I just recently finished a book called “Lies My Teacher Told Me” which I highly recommend. The book explains why you were probably bored in history classes, and why to this day you think you aren’t interested in a subject which affects you in many ways, every day. I have friends who can’t even be interested in politics which affects our lives in a very meaningful way every single day, because they can’t stand history. Yet if history were taught the way this book suggests, I think everyone would have some interest in the topic.
I have often regretted what the book calls “heroification”. This is the process of taking very real people, with very real flaws, and making them into more than they were. The classic example is Thomas Jefferson. The man wrote the famous words “all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness”. Yet over the course of his adult life he owned over 200 slaves. In a time when many men freed at least some slaves upon their deaths, he freed only five, all of whom were directly related to him. If real history were taught, the gritty things that raise people’s hackles, discussions would be held in the classroom and in our living rooms, and far more people would have a far better understanding of our history. Instead, we teach a sanitized version of history that leaves children thinking that those great men, who did those great things were so great they can’t be role models. It is hard to look up to someone who never made a mistake and think “I can be just like that guy!”. But to tell students that despite the mistakes that people made, they also did great things? That would give our students true heroes.
The author proposes that the reason behind this sanitation of history is that without it, history would offend, and offensive history wouldn’t get adopted by selection committees. The selection committees want to indoctrinate students to think only the best of our country and our past, and so our students must only be told the good things we’ve done.
This book has helped remind me of why I love history, and why I want to teach it to high schoolers. Many times since I graduated, I’ve considered settling not for what I want to do, but what I should do. I don’t want to leave behind those dreams, I don’t want to settle. I want to inspire the next generation to truly think and to question why we do things. I can’t do that by retreating to the hallowed halls of academia, I can only do that in the dirty halls of a high school. I appreciate that the author of this book has helped remind me of that goal, and thus helped set my determination.