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Author tells history teachers of 'Lies'

CRYSTAL LAKE – With a book title like "Lies My Teacher Told Me," one might think historian and author James Loewen wouldn't get the warm reception he received Friday from a room full of history teachers.

But Loewen isn't bashing teachers in his best-selling book with the subtitle: "Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong." In fact, he dedicated the book to all American history teachers who "teach against the textbook."

Nor is Loewen reinventing history in the book; he's merely shaking up how history is taught.

"Your job is not to teach the textbook; your job is to teach history," Loewen said.

He said the textbook is useful a tool, but a deeper understanding and appreciation of history comes from focusing on fewer, selected topics rather than everything that's crammed onto glossy textbook pages.

Loewen was the keynote speaker at a teachers seminar hosted by Prairie Ridge High School.

American history often is an underrated subject among students, many of whom get tangled up in the minutiae of names, dates and facts that later are forgotten, Loewen said. He referred to those small details as "twigs" and, while important, concentrating on them has students missing the bigger picture, or the "forest," of what history teaches: important civics lessons.

"Traditional American history courses turn students off," Loewen writes in "Lies." But history is full of "stories that have the power to spellbind audiences, even audiences of difficult seventh-graders."

Prairie Ridge history teacher John Pellikan arranged the seminar, called "Getting U.S. History Right." Pellikan is a fan of Loewen's books.

"I've never felt I've done U.S. history justice," Pellikan told his colleagues. "Are my kids really walking away better global citizens?"

The seminar was attended by 63 history teachers from 20 schools in the region.

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