Lies My Teacher Told Me and the Shock and Anger of Truth

On Monday I wrote about how finding the truth about Columbus in the book Lies My Teacher Told Me helped inspire me to leave school for unschooling. I’ve also been thinking about the shock and the anger I felt from the implications of what I learned in the book.

I was shocked and angry not only with the horrific truths but with everything around the facts.

Not only did Columbus do all these things but we even give him a national holiday. Not only that but our history textbooks in school, where we’re supposed to learn the facts behind the story, also portray him as a hero: they lie outright and through omission.

I was upset that so many people had been lied to and that we had a totally backwards view of this terrible but hugely inflential person.

At the same time, I was almost more upset that many people did know the truth and hadn’t told me! People hadn’t told me the truth about Columbus, about textbooks, about school in general, and even the world in general.

I thought: “If you knew this, then why didn’t you tell me? Why aren’t we shouting the truth from the mountaintops for all to hear?”

One particularly ironic experience was when I talked about Lies My Teacher Told Me with the school librarian from the public high school I was attending (and soon left). She said: “That’s great you’re reading that. I actually just gave a copy to my nephew for Christmas.”

You’re a librarian at the public high school and you gave your nephew the book Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong? It didn’t make sense to me why she would be working in an institution she knew lied to the very people it was supposed to be educating.

I was very pleased to see so many people questioned Columbus on Columbus Day: I saw it on Twitter, Facebook, news articles and blogs. Many people are definitely talking about Columbus honestly, at least now.

But Columbus was just one man. It’s the way we have emulated his colonialism, exploitation, and self-justification that’s the real problem. And I’m still shocked and angered today by how people support the U.S. doing these very things.

I was just talking to a guy who is in many ways very politically aware and concerned. But he said he supported the U.S. invasion of Iraq and Afghanistan because it was about trying to spread democracy.

He said no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other so it’s really important to spread democracy.

I said if the U.S. wants to spread democracy they should really stop removing democratically elected leaders they don’t like. For example, the U.S. removed a democratically elected leader from Iran, Mossadegh, in 1953: right between Iraq and Afghanistan.

And I tried to say what was said very succinctly in this article from New Jersey Solidarity – Activists for the Liberation of Palestine regarding U.S. involvement in Haiti in 2004:

The U.S. government continues its colonial war on national independence and self-determination, seeking to remove from leadership any person, movement or government who prioritizes the needs and rights of the people over the interests of U.S.-based corporations.

I was a guest at my friend’s home when we were talking about this and I worried I was being rude in the passionate way I was expressing my ideas. But at the same time I am just shocked that an intelligent, caring person might think it’s okay to bomb a place, kill innocent people, and invade a sovereign nation. All in the name of “democracy”.

I was very argumentative about issues like this in my teens. Over time, I realized that trying to force your views and information on to others is not only disrespectful but just plain ineffective.

I also realized that there were plenty of my own emotional issues I needed to address. For one thing anger is often sadness turned inside out so it’s important to acknowledge that.

So I’ve avoided talking about these subjects and I’ve worked on my own personal feelings a lot.

But at the same time innocent people are still being killed, intelligent people still think it’s okay, and I’m still angry.

Maybe anger is also sadness made manifest into a fire that can drive you to take action.

Maybe the trick is to tap into that fire without being controlled by it or hurting others.

But I’ve really been feeling the need to err on the side of maybe offending some people for the sake of speaking the truth about injustices and the hypocrisy and lies that allow them to go on.

(This post developed into a thread about what I learned from my experience reading the book Lies My Teacher Told Me. You can read the rest of the posts from the category by clicking here.)


