I remember this title from years back caused quite a stir when Loewen challenged various myths embedded in standard text books, and how the accepted attitude ennobles the heroic founding father figure type and ignores or belittles any other culture’s contribution to America’s unquestioned greatness.
This is an American book about American history textbooks, so it is less directly relevant to an outsider (I’m not an American) but it is still fascinating reading. Much of Loewen’s debunking is around figures such as Columbus (what a piece of work he was) and the early founders of the constitution. He takes on the injustices and near genocide wreaked on Native Americans north and south, the way slavery is skated over in traditional school texts, the neglect of the civil rights movement, America’s unconstitutional involvement overseas, and the myth of the American dream – “work hard and you will get on in America” – when in fact America possesses, interestingly, one of the least socially and fiscally mobile populations in the western world. So basically, Loewen addresses social class – a near-unmentionable in traditional texts, which choose to perceive America as a classless society with opportunity open to all.
I think this is an incredibly valuable book, despite elements of repetition and maybe a slightly too obvious liberal white guilt itchy feel. I see Loewen mentions time and again that school boards will not accept non-traditional texts: there is a kind of censorship (or maybe propaganda) which decides that young minds should only be fed carefully edited facts to encourage them to believe their country is great.
The trouble is, how does this translate for poor white kids, or black kids who know it isn’t true? They must be poor because their parents didn’t work hard enough, or are undeserving in some way. So if they believe this version of reality, they must feel shame for their parents and their families.
I suspect most of them don’t believe it, but they don’t know what they should believe, either. They are most likely confused, maybe angry – and maybe disengaged. They will certainly be uninformed.
This book is an attempt to address that lack of/misinformation.
If I would like to see one addition, it would be a bigger section on the class system and the effect of trickle down economics. Loewen describes the enormous and fast growing disparity in wealth between haves and have-nots – the gap between rich and poor – but doesn’t mention Reaganism and Milton Friedman, whose economic policies have become widely accepted across the western world. The catastrophic failure of these policies, which we are being very slow to recognize mainstream, is surely a significant factor in the growth of poverty and inequity. They are part of history too.
What Works And Why?
We read to escape, enjoy, engage, and find out more about our world. So reading is great - but what makes a great read? A page dedicated to short analyses of how writers engage readers.