In 1995, a book titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong” was published and became a bestseller. Since then, nearly 2 million copies have been sold — and now the book, by James W. Loewen, is being rereleased in the Trump era of “alternative facts.”

With a new introduction, titled “Lies My Teacher Told Me in the Age of Alternative Facts,” the book’s contents not only hold up but also may be more relevant than ever, as Loewen notes:

[I]n two ways the web has made things worse. First, it has jeopardized the finances of newspapers. When retailers found they could reach potential customers more cheaply online, many decreased advertising in newspapers. The country’s largest online store, Amazon, rarely advertises in print. At the same time, subscription revenue plummeted. When readers found they could get headlines, sports news, crossword puzzles, and their horoscopes online, many stopped subscribing to newspapers. As a result, newspapers have had to shrink their staffs, especially their reporters and editors, so even less investigative journalism now gets done. As Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump and inventor of the term “alternative facts,” put it, “I’m old enough to remember when news stations reported the news and didn’t just have a parade of pundits going out there and opinionating.”

Moreover, television news programs have learned that booking flamboyant extremists on each side makes for more entertaining viewing, hence higher ratings, than serious journalism. Again, this means less real news gets presented, and the various viewpoints that remain seem to be presented as moral and factual equivalents.

Second, the plethora of outlets on the web means that people can get news stories, including “fake news,” otherwise known as hoaxes, that suit them. If they are left-wing, they can subscribe to Daily Kos and Huffington Post. If they are right-wing, they can subscribe to Breitbart or the Drudge Report. Less often do they subscribe to outlets that provide several points of view. As a result, their thinking rarely gets challenged, so they become still less likely or able to assess information critically.

I write during Donald Trump’s presidency. Even on clear matters of public record, such as the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration, President Trump has lied. To many Americans his lying does not seem to matter. During the campaign, former Republican campaign worker Salena Zito wrote famously and accurately that “his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.” This interesting response diminishes the importance of truth in our culture. “They all lie,” some Americans say, referring to politicians and also to the media. Consequently there is no such thing as truth, so you might as well simply believe (or choose not to question) the candidate or news source that you like best. Cynicism has replaced skepticism. Instead of truth and falsehood, there are facts and “alternative facts,” to quote Conway. Luckily, some investigative journalism still gets done.

The book notes that high school students generally hate history, finding it boring and irrelevant to their lives. It busts myths kids learn about various historical figures and periods, such as Christopher Columbus, who, Loewen writes, is presented by American history books as “pretty much without precedent” and as a hero. He wasn’t, and he wasn’t.

Loewen writes that American history books “unapologetically present Native Americans through white eyes,” and while these books have improved in their depictions, they still need to be more accurate in depicting Native American culture and reality.

And though written 23 years ago, the chapter titled “Choosing Not to Look at the War in Vietnam” remains as relevant as ever; many college students can’t explain what the conflict was all about.

Ask any student who Helen Keller was, and you will most likely hear that she was a blind and deaf girl who learned from her teacher, Anne Sullivan, how to read and write and even speak. They won’t tell you she was a radical socialist, which Loewen says is important to understanding her history.

Here’s the new introduction to the book:

“LIES MY TEACHER TOLD ME IN THE AGE OF ALTERNATIVE  FACTS”

For years, as I have spoken around the United States about how we get history wrong, I have promised audiences that they can buy Lies with no fear that it will become obsolete. “There will never be a third edition,” I pledge. The first edition had come out in 1995, based on my intensive reading of twelve high school U.S. history textbooks. For the second edition in 2007, I read only six new books, partly owing to publisher consolidation, but also because reading them is so tedious. “Nothing could get me to read another dozen high school history textbooks,” I tell my audiences. “They are just too boring.” Those statements are serious. Usually I then add, “Took me years of psychotherapy to get over it the last time.” So this new paperback is not a third edition. The only new words in it are in this preface. Lies My Teacher Told Me may have new significance, however, owing to detrimental developments in America’s recent public discourse.

I’m not the only reader who hates to read history textbooks. So do state and local textbook rating committees. Consider this: the 2007 edition of Lies My Teacher Told Me showed that two textbooks, A History of the United States and America: Pathways to the Present, were nearly identical for page after page. A year earlier, I had brought that startling fact to the attention of the New York Times, resulting in a front-page story, “Schoolbooks Are Given F’s in Originality.” But why was I the only person to note the similarity? For more than a year before I got them, rating committees across the nation—statewide in half our states, district-wide in the rest—supposedly had been reading and rating both books. Why didn’t any of them notice? Surely because their members—many of whom are themselves busy high school history teachers—couldn’t bear to read these ponderous volumes. Most likely they looked over the books but didn’t actually read them.

