The real version of history is not what one remembers from high school.
Temple University’s Department of University Studies in conjunction with the Freshman Summer Reading Project sponsored a schedule of events Sept. 23 with James W. Loewen, author of “Lies My Teacher Told Me.”
In Spring 2003, the coordinators of the Freshman Summer Reading Project debated over 40 different books, but chose Loewen’s “Lies My Teacher Told Me” as the selection that entering freshman would read prior to fall enrollment.
The sponsored events included ‘Texts, Lies and What’s at Stake: A Conversation with James W. Loewen,’ a panel discussion at Kiva auditorium. He then did a book signing at Great Court in Mitten Hall, followed by ‘A Discussion with James W. Loewen.’ He also hosted an afternoon tour of Independence National Historical Park.
The panel discussion included teachers Marcus Delgado of Olney High School and Eric Lynn of Lower Merion. University history professors Bill Cutler, Regina Gramer and David Watt, along with senior history major Tim Lombardo, served as panelists.
Panelists discussed issues surrounding Loewen’s principle arguments of how and why many students dislike history and why it continues to be mistaught in high schools and universities nationwide.
“Teachers should use textbooks as a resource and have enthusiasm about the subject,” Lynn said.
Temple faculty questioned the motives of the author while also examining the importance and value of requiring the freshman class read a “common” novel prior to entering the first year. Faculty also addressed the content of “Lies” and inquired about specific generalizations and assumptions made by Loewen.
“Facts are not enough to achieve understanding,” Cutler said, and told students that argument is another phase in understanding.
The panel debated whether it is better for textbooks not to define themselves as one nationality. Loewen argued that historians have “a moral obligation to denaturalize the contemporary nation states.”
Throughout the discussions, Loewen encouraged and applauded the Temple community for choosing his book and fostering what he called an “intellectual community” at a highly commuter college.
“You have to play a key role, and choosing a book for entering students is a great idea because it gives the university something in common,” Loewen said.
At the afternoon discussion, the author talked about why he decided to write such a book. Loewen received a degree in sociology from Carlton College and a Ph.D. from Harvard University. While teaching at historically black Tougaloo College in Mississippi, he had what he described as an “a-ha” experience.
He remembers discovering that black students in his freshman history seminar class were misinformed about Reconstruction after the Civil War. They were under the impression that black leaders were not only given the opportunity to participate in government during Reconstruction, but that they had used this power effectively.
Freshman Nicole Mighty thought the discussion and a chance to question Loewen was engaging.
“I thought it was interesting,” she said. “It was a good book and very informative.”
“I learned a lot, and now I know why I didn’t like history in high school,” freshman Marcos Rios said.
If Loewen left a single impression, it was to remind his audience jokingly. “People are entitled to their own opinions, but not their own facts.”
“Never visit historical sites or monuments without bringing a magic marker,” he said.
Charmie Snetter can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.