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Raising our Children to be History Detectives!

Our Sponsor: HistorySolutions.com

In honor of Black History Month Homeschool.com's editor-in-chief spoke with James Loewen, author of two inspirational books, "Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Lies Across America."

As Homeschoolers we can help our children learn American history by looking beyond textbooks, as Mr. Loewen suggests in this interview. Through investigation with our children, we can benefit from a broader understanding of the history of our country. Mr. Loewen advises that we encourage our children to question what they learn and look deeper into what they read, hear and see.

Help your children build a successful future by teaching them about the mistakes of the past so that they can have a clearer understanding of where we have been. By doing this, we will give our children the knowledge and power to reshape the future for the greater good.

 

About James W. Lowen

James W. Loewen is a sociologist who spent two years at the Smithsonian Institution surveying twelve leading high school textbooks of American history only to find an embarrassing blend of bland optimism, blind nationalism, and plain misinformation, weighing in at an average of 888 pages and almost five pounds.

 

Homeschool.com's Interview with James Loewen

EDITOR: Is there some little known aspect of our past that if we knew it, would change the general beliefs about the black American experience?

LOEWEN: Actually, I think there is: knowledge of "The Nadir." "The Nadir of Race Relations," that unfortunate period 1890-1925 or so, was the worst time to be black (or Native American, or perhaps Chinese American) in United States history. Lynchings rose to their all-time high, the last independent Native American nation lost its independence, and every Southern and Border state made it impossible for African Americans to vote.

Unfortunately, our high school American history textbooks were "set" in this period and are only now beginning to emerge from it. Even worse, as I show in LIES ACROSS AMERICA, our landscape was set too, and now stands replete with amazingly wrong interpretations of the Civil War and Reconstruction.

EDITOR: Aside from state standards and admissions into college, why is it important to teach children our history?

LOEWEN: Young adults who do not understand our past suffer from "soclexia" - an inability to think rationally about society. This makes them (us) systematically stupid about what we should do next - whether about race relations or the efficacy of aerial bombing, whatever!

EDITOR: In your opinion, what is the best way to teach our children history?

LOEWEN: Liberate them from the textbook. Encourage them to do historical research, to challenge their textbook, to learn about local history.

EDITOR: How can parents make history "real" and come alive for their children as well as help them retain what they have learned?

LOEWEN: Read my books! Then invite their child to read them – children as young as 5th grade have done so with enjoyment. (Editor's note: Mr. Loewen's books are listed below.)

EDITOR: Please give us a few examples of historical monuments that commemorate the history of black Americans.

LOEWEN: There are several good new ones:

  • USCT Memorial in DC - to African Americans who fought in the civil War.
  • Black History Memorial, State Capitol, Columbia, SC - shows slavery, black response during the Civil War, etc.
  • Black Reconstruction legislators, State Capitol, Atlanta, GA
  • Great Blacks in Wax Museum, Baltimore - with extraordinary exhibits about slavery (in the basement) and lynching (in the loft).
  • And various museums under black control or influence across the United States.

EDITOR: When we visit or read about a historical monument are there questions that we should teach our children to ask themselves and the curators or docents about what they are viewing/hearing?

LOEWEN: Yes!

Ten Questions To Ask At A Historic Site:
(Editor's note: You might print out the Ten Questions To Ask and take with you on your next visit or fieldtrip to an historical site.)

  1. When did this site become a historic site? (When was the marker or monument put up? or the house "interpreted"?) How did that time differ from ours? from the time of the event or person commemorated?
     
  2. Who sponsored it? Representing which participant group's point of view? What was their position in social structure when the event occurred? When the site went "up?"
     
  3. Why? What were their ideological needs and social purposes when the site went "up?" What were their values?
     
  4. Who was/is the intended audience for the site? What values were they trying to leave for us, today? What does the site ask us to go and do?
     
  5. Did they have government support? At what level? Who was ruling the government at the time? What ideological arguments were used to get the government to acquiesce? 
  6. Who is left out? What points of view go largely unheard? How would the story differ if a different group had told it? another political party? race? sex? class? religious group?
     
  7. Are there problematic words or symbols that would not have been used today, or by other groups?
     
  8. How is the site used today? Do continuing rituals connect today's public to it? Or is it ignored? Why?
     
  9. Is the presentation accurate? What actually happened? What historical sources tell of the event, people, or period commemorated at the site? 
     
  10. How does this site fit with others that treat its era? What other people and events happened then but are not commemorated on the landscape? Why not?

EDITOR: The contemporary black novelist, Walter Mosley expressed race as something "... which has forged all that is wonderful and terrible about America, its European founders and their victims." In your opinion, what is the greatest racial lesson we can derive from our American historical experience?

LOEWEN: Two lessons: first, that not all whites have been racist. The most amazing omission on the American landscape is of whites who worked for equal justice for all. I point out in LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME and LIES ACROSS AMERICA that people like Print Matthews of Mississippi, Elizabeth Van Lew of Richmond, and even Abraham Lincoln of Illinois, are either forgotten or are presented as if disengaged with the struggle for black rights.

Second, that racism rises and falls, not with the business cycle (!), but owing to acts by people, including cultural acts (like popularizing eugenics, or writing "Gone With The Wind"). Once we understand that the nation has not always been as racist as it is now, and has also sometimes been more racist, then we can see that racism has social causes. Then we can work to eradicate it.

EDITOR: Are you working on any new projects or books?

LOEWEN: I am now working on a new topic and invite emails from homeschoolers everywhere: it is "sundown towns." These are all-white towns that are (or were until recently) all-white on purpose. Some even passed city ordinances forbidding blacks (or sometimes Jews or Chinese Americans) from living in them; a few even posted signs at their corporate limits. They range from independent towns like Pekin, IL, to suburbs like Grosse Pointe, MI, or Edina, MN. I'd love to get nominations and details from your farflung and intelligent readers!

Editor's note:
James Loewen can be contacted at: jloewen@zoo.uvm.edu

 

Suggested Books

Mr. Loewen's books:

Lies Across America: What Our Historic Sites Get Wrong
http://link.homeschool.com/amazon.asp?i=0684870673

 

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong
http://link.homeschool.com/amazon.asp?i=0684818868

 

History of US, by Joy Hakim
http://link.homeschool.com/amazon.asp?i=0195127749
An 11-volume set that is considered by thousands of homeschooling families as a set of history textbooks that read like a good novel. Written at a fifth-grade level with hundreds of great photos.

 
Workin' on the Chain Gang: Shaking Off the Dead Hand of History by Walter Mosley
(For high school level readers)
http://link.homeschool.com/amazon.asp?i=0787118850

 
Online Resources
 

Read more about James Loewen at:
http://www.uvm.edu/~jloewen/

 

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