Daily Class Outline

1. Conversations on America Class

2. Questions about Class and Syllabus

3. Campus Computer labs and Identikey.

4. Major Problems facing American Society:

5. What do we mean by democracy?
Go to class notes for definition.

6. What are some of the major
questions Americans ask about
government and society?

7. Why is High School history taught
the way it is?

8. How should we learn History?
Go to Class Notes.

9. Do you agree with Loewen's
Go to Questions on
the Loewen reading.

10. Is Loewen biased against High School history?

11. Can we really expect College
history to overcome the problems
faced by those who
teach high

12. Questions to ask about History Books

Daily Class Questions

Questions on the Loewen Reading:

1. What does Loewen mean when he argues that "history  is furious debate informed by evidence and reason"? (16)

2. Why do history textbooks "exclude conflict or real suspense...[and] leave out anything that might reflect badly upon our national character"? (13)

3. Why don't teachers teach against the history textbook if they know it is wrong? (290)

4. What does Loewen mean when he writes: " Our society lies to itself about its past. Questioning these lies can seem anti-American. Textbooks may only reflect these lies because we want them to." (292)

5. Should parents, teachers, and the community have the right to pressure teachers to "present history as they want it presented"? (292)

6. Do you agree with Loewen when he concludes: "Perhaps adults' biggest reason for lying is that they fear our history-- fear that it isn't so wonderful, and that if children were to learn what has really gone on,
 they would lose all respect for our society" ? (296)

7. What does Loewen mean when he argues that "surely in a democracy a historian's duty is to tell the truth"? (296)

8.   Do you agree with Loewen conclusion that we shouldn't  ask children to learn history if it isn't the truth? (297)

9.   Do you agree with Loewen that "schools must help us ask questions about our society and its history and how to figure out answers for ourselves." (313)

10. What does Loewen mean when he argues that "history is central to our ongoing understanding of ourselves and our society"? (318)

Major Questions Americans ask about their Government and Society:

  1. What should be the role of government in society?

  2. Should the government promote economic growth and opportunity?

  3. Should the government provide aid and support to those who can't support themselves?

  4. Should the government promote morality and values?

  5. Should the government promote democracy, our democratic institutions, and citizen participation in government and society?

  6. Should the government protect the environment and people's health?

  7. Should the government work to preserve and protect the global environment?

  8. What should be the role of government in
    protecting Americans from crime and punishing criminals?

  9. Should the government protect the rights of
    minorities and provide opportunities for minorities to succeed in American society?

  10. Should the government protect and promote the equal rights of women in American society?

  11. What should be the role of government in protecting and promoting the rights of children
    and future generations of Americans?

  12. Should the government provide economic and medical support to the elderly?

  13. Should the government try to expand American economic, political, and military power and influence throughout the world?

  14. Should the government provide economic and political support to American and global corporations?

  15. What should be the role of the government in solving social problems and mediating cultural
    and political conflicts in America?

Daily Class Notes

In a democratic society the government is the people. In a democracy, the people have the right and responsibility to shape and control their lives, their government, and their society. The larger object of government is to protect the life, liberty, and happiness of Americans.

"Citizens who are their own historians, willing to identify lies and distortions and able to use sources to determine what really went on in the past, become a formidable force for democracy." (318)
                        James Loewen

Loewen's larger conclusions about High School History:

"America history is longer, larger, more various, more beautiful, and more terrible than anything anyone has ever said about it"
--------------------------James Baldwin

"Once you have learned how to ask questions--relevant and appropriate and substantial questions--you have learned how to learn and
no one can keep you from learning whatever 
you want or need to know."
Neil Postman and Charles Weingartner (312)

"The answers one gets depends partly upon the questions one asks, and the questions one asks depends partly upon one's purpose and one's place in the social structure. Perhaps not everyone in the classroom will come to the
same  conclusion." (315)
    James Loewen

"The deeply frustrating lesson of history in the
American West and elsewhere is this: human
beings can be a mess--contentious, conflict
loving, petty, vindictive, and cruel--and human
beings can manifest grace, dignity, compassion,
and understanding"
Patricia Limerick, Something in the Soil (p. 21)

Five Questions to ask about History Books:

1. Why was it written? Who is the audience the book is written for?

2. Whose viewpoint or perspective is the book written from?  What political, cultural, or social biases does the book reflect?

3. Is the historical account believable? Is it credible? Do people really act this way?

4. Does this historical account contradict other 
histories you have read?

5. How is one suppose to feel about the America that is presented in this historical account? Is it a
critical account, examining multiple perspectives
on issues and events?

"History is central to our own understanding of ourselves and our society."
        James Loewen

"Failure to understand history weakens Americans' ability to shape and control their lives, their government, and their society. Without an understanding of the past, we cannot be active, responsible citizens. Democracy requires that Americans understand and use their knowledge of the past to shape the present and future.."
............Chris Lewis

Review by David Dannenberg:*
Lies My Reviewer Told Me Clark Stooksbury's review of James Loewen's Lies My Teacher Told Me ("Reconstructing History," September 1995) was good, but missed a salient point. One of the most insidious and destructive aspects of the state control of schools is the control of the curricula, which necessarily become politicized. Nowhere is this effect more pernicious than in the teaching of history, which becomes by this process bland, reflective of current political trends, statistics, and, worst of all, factually incorrect.

Loewen's point is not simply that we are boring our students with watered-down feel-good history, but that we are giving them an extremely inaccurate picture of the United States of America, a picture where they see no role for themselves as individuals. In the history presented in high school textbooks, "important" personages are virtually deified; events occur without cause, debate, or dissent; and the good guys win because it is preordained. History as taught in this country is devoid of the ideas and intellectual conflict that shape events; the protagonists are lacking the foibles, motivations, and contradictions that show them as human; the bad guys never win. Students thereby are given little or no opportunity to empathize with our predecessors in such a way as to draw inferences that relate historic events to current events, and can envision no role for themselves in using ideas and convictions to shape future events.

Without some broad understanding of how we got where we are, students will have little idea how to get us where we want to go. In all, the current teaching of catechisms of American history amounts to an ideal formula for making students into the passive, ineffectual, nihilistic, apathetic sheep that much of our populace has become.

I am surprised that Stooksbury made no specific mention of   chapter eight, provocatively entitled "Watching Big Brother: What Textbooks Teach About the Federal Government." The concluding paragraph of this chapter states in part, "[Textbook authors narcotize students from thinking about such issues as the increasing dominance of the executive branch. By taking the government's side, textbooks encourage students to conclude that criticism is  incompatible with citizenship. . . . All this encourages students to throw up their hands in the belief that the government determines everything anyway, so why bother, especially if its actions are usually so benign" (emphasis mine).

David Dannenberg
Philadelphia, Pa.

*An e-mail to H-Teach listserv, Spring 1997


© 2002 by Chris H.  Lewis, Ph.D.
Sewall Academic Program; University of Colorado at Boulder
Created 7 August 2002:  Last Modified: 27 August 2002
E-mail: cclewis@spot.colorado.edu
URL:    http://www.colorado.edu/AmStudies/lewis/2010/high.htm
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