I’ve started reading Lies My Teacher Told Me. I’ve experienced a perspective shift. Others, according to the preface to the book, experienced the same sort of shift on reading the first edition. This second one has shifted my perspective but I am having trouble putting the shift into words.
Here’s the thing: I knew a lot of this beforehand. The first two chapters take on Columbus and the colonization of North America, two subjects I knew quite a bit about. After all, I was an anthropology major, took a number of courses in Indian Education which included the Native American perspective. Yet somehow this book leaves me with a broader and deeper view of what happened in this hemisphere and this country specifically
Perhaps it is the scale. Loewen, the author, pulls in all the threads on matters like who discovered America and how many Indians lived here before the European arrival. Little facts even uproot the image of our foundations, like the fact that the first non-indigenous settlement was by Africans, not Europeans (they were slaves left behind in South Carolina by the Spaniards). In writing that sentence I fell into the same quagmire Loewen is exposing: I almost left out “non-indigenous” because, as he points out, somehow Native Americans did not “settle”, only Europeans settled.
That latter point is important. Over and over again he points to such usage as conveying an entire world view, one in which only Europeans aka White people ever “did” anything; everyone else was just extras biding their time for their cameo appearance. If only Europeans settled and Africans were slaves who did whatever the Europeans told them to do, what were the Indians doing?
What they were doing takes up a lot of these first two chapters. I will try to formulate a way of expressing how this change in perspective is working in me.
I might want to cross-reference my blog entry “Start With Basics – A History Lesson” and “416”.
Later – another way to state is, how is it that the typical American high school graduate can view the history of the world as containing only European aka White men of the Christian tradition as the primary actors. What happened to everyone else? This is why, in 1941, Melville Herskovits titled his book The Myth of the Negro Past, showing how people of African descent did indeed have a history and how they had adapted to the European culture while retaining much of their African culture. What Loewen seems to be doing is broadening this perspective out to encompass all the actors involved in the New World (new to Europeans).
Aug. 3 I found an exemplary passage illustrating what I’m talking about. p. 106:
“The term frontier hardly does justice to this process [of contact between Europeans and Africans on the one hand and Native Americans on the other], for it implies a line or boundary. Contact, not separation, was the rule. Frontier also locates the observer somewhere in the urban East, from which the frontier is ‘out there.’ Textbook authors seem not to have encountered the trick question, ‘Which came first, civilization or the wilderness?’ The answer is civilization, for only the ‘civilized’ mind could define the world of Native farmers, fishers, and gatherers and hunters, coexisting with forests, crops, and animals, as a ‘wilderness.’ Calling the area beyond secure European control frontier or wilderness makes it subtly alien. Such a viewpoint is intrinsically Eurocentric and marginalizes the actions of nonurban people, both Native and non-Native.”
Here is the issue of perspective, how shifting the pov from within the mix of people, cultures, and events to a point outside, a presumably superior point, thus giving the Anglo student a smug sense of control and superiority. Is it any wonder so many people, at least White people, in this country decry any attempt to redress this imbalance as ‘political correctness’. Alienizing or Othering non-European Americans carries vast implications and consequence by distorting relationships among citizens. For one hundred years, the great majority of Euroamericans aka White people blithely accepted and even defended the disenfranchisement and segregation into a caste system one tenth of the population. I recall the outrage expressed by many Whites when “Negroes made demands.” Totally inappropriate.
Aug. 6, 2018 Addendum from Lies…….. p. 160, exemplifying the way the book gives one a new perspective on matters, this re Reconstruction:
“But, overall, textbook treatments of Reconstruction still miss the point: the problem of Reconstruction was integrating Confederates, not African-Americans, into the new order.” He gives an example of how textbooks present African-Americans and their situation: “Other northerners grew weary of the problems of black southerners and less willing to help them learn their new roles as citizens.” And another: “Millions of ex-slaves could not be converted in ten years into literate voters, or successful politicians, farmers and businessmen.” Right out of Ol’ Massa’s playbook.
In my high school, “U.S. History” was appropriately named, if a little biased.
But the class called “world history” was more like “history of USA with a brief acknowledgement that a place called Europe also existed at one time.”
I have a friend who imitates his rural Pennsylvania teachers in economics, history, biology, etc., all coaches. He’s hilarious. At my public school the social studies teachers were fairly evenly divided between those who taught and those who handed out worksheets. At the Catholic school the whole department was extremely right wing. One of them was a good teacher but very biased in that smug way those who have a whole tradition of philosophy behind them can be.