A question that pervades Lies My Teacher Told Me asks, " Why is history taught like this?"

"There is no other country in the world where there is such a large gap between the sophisticated understanding of some professional historians and the basic education given by teachers." --Marc Ferro

"When you're publishing a book, if there's something that is controversial, it's better to take it out." --Holt, Rinehart and Winston

Textbook Silence

According to William L. Griffin and John Marciano, " By hegemony we refer specifically to the influence that dominant classes or groups exercise by virtue of their control of ideological institutions, such as schools, that shape perception on such vital issues as the Vietnam War...Within history texts, for example, the omission of crucial facts and viewpoints limits profoundly the ways in which students come to view history events. Further, through their one-dimensionality textbooks shield students from intellectual encounters with their world that would sharpen their critical abilities." By silencing history, textbooks place students at a social and intellectual disadvantage, in which they are not able to fully interact with important information and knowledge that has impacted our world.

Textbook Censorship

History textbook authors choose to censor the amount of negative information they place in student textbooks concerning the Western hemisphere, in order to protect Western countries' reputation and people's perspective of their country. James Loewen states that, " Other textbook authors have shared similar comments with me. They want to produce good citizens, by which they mean people who take pride in their country. Somehow authors feel they must strap on the burdens of transmitting and defending Western civilization."As a result, student history textbooks are censored, silencing some events and highlighting others, contributing to the manipulation of young students' perspectives and beliefs.

Teachers

Though historians are to blame for distortion and omissions in the textbooks, teachers should also be held accountable for depriving students of historical information. After all, teachers adopt the textbooks and use them to aid their instruction with students. It was stated that " in most states, textbook rating committees are made up mainly of teachers, from whom publishers have faced no groundswell of opposition." Apparently, teachers like the textbooks that they are using. But why? A national survey of 257 teachers in 1990 revealed that 13% had never taken a single college history course, and only 40% held a BA or MA in history: Teachers cannot teach what they do not know. Others might be afraid to spark controversy, in which 92% of teachers did not discuss controversial issues with students when they brought them up.

Here the problem lies deeper: students are not only being deprived valuable information from their textbooks, but also from their teachers. Because teachers feel uncomfortable discussing controversial subjects with students, questions that the students have are neglected and altogether avoided. As a result, students are not reaching their full potential, being trapped by limited information.

Questions to Consider

How can teachers engage positively in controversial issues with students without feeling uncomfortable?
How should teachers address the limited/distorted information in history textbooks with students?
What are alternative ways to teach history beyond the textbook?