Lies My Teacher Told Me has served as an equity lighthouse guiding me through an ocean of historical myth and amnesia. — Jessica Rucker
I read Lies My Teacher Told Me the summer between middle and high school. It’s the number one reason I became a high school social studies teacher. — Tierra Jolly
Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States made me want to be a history teacher and James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me gave me the drive to want to teach beyond the classic textbook-driven curriculum. Loewen’s work has profoundly affected my teaching practice by cementing the commitment to instructing students to question and inquire as they ‘do’ history. — Maureen Andreadis
Sociologist, author, and educator James W. Loewen died on August 19, 2021, at the age of 79. We will miss his scholarship, wit, and dedication to ensuring that history be taught accurately. As he said, “Telling the truth about the past helps cause justice in the present.” Jim Lowen’s work has touched countless readers. When we posted a notice of his passing on Facebook, testimonials poured in.
I’ve learned more in the last 20 years, and by reading James Loewen’s books, than I ever learned in school, which for the most part were lessons in how to obey orders, follow rules, and believe the lies in the media and from politicians. — Jean Byron Palmer
Wow. He inspired my students to question everything about American history and how history is taught! The chapter on Columbus along the works of Zinn has inspired many of my students to become history teachers and fight for social justice! — Paul Pitts-Dilley
I liked every subject in school except history. His books told me why. — Derek Beatty
Mr. Loewen, rest in peace, thank you for all that you have done to support the teaching of accurate histories. I encountered Lies My Teacher Told Me years ago, and have shared the book with others. Like Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States, it makes genuine histories of the U.S. accessible to many people beyond formal classrooms — both books are so well written and engaging, easy to read yet very well researched, essential reading for us all. — Joyce Yee
There are tens of thousands of moments of consciousness raising that can be traced back to Jim Loewen’s work.
We had the pleasure of collaborating with Loewen over the years and hosting him at a number of events including the release of the young adult edition of Lies My Teacher Told Me in 2019, a teach-in on Reconstruction at Howard University in 2018, and a standing-room-only talk at the National Council for the Social Studies in 2011.
Unlike with the 150th anniversary of the Civil War, . . . few historic places tell us what happened during Reconstruction. They could: Every plantation home had a Reconstruction history, often fascinating, but these manors remain frozen in time around 1859. They tell a tale of elegance and power, and Reconstruction was the era when that power was challenged. Moreover, it is still true, as W. E. B. Du Bois put it in Black Reconstruction, 80 years ago, that “one cannot study Reconstruction without first frankly facing the facts of universal lying.”
The U.S. history textbooks used in schools today make children stupid. This is the blunt conclusion arrived at by researcher Jim Loewen of the University of Vermont, who spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution cuddled up with 12 of the current major U.S. history textbooks — each averaging four and a half pounds and 888 pages. Sure, some of the books are better than others. Some incorporate insights from recent scholarship and offer the occasional nod to multiculturalism. But when the final bell rings, according to Loewen, “Students exit history textbooks without having developed the ability to think coherently about social life.” And given that more than five-sixths of all Americans will not take another U.S. history course after high school, this analytical incoherence may never be remedied. . . .
The core of Loewen’s critique is that because of the texts’ wretched portrayals of the past, students can’t help but be befuddled by the present. The books fail to consider why anything happens in society. Events appear as inevitable because, as Loewen found, the texts never indicate that throughout history there were choices, that people posed alternatives. Consequently, students are discouraged from thinking of the present as a place in history with different potentialities, dependent largely on how we analyze society and work for change.
Perhaps the greatest accomplishment of Loewen’s book is its insistence that we must take textbooks seriously as literature that imparts significant, often reactionary, messages. Lies asks who benefits and who suffers from particular versions of history-telling. And if its answers are not complete, Loewen’s book nonetheless forces us to think about the nature of our society and what is worth teaching about its origins.
Learning of his terminal illness a couple of years ago, Loewen rushed to complete a number of projects, including a short memoir and a new website, launched just a few weeks ago. Recognizing he would not get to everything on his list, he added a section to his website called Unfinished Projects in the hope that others would pick them up. In typical Loewen humor, his life story on the site includes everything from childhood stories to a photo of his tombstone. The site is also the home of his extensive database on Sundown Towns — sites where residents enforced a whites-only requirement for anyone after “sundown.” Loewen’s magnificent work on sundown towns has been especially valuable as people throughout the United States work to come to grips with how racism shaped our communities.
Loewen left a robust collection of books, articles, interviews, and generations of teachers he inspired to teach outside the textbook. We will miss him tremendously, but will continue to learn from and share his work, including many of the articles and books listed below.