Indeed, state and local textbook committees should not select any 1,200-page hardcover book. As the introduction to the second edition points out, there is no pedagogical justification for such huge tomes. Their only reason for being is economic. These textbooks now retail for more than $100 and cost more than $70 even when ordered in quantity by states and school districts. It’s easy to understand why publishers keep on making them. It’s harder to understand why school districts keep buying them.

Surely the desired end product of high school U.S. history courses is graduates who can think clearly, distinguish evidence from opinion, and separate truth from what comedian Stephen Colbert famously called “truthiness.” Unfortunately, history textbooks and teachers who teach mainly from them do not help students build these capabilities. Instead, they impart information.

Mislabeled as “CRITICAL THINKING” in the early pages of the teacher’s edition of Paul Boyer’s Holt American Nation is this example: “How many days were in the Tzolkin and the Haab calendars?” For those of you who have somehow forgotten, these are two different Mayan calendars. I cannot imagine why Paul Boyer thinks students need to remember these words, but the teacher’s edition goes on to provide the answers: “Students should indicate that the Tzolkin had 260 days and the Haab had 365 days.” That’s all it says!

Two obvious questions arise, queries that do reflect thinking: Why would anyone invent a calendar as “wrong” as the Tzolkin?

How did the Mayans invent a calendar as accurate as the Haab? Also, did they invent adjustments, like leap year, for even closer accuracy?

Exploring the first topic might prompt students to relate the Tzolkin calendar to today’s religious calendars—Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, and so on. Exploring the second might help students realize that non-European people long ago, without telescopes and modern science, nevertheless thought accurately about the world. Absent any such context, learning these twigs (certainly we are not encountering a forest or even a tree here) has nothing to do with developing critical thinking.

Other “critical thinking” exercises in U.S. history textbooks suffer from a second form of pathetic pedagogy: they merely invite unsubstantiated speculation. Consider this “CRITICAL THINKING” item from The Americans: “Why did European explorers believe they could simply claim lands for their home countries, even though these lands were already populated?” This is indeed a serious question. But I doubt that anyone at McDougal Littell really wants students to buckle down and devote the several days that would be required to begin a serious answer. I doubt that the five putative authors of the book have any idea the publisher even posed it. Teachers who use the question, I suspect, simply invite students to opine off the top of their heads. Critical thinking requires assembling data to back up one’s opinion. Otherwise students may falsely conclude that all opinions are somehow equal. Textbooks pose scores of questions like these. They don’t pose them seriously.

Sometimes the information that textbooks impart is completely correct. Sometimes it is flatly wrong. And sometimes we—the community of scholars—just don’t know for sure. The second and fourth chapters of Lies My Teacher Told Me are filled with examples of that third kind—“facts” of which we cannot (yet) be sure. Did the first people in this hemisphere walk across Beringia? Did a horrific explosion from space decimate the population of North America 13,000 years ago? Did people from Egypt reach the Americas long before Columbus? Instead of teaching such items as facts or omitting them as false, textbooks and teachers should present them as hypotheses. Then students could learn how to marshal evidence on each side, come to a conclusion, but still reserve room for doubt.

Way back in 1974, I led a group of professors and students at Tougaloo College to write a new textbook of Mississippi history, Mississippi: Conflict and Change. Even though we intended it for ninth graders, we believed our job was to encourage students to think, not just “learn.” In an early boxed question, we referred readers to nine maps sprinkled throughout the book, “to try to answer this question: do soil resources attract industry? If not, try to discover what does bring about industrial growth.” We went on to say, “The answer is not easy. Possibly it involves the attitudes of a society, attitudes based on the kind of society it is; the society itself, in turn, was based long ago, in part, on the kind of land lying underneath.” Our hope was to get students thinking about causality in history, a topic mostly absent from U.S. high school textbooks. We also intended to increase students’ map literacy, so they could see how patterns from a shaded map or dot map might relate to a landform map. Again, nothing like this occurs in any high school history textbook. They merely ask students to opine.

An early page of Mississippi: Conflict and Change armed readers with ten “Questions to Ask of Historical Sources.” We pointed out that writers’ ideologies and locations in social structure usually influence what they write. At the same time, we noted, any author may write the truth, so the reader “must sift through his/her words, separating truth from falsehood. These questions can help:

Some of the above queries are at least mildly subversive. They suggest readers should not only examine what an author wrote, but also why. Four decades later, U.S. history textbooks still do not provide students with similar tools for critical thinking. Textbooks avoid provocative words like “ideology,” which means one’s understanding of how the social world works.

