Lies My Teacher Told Me

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President Woodrow Wilson Character Analysis

28th President of the United States and—in spite of the mostly positive treatment he gets in most mainstream history textbooks—an outspoken racist and an aggressive imperialist, who used military force to topple dozens of legitimately-elected democratic governments around the world. Loewen treats Wilson as an example of how history textbooks “heroify” historical figures who engaged in morally objectionable behavior, rather than giving an honest account of their lives.

President Woodrow Wilson Quotes in Lies My Teacher Told Me

The Lies My Teacher Told Me quotes below are all either spoken by President Woodrow Wilson or refer to President Woodrow Wilson. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Bias Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Touchstone edition of Lies My Teacher Told Me published in 2007.
Chapter 1 Quotes

In the case of Woodrow Wilson, textbooks actually participate in creating the social archetype. Wilson is portrayed as “good,” “idealist,” “for self-determination, not colonial intervention,” “foiled by an isolationist Senate,” and “ahead of his time.”

Related Characters: President Woodrow Wilson
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:

In this section, Loewen studies the life of President Woodrow Wilson, who is often remembered for leading the U.S. during World War I, or for spearheading a series of progressive changes in American society. Wilson is, in short, remembered as one of America’s greatest presidents. But, as Loewen points out, Wilson was also one of America’s most actively racist presidents, and one of its most imperialist and interventionist presidents, regularly interfering with other countries’ democratically elected governments.

Loewen’s theory for why, exactly, Wilson is remembered as a hero, not a tyrannical racist, is that people want to believe the best of historical figures. Thus, people want to believe that Wilson was the archetypal good leader—a strong, idealistic, democratic president. Instead of challenging people’s expectations about Wilson (and any number of other historical figures), textbooks seem to reinforce these expectations, painting a rosy picture of Wilson and his career. The passage is particularly important because it alludes to the fact that the general public—not just textbook publishers and writers—are complicit in preserving Americans’ ignorance of the past: in other words, history textbooks are biased because ordinary people are biased, too.

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President Woodrow Wilson Character Timeline in Lies My Teacher Told Me

The timeline below shows where the character President Woodrow Wilson appears in Lies My Teacher Told Me. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1: Handicapped by History
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Ambiguity Theme Icon
The Power of the Individual Theme Icon
The Role of Ideas in History Theme Icon
Loewen begins by looking at two familiar figures from history textbooks: Helen Keller and Woodrow Wilson. Almost every American student knows that Keller was deaf and blind, yet learned to read,... (full context)
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Woodrow Wilson, the U.S. president during World War I, was an equally controversial figure. During his time... (full context)
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Amazingly, history textbooks either ignore Wilson’s interventionist foreign policy, or characterize Wilson as a “reluctant warrior” who never wanted to send... (full context)
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Wilson’s dismissal of Ho Chi Minh brings up another point about his life that textbooks ignore:... (full context)
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Textbooks rarely offer more than a sentence or two on Wilson’s racism—an omission that is, itself, racist. African Americans couldn’t possibly consider Wilson a hero, and... (full context)
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...for a strong “archetype”—a “mother of our country” figure. Perhaps the continued popularity of Woodrow Wilson illustrates our need for another archetype: a strong, idealistic, clear-eyed leader. The problem is that,... (full context)
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...example, textbooks decontextualize Keller’s life work and make her seem boring. Textbooks may likewise omit Wilson’s racism because they want to be respectful or patriotic. (full context)
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Ironically, by portraying Keller, Wilson, and other historical figures as unambiguously heroic, textbooks make student less impressed with these figures,... (full context)
Chapter 5: Gone With the Wind
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...racism in the thinking of figures as different as Thomas Jefferson, Christopher Columbus, and Woodrow Wilson. Many students would be surprised to learn that almost all the presidents before Abraham Lincoln... (full context)
Chapter 10: Down the Memory Hole
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...is that historical interpretations change over time, according to people’s ideological needs. For example, Woodrow Wilson’s reputation grew enormously during the Cold War because of his stated commitment to “make the... (full context)