This week on CounterSpin: “Who controls the past controls the future. Who controls the present controls the past,” recited Winston Smith in Orwell’s 1984. Nowadays, news media have a good deal of control over our knowledge and understanding of the past: The Fourth of July weekend will doubtless feature media chatter about what America “stands for,” and how our history has shaped us.
But much of the talk will bear little relationship to the country’s actual history, which is roughly a million times more complicated and conflict-riddled than the image we are usually presented: a more or less steady march of “progress,” with perhaps a few bumps in the road. Someone who’s thought a lot about how we mis-learn history and how that shapes our political life is James W. Loewen. He’s the author of the classic book, Lies My Teacher Told Me, which assesses the textbooks used in US classrooms, turning up falsehoods, elisions and distortions. He explains some of the reasons students say they hate history–and non-white students hate it most of all.