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Lies (of Aversion) My Teacher Told Me


Lies My Teacher Told Me is a book by University of Vermont sociologist and historian James W. Loewen (first edition published in 1995). It's an effort to interrogate and correct lies that characterize the way history is too often presented and taught in America.


Typologies of lying vary depending on who's creating the typology. One simple typology is lies of commission (deliberately presenting false information) and lies of omission (failing to provide relevant information) but other types are certainly possible and worth considering.


History attests that lying of all kinds on the part of super-influential people, taken up by those who are gullible or cynically happy to play along with the leader’s deception, and met with passivity or principled but ineffective objection by those who know better is responsible for so much of what ails this world.


What is a school’s - what is a teacher’s responsibility to engage students at the critical moments when “history” and “current events” merge? Is history only those records of the past that have more or less settled narratives or is history also what just happened and what is happening right here where we stand at the banks of the river of time and human experience?


“Starting from the most recently lapsed nanosecond, history studies the totality of the past. Initial accounts and interpretations will be journalistic and under-considered but, gradually, the passage of time makes available additional sources enabling increasingly mature and comprehensive constructions.


However, just as recorded music takes colour from the instruments of reproduction, so history undergoes colouration from the intellects and contemporary perspectives of generations of historians. There is no boundary between current affairs and history, only progress along a continuous road.” - Professor John Childs, University of Leeds

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“There is no chronological cut-off point between history and current affairs. Whatever just happened, earlier today, yesterday, or in recent or distant decades is all similarly in the past. Whether this or that part of the past then becomes the object of historical study is the important question.


This will depend upon current as well as past issues and questions that historians are drawn to and whether the investigative tools of the historian throw light on events in ways not easily replicated by journalism, sociology, economics or other present-centred disciplines. The task of the historian is to point to similarities and differences between past and present phenomena in order to avoid the trap of thinking that all can be understood simply by observing the here and the now.” - Professor Patricia Hudson, University of Cardiff Source


Some schools shy away from discussing current events, especially those that involve “politics” for fear of appearing partisan and consequently upsetting valued constituents. We might call this choice lying by aversion (as in averting one’s eyes from things one doesn’t wish to see and deal with).


On January 15, 2022, former President Donald Trump held a rally at which he continued his practice and pattern of lies of commission and omission – a practice and pattern deeply engrained in the history of corrupt leadership all over the world. One lie, clearly designed to divide people along racialized lines and incite anger (and more?) on one side of the line was, “The left is now rationing lifesaving therapeutics based on race, discriminating against and denigrating, just denigrating, white people to determine who lives and who dies.”


History repeating. History in the making. The future drowning. History taught? History ignored?


How do you as an educator (by profession, by parenthood, by being in relationship with young learners in any way) avoid lying by aversion? How does your school, your social conditioning, your circumstance support or constrain your ability to avoid lying by aversion?


We are, after all, not passive observers on the banks of the river. We’re in it.

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