Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong by James W. Loewen was the first nonfiction, non memoir book I ever read of my own free will, in 2003 when I was twenty-two. It was the book that showed me I could enjoy reading a nonfiction book based on facts and research (as opposed to fiction and as opposed to nonfiction that’s story-based), especially when it wasn’t assigned. Many more books of this variety came after, but this book was my first.
Lies My Teacher Told Me explores the misinformation in American History textbooks by looking at it from several different angles. The most prominent of these is James W. Loewen’s thorough survey of twelve textbooks used in American History high school classes across the country and exploring where they fall short–omissions, some outright lies, reliance on secondary (and tertiary, etc.) sources instead of available primary sources–and how they leave us disconnected from our history. He also goes into the process for textbook approval for school systems, and how censorship can often play a role there.
I’m so glad I went, too. I almost didn’t. I haven’t really written much in awhile, and have felt like work takes over my life. But I had put in for the time off back in April or something, so I said what the hell and signed up. I thought if nothing else, at least I’d have a few days away. The festival was held at Moran State Park which is a good drive from my place, so I stayed overnight in one of the cabins during the festival.
The festival blew my expectations out of the water! The instructors were EXCELLENT! A lot of them teach at Vermont College of Fine Arts which has a low-residency MFA writing program. In the mornings, we had small workshop groups. I chose the non-fiction track, and so each morning, our small group gathered to very thoroughly discuss our work. Each of us had to submit a ten-page sample of our writing before the festival, so we spent considerable time each morning, working with a few people’s work each day. It was great. I forgot how great it is, not only to get feedback on your own work, but to work as a group on others’ stories. You learn so much. I felt so engaged, like my inner artist was engaged in a way it hasn’t been in so long. I was exercising my writing muscles. It was great even to go over some of the basics of story arc and point of view. I didn’t realize I was so hungry for this sort of thing. But oh was I ever! It fed my soul, and my soul has been a bit starving as of late.