History Textbooks: Facts or Fiction?
There’s a famous quote in George Orwell’s 1984: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past.” Orwell understood how important knowledge of history is and how it can be manipulated by the powerful to serve their interests. If the past disappears down the memory hole society is at risk. History is not some neutral ideologically-free zone. It is a highly contested battlefield. The contents of textbooks are subject to partisan bias, often tilting to the right. Inadequate history textbooks help produce adults who can’t distinguish evidence from opinion, fact from fiction. Progressive voices such as Frederick Douglass, Emma Goldman, and Dorothy Day are often omitted from textbooks or just appear without context. James Loewen said, “Telling the truth about the past helps cause justice in the present. Achieving justice in the present helps us tell the truth about the past.”
James Loewen is the author of Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, winner of the American Book Award. He also wrote Lies Across America, Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus, and Sundown Towns. He also wrote Teaching What Really Happened and The Mississippi Chinese: Between Black and White and edited The Confederate and Neo-Confederate Reader. He won the Oliver Cromwell Cox Award for Distinguished Anti-Racist Scholarship, the Spirit of America Award from the National Council for the Social Studies, and the Gustavus Myers Outstanding Book Award. Loewen was a professor emeritus of sociology at the University of Vermont. He died in 2021.