Home » Telling the Truth about the Past » In K-12 Schools » Using Lies My Teacher Told Me and Teaching What Really Happened

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.

Using Lies My Teacher Told Me  and Teaching What Really Happened

 One high school U.S. history teacher in CA became well-known (and popular) because on the first day of class, he held up the huge textbook his district had chosen from the state-approved list and said, “Here is the textbook the State of CA mandates that we use for our course in U.S. history this year.” Then he heaved the book the length of his room, where it hit the back wall with a bang and fell to the floor with a clatter. Then he held up Lies My Teacher Told Me. “And this is the book we’re going to use instead.”

A fun story, especially if you wrote Lies My Teacher Told Me. But actually I suggest that teachers assign parts of both books. That way, students will have to think for themselves. Here are some additional ideas for ways to use Lies My Teacher Told Me. Also, here are ways to use Loewen’s book written especially for K-12 teachers, Teaching What Really Happened.

Using Lies My Teacher Told Me to Promote Better History

  • Students in grades 5-12 students have read the book and then asked so many questions of their teachers and pointed out so many mistakes in their textbooks that their teachers have been forced to get their own copy in self-defense. Now that a “young readers edition” is out, this may happen even more.
  • Some K-12 students have given the book to their teachers at Christmas or at the end of the school year. Some say, “You’ll really like this book, Ms. Jones!” Some say, “Why didn’t you ever teach us any of this stuff, Ms. Jones?”
  • Make sure all middle schools in your district have copies of Lies My Teacher Told Me, young readers edition, and all high schools have copies of the regular edition.
  • Many school districts require all teachers of U.S. history, social studies, and civics to read Lies My Teacher Told Me. Does yours? If not, suggest it or Teaching What Really Happened.
  • Does your district participate in National History Day (particularly the exhibit and website contests)?
  • Your own idea, better than ours! And … let us know about it at our Teachers’ Corner.

Using Teaching What Really Happened

If it is useful to teach kids that the Dutch bought Manhattan for $24 worth of beads, then why not show Columbus crossing the Delaware, with help from Rosa Parks and an outboard motor? Where do we draw the line?
Since Lies My Teacher Told Me emphasized that far too many teachers just “teach the textbook,” instead of teaching history while using the textbook (and other tools), it seemed appropriate to write a “how to” book to help teachers go beyond the textbook. This book calls K-12 teachers to teach history, civics, and social studies in a new way. It offers specific ideas for how to get students excited about history, how to get them to DO history, and how to help them read critically. It also helps teachers tackle difficult but important topics like the American Indian experience, slavery, and race relations. It also has some general K-12 teaching ideas, such as how and why to expect good performance from every student. The cover of the second edition is marked by the addition of Lassie to the incongruous assortment of Americans already pictured crossing the Delaware. They would have had a dog, right?? Much of the book is available online at the publisher.

Using Lies My Teacher Told Me about Christopher Columbus

  • Make sure middle schools in your district have copies of Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus in their school libraries. Then call the book to the attention of whoever teaches U.S. history or social studies in September, so they might use it around Columbus Day.
  • The book has a poster in it, to put up around October 1. It pairs textbook platitudes with primary sources that show the textbooks to be wrong. Teachers can get students to research the terms “primary sources” and “secondary sources.” Both have their place, but if textbooks contradict primary sources, that’s a problem!
  • Teachers can ask their classes to compare their U.S. history textbook’s treatment of Columbus to the textbooks discussed in Lies My Teacher Told Me about Christopher Columbus.
  • Be sure to discuss the question, “What did ______ do on his second voyage?” Note what Vasco da Gama did. Should such material be kept secret from students?

Reactions to Teaching What Really Happened

A professor at UNC Greensboro concluded Teaching What Really Happened “should be in the hands of every practicing and pre-service social studies teacher.” Educational Leadership gave Teaching What Really Happened a highly positive review. The History Teacher reviewed Teaching What Really Happened very positively.