12 Responses to “Lies My Teacher Told Me and the Shock and Anger of Truth”

  1. Ren says:

    Something else you might want to point out to your friend, if you choose to debate this again, is that there has NEVER in the history of mankind been a democracy installed through war and force. Ever. Democracy has to come from within a nation, the people must demand it. Kinda unschooly eh? 😉

  2. Cheryl says:

    “Let us not look back in anger or forward in fear, but around in awareness.” — James Thurber

    Somewhere there is a quote about how anger comes from fear, but I can’t find it at the moment. Every time I feel anger now (and I’ve lived for years with anger, and seen how ugly it can make me), I try to examine it for the fear that is behind it. In this case–fear that someone is lying to me, that someone is trying to control me, that I am not in control of my own truth, and that the very people I trusted to teach me about truth (teachers, authorities, and so-called experts on television) betrayed me.

    I am experiencing many of the same things that you are right now, Eli. How much do I say? How much of my truth do I try to communicate? How much anger from other people am I willing to risk? When do I argue and when do I let it go? Do I really want to ask others to confront their fears? Should I? Is it my responsibility to change anyone else’s awareness? What does it mean to be responsible for my own awareness–to speak out or keep quiet?

    Very good questions, and I thank as always for sharing.


  3. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Adrean Clark and Lynne Lisa, Eli Gerzon. Eli Gerzon said: Thank u 4 the RT: @LynneLLisa A good read RT Lies My Teacher Told me & the shock and anger of truth: #unschooling […]

  4. I’m glad you’re asking these questions, Eli, because they are important and need to be asked. And when one stops asking questions, one usually stops learning as well.

    Perspective. Use it or lose it.

  5. Chris says:

    When I was around 14-years-old I started to notice how complacent and unwilling to divulge my teachers were. If you really questioned them about issues, they saw it as digression that was to be avoided.

    So I took my urge to debate home. It came across as anger. Well, I guess it was anger. If someone came across as apathetic to the issues I thought were important, I got angry.

    By the time I was around 20 I took my education in to my own hands. And was of the opinion that all the years spent in school were just an excuse to get kids to a warm place and keep them out of trouble. All the learnin’ was just a ruse. To my 20-year-old eyes, school looked more like an institution designed to discipline and form complacent and unwilling people. I saw a cycle.

    If figured I was ripped off by the system and had to start from scratch. I can remember ranting that I lost a decade or so and had to un-do the school disease.

    Taking your interests and education in to your own hands is incredibly liberating. In the last decade I feel like I made up for the lost time and am grateful to facilitate my own children in their lives.

    No more anger. Just experience and an ability to see things for what they are.

  6. Idzie says:

    I love this post! I find it very hard to know when to argue or push an issue, and when to let it go, though I think I’m starting to find a balance. I also find it interesting that many, many people think that anger is automatically bad, and I really don’t agree with that. It’s not a good thing to be ruled by anger, but in a world as effed up as this one I think anger is a perfectly natural response, and I love this line of yours: “Maybe anger is also sadness made manifest into a fire that can drive you to take action.” I think that it can.

  7. Eli Gerzon says:

    Wow thank you all for the wonderful comments! It means a lot to me….

    @Ren That’s a good point: I totally agree that it has to come from within and people (individuals and groups) need to want freedom for it to work.

    But my friend actually thinks that Iraq and Afghanistan now do have democracy: that is was worth it for that. I’m not sure exactly how to respond to that….

    @Cheryl It’s really cool to hear how many other people have or are struggling with this issue of how much to share and how to do it. I’m glad you brought up the issue of responsibility too.

    As far as anger coming from fear: I think that def has a lot of truth to it. But again I don’t think fear has to be a bad thing:

    I am afraid of what will happen to human beings when United States bombs and invades their country. I’m afraid of what will happen if people don’t know the truth and CARE about the truth. And I’m afraid of what will happen to the world we live on if we keep trashing it.

    Those immediate, very real fears can continue to effectively motivate us to action if we don’t let them actually rule us.

    Hope that makes sense!

    @Hellen Thank you! Like I said, I really appreciate knowing people do support asking these questions and talking about this stuff: it’s not often discussed in the area of unschooling/homeschooling. So it’s good to know people support it.

    @Chris Thanks so much for sharing your own story of going through this type of thing. Part of me has felt like I was the only one.

