Q. How Did People React to Lies After It Came Out?
From the first day, readers made Lies My Teacher Told Me a success. As far as I can tell, it is the bestselling book by a living sociologist. A lot of people have written to tell me what they thought of it. A woman from Utah said, “For all these years (I am 49), I have had the opinion that I don’t like history. . . . Thank you for your work. You have changed my life.”
Lies inspired some readers to go back to school or change careers. “Words cannot describe how much your book has changed me,” wrote a woman from New York City. “It’s like seeing everything through new eyes. The eyes of truth as I like to call it.” A lot of adults turned to Lies because they sensed that something had been wrong with their boring high-school history courses. They wrote to tell me that they had read the book twice, or bought copies of it to give as gifts.
Not every reader loved the book. “What a piece of racist trash,” said an anonymous postcard from El Paso, Texas. “Take your sour mind to Africa where you can adjust that history.” That was a very White response. The response from Native Americans and African Americans—and from many other White readers—was positive. A professor at Hampton University said, “My students, who are all African Americans, were immensely enthused and energized by your book.”
Even young students are energized when they learn firsthand about history outside the covers of their textbooks. A fifth-grade teacher in rural Virginia wrote to tell me that at the start of each year, his students say they hate history. Two weeks later, all or most of them love it. What makes the difference? He gets his students involved with history beyond the textbook. They read primary sources, such as newspaper articles from the time period they are studying. They check out books by scholars of history. They “get away from the sanitized vanilla yogurt in the textbooks,” the teacher said, “and shoot for a five-alarm chili type of history.” But when the next teacher steers these kids back to the textbook, they raise questions and objections. “They become politically active within the middle school,” their fifth-grade teacher reported. “They look like they will become good citizens.