Textbook authors also never invite students to critique their own work. Again, our Mississippi textbook shows this can be done. For example, we noted that only four of our twenty-five mini-biographies were of women. “Has the book therefore been guilty of discrimination against women?” we then asked. Such a question implies that students can think for themselves, which then helps them learn to do so. When students are not asked to assess, but only to remember, they do not learn how to assess or how to think for themselves.

I give these examples not to tout an old book, now out of print, but to show that textbooks could help students develop critical reading skills. Even before the web, when the mainstream media were the main sources of news, students needed to read critically. All too often reporters simply wrote stories based on press releases by people in office. If a controversy erupted, newspapers did take care to quote people on both sides, and TV news show hosts would interview one person from each side. As usually performed, this practice implied that the two points of view were basically equal, morally and factually. Only a handful of newspapers and almost no television stations did actual investigative journalism to disprove false claims. Such “reporting” did not help readers become astute sifters of information, because sometimes only one side was right.

My use of the past tense in the previous paragraph does not mean that this shallow means of presenting “news” has stopped. On the contrary, in two ways the web has made things worse. First, it has jeopardized the finances of newspapers. When retailers found they could reach potential customers more cheaply online, many decreased advertising in newspapers. The country’s largest online store, Amazon, rarely advertises in print. At the same time, subscription revenue plummeted. When readers found they could get headlines, sports news, crossword puzzles, and their horoscopes online, many stopped subscribing to newspapers. As a result, newspapers have had to shrink their staffs, especially their reporters and editors, so even less investigative journalism now gets done. As Kellyanne Conway, counselor to President Trump and inventor of the term “alternative facts,” put it, “I’m old enough to remember when news stations reported the news and didn’t just have a parade of pundits going out there and opinionating.”

Moreover, television news programs have learned that booking flamboyant extremists on each side makes for more entertaining viewing, hence higher ratings, than serious journalism. Again, this means less real news gets presented, and the various viewpoints that remain seem to be presented as moral and factual equivalents.

Second, the plethora of outlets on the web means that people can get news stories, including “fake news,” otherwise known as hoaxes, that suit them. If they are left-wing, they can subscribe to Daily Kos and Huffington Post. If they are right-wing, they can subscribe to Breitbart or the Drudge Report. Less often do they subscribe to outlets that provide several points of view. As a result, their thinking rarely gets challenged, so they become still less likely or able to assess information critically.

I write during Donald Trump’s presidency. Even on clear matters of public record, such as the size of the crowd that attended his inauguration, President Trump has lied. To many Americans his lying does not seem to matter. During the campaign, former Republican campaign worker Salena Zito wrote famously and accurately that “his supporters take him seriously, but not literally.”  This interesting response diminishes the importance of truth in our culture. “They all lie,” some Americans say, referring to politicians and also to the media. Consequently there is no such thing as truth, so you might as well simply believe (or choose not to question) the candidate or news source that you like best. Cynicism has replaced skepticism. Instead of truth and falsehood, there are facts and “alternative facts,” to quote Conway. Luckily, some investigative journalism still gets done.

The morning after the president’s inauguration, Trump’s press secretary, Sean Spicer, apparently on order from the president, said, “That was the largest audience to witness an inauguration, period.” Kellyanne Conway defended the claim, using the phrase “alternative facts.” The reporter questioning her responded, “Alternative facts are not facts. They’re falsehoods.” This was the first of many clashes between the new administration and the media.

Trump and his supporters are hardly the first to decry the media. George Washington complained that newspapers were trying “to destroy the confidence which it is necessary the people should place . . . in their public servants.”

The masterminds of our war in Vietnam, Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, tried to manipulate the media, which usually worked, notoriously about the Gulf of Tonkin incident, when they got newspapers to report on enemy ship movements that didn’t exist. That manipulation undermined the public’s confidence in the media after the truth came out. Johnson and Nixon also tried to suppress the media, also usually successfully, which again undermined the media after the truth came out. When that did not work, both, along with Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, attacked the media as biased, wrong, and anti-American.

Attacks on the media have also been common outside the federal government. By 1960, John Birch Society members and others on the right were disparaging “the mainstream liberal press.” For decades many black intellectuals complained that the media shows only what its white overseers let it show. Since Marx and Engels, many leftists have claimed that the only ideas that get a media platform in a capitalist society are the ideas of the capitalist class. More recently, leftists have decried the “corporate overlords” of the media, pointing to NBC’s ownership by General Electric, a key player in the military-industrial complex, as an example.

Inadvertently, many academics have compounded the problem. In a triumph of “postmodern thinking,” many historians now claim there is no such thing as truth, or that “truth is socially constructed,” as I have heard many a graduate student say. Writing in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Leon Botstein, president of Bard College, identified this trend in current thought, noting that “this notion that there is no legitimate basis for privileging one point of view over another now holds a good deal of sway.”