    I think that we can definitely make up for lost time like it sounds like you have. And if we dwell too much in the anger we just end up losing more of our time! So it’s cool to hear how you have been able to let go of it.

    @Idzie Thanks so much Idzie! I thought you’d be able to relate. And I’m glad you agree on the issue of anger not necessarily being a bad thing. And I like how you put about anger being a natural response.

    I know an unschooling family who had a bumper sticker that said:

    “If you’re not angry, you’re not paying attention.”

    I don’t know if I’d put that on my car, if I had one, but I sure think it has a lot of truth to it!

  8. Cheryl says:

    Anger is not a bad feeling — it can be very powerful — but it can create an equal an opposite reaction of anger in other people. You can end up in a fighting match in which everyone is yelling and no one is listening. It can turn people off to what you’re saying, rather than inviting them to listen.

    Fear is very powerful, too. I think it’s human nature to create one’s life based upon one’s fears. Some fears are conscious and motivate you to work to change your world. Others are less conscious. Sometimes we don’t know and can’t articulate exactly what we’re afraid of, why we’re doing what we’re doing, or why we’re angry. The goal is to become more and more conscious, more and more aware, of exactly what is going on both within and without. We can’t force anyone else to do that work. We can only do it for ourselves.

  9. Eden says:


    Anger seems to be powerful and Earth-changing, but when dealing with long held beliefs, it is more useful to be soft and soothing. Kind of the way water wears down a stone. You can break the stone with force, but you might not like what happens when you’re faced with a bunch of pieces.

    Likewise, with careful bites/taps you can carve the beauty you want.

    In a sense, that what historians did and have done throughout history. The adage that history is written by the victor also implies a belief that the victors thought their cause was just and therefore the means in which the ends were achieved were just.

    Just as your friend feels about Iraq and Afghanistan…. Just as the fighters on both sides in Gaza today. Just as the settlers who built homes on native lands in the US…. Heck, read the Bible, about the back and forth with the Israelites and Canaanites. I imagine the Canaanites felt their way of life (already well established for hundreds of years) was right and good…after all, it had worked for their people a long time. The Israelites were following what they believed to be the commands of their G-d.

    The same goes for Columbus Day.

    It’s well that people are finally discussing the facts with a critical eye. But it’s not the fault of schools. It’s the fault of a social attitude that goes far deeper than public education. The need to feel vindicated for the choices we or our ancestors have made.

    After all, if our ancestors were so terrible, then perhaps we really SHOULD give back the US to the native Americans. Of course, the question becomes, where do we go? Because they don’t want us all back in Europe either….

    Sorry, a bit of a tangent there.

    I do hope you find a peaceful way of discussing this with your friend. The best way to convince him of the errors in his mindset are to actually start with questioning the “who is really gaining here” issues…. And that is a whole other can of worms.

    Best to you,

  10. Eli Gerzon says:

    Thanks for the thoughtful comments Cheryl and Eden.

    @Cheryl I think you’re totally right: actually expressing that anger to the people who you want to change the mind of, just doesn’t work. And isn’t respectful either.

    I turned a lot of people off with my anger as a teen when talking about politics and school and unschooling. So I stopped talking about them for as actively for years. Instead I concentrated on dealing with my own emotions.

    Now I feel like I can talk and write about school and unschooling in a level headed and respectful way (I hope!). There’s a lot of anger, sadness, and fear behind it that motivates me I suppose but it’s not on forefront while I discuss it.

    So maybe I’m just trying to figure-out now how to talk about politics more also in a respectful and effective way. Become more conscious of my feelings as you put it.

    I also don’t think we can do that work for others or force others to do that same sort of work for themselves. But I sure think we can inspire others. We can inspire by just being an example and by talking about it: exposing people to the info so they can decide for themselves.

    Some of it is a numbers game: I tried to convince my small group of friends a bunch of things they weren’t ready to believe or act on. But now I write in a blog where hundreds of people can find my words and SOME will respond to them.

    @Eden You make a good point about a gentler approach just causing less damage.

