history?

One man wanted answers.  James Loewen spent two years at the Smithsonian Institute surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American History. “What he found was an embarrassing amalgam of bland optimism, blind patriotism, and misinformation pure and simple.”  In response he wrote his own textbook entitled “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”   It covers such topics as Reconstruction, Helen Keller, the first Thanksgiving, and the My Lai massacre.

More damage has been done by trying to shield young people from the facts.  How many children have been told their dog went to live on a farm?  We all know what that means. Maybe it’s time to tell students the real story.

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