When people say to me that there’s no such thing as truth, I sometimes reply with a little shtick: “Right! And the Civil War began in 1876, in Nevada. It grew from a pay dispute between the Union Pacific Rail Road and its Chinese workers.”

“B-but that’s not true!” comes the reply.

“Bingo!” There is a bedrock of fact. The Civil War did not start in 1876 in Nevada, but in 1861 in South Carolina. It had nothing to do with any railroad or Chinese Americans.

My example is too easy, some claim. It relies on wrong details, while there is room for nuance and argument when it comes to matters of interpretation. Sometimes this can be true, but Chapter 5 tells of perhaps a harder question, often considered a matter of interpretation: Why did southern states secede, leading to the Civil War? I have posed that question to audiences across the United States. Four answers always emerge: for slavery, for states’ rights, because of the election of Lincoln, and owing to issues about tariffs and taxes. Then I ask them to vote for their best single answer. Results have been remarkably uniform across the country. About 20 percent vote for slavery, 60 to 70 percent for states’ rights, 2 percent for the election of Lincoln, and 10 to 18 percent for tariffs and taxes. If we did history by majority vote, states’ rights would be the clear winner.

In the world of evidence, however, states’ rights is the clear loser. As Chapter 5 shows, when they left the Union, southern states said nothing about states’ rights, or at least nothing positive. “Our position is thoroughly identified with the institution of slavery,” announced Mississippi, and every other state said the same thing. The evidence is clear and comes from many sources: secession was all about slavery (and the ideology, white supremacy, that underlies and rationalizes it). Those who say “states’ rights” are 180º wrong. Evenhandedness is not appropriate. Evenhandedness is bad history. So is throwing up our hands and saying, with “neopragmatic” philosopher Richard Rorty, often cited by postmodern historians, “We should drop the idea of truth.”

There is no simple rule, like evenhandedness, to employ. There is no shortcut to amassing evidence and assessing it. When confronting a claim about the distant past or a statement about what happened yesterday, students—indeed, all Americans—need to develop informed skepticism, not nihilistic cynicism.

The problems we have pointed to with the media, elected officials, websites, and academics all make it particularly hard to be thoughtful about society today. Consequently, the education Americans get in K–12 history, civics, and social studies classes is more important now than ever.

Unfortunately, textbooks—as well as those teachers who teach them, rather than teaching history while using them—aren’t up to the task. About how people first got to the Americas, for example, textbooks and teachers could let students marshal evidence on behalf of one or another idea. The topic comes at the beginning of the school year, which is fortunate, because students could then build on these skills as they move on to the next topic and the next.

Instead, textbooks present “the answer” to “learn.” Authors who have not bothered to keep up with the literature in archaeology and the other relevant disciplines nevertheless pretend to know: people walked across the Bering Strait during the last ice age, when the ocean level had dropped. Even though most archaeologists have moved on from that answer, history textbooks still tell students to memorize it.

We must do better, and we can.

Decades ago, in Mississippi, I learned that history can be a weapon. It had been used against my students, to keep them in “their place.” (Chapter 5 tells this incident.) When I moved to Vermont, I came to see that false history was a national problem, not just a southern one. Mississippi exemplified the problem in more extreme form, but the problem was national.

Since then, I have come to two additional conclusions. First, the truth can set us free. That is, when we understand what really happened in the past, then we know what to do to cause our nation to remedy its problems in the present. The truth is, for example, that African Americans and Native Americans are not less intelligent than European Americans and Asian Americans. They test that way, true, but underlying the disappointing test results are social causes, including test bias and educational and social inequities, that we can readily fix. So we do not need to fear the truth.

Second, there is a reciprocal relationship between truth about the past and justice in the present. When we achieve justice in the present, remedying some past event or practice, then we can face it and talk about it more openly, precisely because we have made it right. It has become a success story. Textbook coverage of the internment of Japanese Americans during World War II provides an example. History textbooks of the 1960s typically made no mention of the subject or dismissed it in a short paragraph. By 2007, however, they did much better: one book gave it two entire pages complete with photographs of a camp surrounded by barbed wire. Surely our passing a law in 1988 apologizing for the “grave injustice” and paying $20,000 to each survivor of the camps played a role in this improvement.

Conversely, a topic that is mystified or distorted in our history, like secession, usually signifies a continuing injustice in the present, like racism. Telling the truth about the past can help us make it right from here on.

At least I hope so. That belief has motivated most of my professional life, including the years I have spent on this book. I believe that most Americans, once they understand why things are as they are, will work to foster justice where there was unfairness and truth where lies prevailed.