    Though sometimes I think there is still going to be some shattering when truth comes along regardless of how it comes along.

    I think of course you’re right that both sides in a conflict will always to some extent think they are in the right. But sometimes, in fact, only one is really in the wrong. The European take-over the North American continent and China take-over of Tibet are two examples in my opinion.

    And I think some of the people realize their country is in the wrong and act against it. Some just speak up. Some don’t. Some would realize they’re in the wrong if they knew more facts. And some would still think they’re in the right even if they knew all the facts.

    As far as giving the land back: I think when it comes to Native Americans, African Americans, or Palestinians they all seem to be mainly looking to have the CURRENT injustices against them come to a halt. Definitely healing work needs to be done in relation to the past. But seems like most aren’t really looking for retribution.

    Anyone who does shameful things is maybe most afraid of facing their own feelings of shame. They attribute that fear to the person they feel ashamed of wronging.

    But I think you’re right about concentrating on who actually benefits. Follow the money!

    Thanks again,
    Best to you too,

  11. Anne Wood says:

    @Cheryl: Is this the quote you’re thinking of?

    “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.” ~Yoda

    I really like that quote a lot, although I don’t really think it’s as simple as that. 🙂

    @Eli: I can soooo relate to how you feel! I went through a similar phase of anger towards my schooling, all the misinformation that’s presented as fact, and the sad consequences of such deception.

    Lately, I have that same strong emotional response when one of my very conservative family members forwards me a partisan rant full of judgmental, fear-inducing language and outright lies.

    Another recent example for me was when I posted a few blog entries at my account on The Young Turks ( It’s a great talk show where they cover politics and popular culture from a progressive angle. My posts were essentially questioning why so many progressives don’t seem to see that schools are autocratic, or that improving the welfare of children is essential to effective foreign policy. Most of the comments were SOOOO derogatory, inflammatory, etc., and my emotional response to them so powerfully overwhelming, that I’ve been unable to even read them all, let alone formulate much of a logical rebuttal.

    I’ve been talking to my therapist about this and she’s helped me understand how when I’m flooded with emotion (whether anger, excitement, passion, etc.) it’s hard to access the “reason” centers of my brain in order to formulate and articulate my thoughts. She’s taught me some sensing exercises that help me calm my body and mind, so that I can respond from a thoughtful place. The simplest exercise is to simply close my eyes and be aware of the sensations in my body, listen to the sounds around me, be aware of what I’m smelling, etc. It’s really been effective for me!

    I especially learned from that initial blog foray on TYT’s site that I probably need to recalibrate my questions and message somehow so they don’t provoke such an emotional response from others!

    Thanks so much, Eli, for sharing your similar experiences. 🙂

  12. Eli Gerzon says:

    @Anne Thanks so much for leaving this comment Anne!

    I really like hearing about you posting on the Young Turks message board. It does seem like a cool progressive show the little I’ve watched it.

    But I’ve always wanted to bridge the gap between politically active progressives and unschoolers/homeschoolers: they seem like essential buddies!

    Exactly, many people can see how much damage the U.S. government does in its foreign policy even when it claims to be helping. But then they don’t think about how it might be possible the schools run by the U.S. government are also doing damage when they claim to be helping.

    One of the few people who actually talks about this is Noam Chomsky. Here’s a great YouTube vid where he talks about the role of education:

    Try posting that to the message board: many of them probably respect Chomsky’s opinion.

    Anyone, I know what you mean about being disappointed and very emotionally upset by an aggressive response.

    But I hope when you do feel better and can come from the “reason” center of your brain, as you said, that you will post something.

    And it may still trigger an emotional response from people! But that’s okay. You may have to burst some people’s bubbles. Some people, especially liberals, really believe in “public education”.

    It may be very hard for them to realize that “public education” might not really be “educating the public”: that it often does the opposite. And many people and GROUPS could educate themselves much better without it.

    At the same time, I’d love to see more unschoolers being actively politically progressive! I don’t know exactly how to manifest that but I would love to hear more discussion of that!

    Thanks again,

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