Teaching Guides

Teaching What Really Happened: How to Avoid the Tyranny of Textbooks and Get Students Excited About Doing History

Time Periods: 1492, 1850, All US History
Themes: Education, Slavery and Resistance

James Loewen is best known for Lies My Teacher Told Me, which opens with the statement that the way history is taught from grades 4 to 12 “typically makes us stupider.” Teaching What Really Happened shows how the study of history can reverse this trend.

Loewen focuses on key narratives in history, such as “presentism” or “chronological ethnocentrism.” In a chapter on the “tyranny of coverage” he suggests that history teachers pick 30-50 key topics to teach. This allows a focus on the trees rather than thousands of twigs of information. Of course, this requires challenging the high stakes state history tests which often drive a “trivial pursuit” of names and dates.

“Should be in the hands of every history teacher in the country . . . a devastating critique . . . but also a wonderful guide.” —Howard Zinn

ISBN: 9780807749913 | Teachers College Press