“Mother Teresa Was A Saint”: 26 Historical Inaccuracies Taught In School
We know that before scientists came along and began questioning everything, people were capable of wholeheartedly believing and defending false theories as if their very lives depended on them. Even when evidence to the contrary was provided, it took time before the ideas took hold and convinced people of the real situation.
Thus, it’s no big leap to conclude that there are still so many false theories that people may as yet be spouting or believing in. So when one Redditor inquired online, “What historical inaccuracy is still taught often?”, the responses rolled in and we’ve shared some of the most insightful answers in the gallery below.
#1 Tuskegee experiment.
Image source: hannamarinsgrandma, By Department of Health, Education, and Welfare. Public Health Service. Health Services and Mental Health Administration. Center for Disease Control. Venereal Disease Branch (1970 – 1973). – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing., Public Domain
The government did not inject men with syphilis, they took men who already had syphilis, and pretended to treat them so they could study how it ravaged the body over time left untreated.
Still just as cruel though.
That Native Americans were one homogenous group who all agreed upon who could live on which bit of land and always had peaceful arrangements with one another before the Europeans arrived. In actuality, there was tribal warfare often. Culturally, there was so much variety. People should learn more about the Cahokians who were unique in that they built a city rather than just a village or being nomads.
I don’t think it’s taught but the general American seem to believe that cowboys were mostly White people. When in actuality it was Mexicans and even Black people after they were freed. It was considered a lowly position in the Wild West. If a cowboy was White, he was a very poor White. White people were on the frontier farming and such. Asians (the Chinese) did laundry and were cooks. That’s where a lot of Chinese-American foods originated from. People also seem to forget that this time period, which was maybe only 30-50 years, had three pinnacle events unfold in US history—the Transcontinental Railroad was completed, The Chinese Exclusion Act went into law, and slavery was abolished. I may be wrong but I believe in that order too.
#4 That Frankenstein is the monster, but in actuality Frankenstein is the doctor not the monster. The monster is actually called Frankenstein’s monster.
Image source: alemar2142
#5 That Mother Teresa was a saint but in reality she was a racist money loader. Information about this topic can be found even from the New York Times archives.
In New Zealand, they sometimes seem to be taught that they had the highest casualty rate in both World Wars. I worked with a New Zealander who got genuinely angry when I said that it wasn’t even close to being true. I put it down to him being misinformed, but then I saw another NZer making the same claim on the Guardian website.
They got confused.. They had the highest rate of deaths per 1 million people in the commonwealth (not the world). “Post-war calculations indicated that New Zealand’s ratio of killed per million of population (at 6684) was the highest in the Commonwealth (with Britain at 5123 and Australia, 3232).”
#7 That the loss of the American colonies was a devastating blow to the British. As an American, I was taught this multiple times. In reality, the loss of the Revolutionary War was a minor blip in British history. The loss of India and Singapore after WW2 was a devastating blow. But the British didn’t and still don’t care about the loss of the 13 colonies.
Image source: anon
#8 For some reason, people still seem to think that Marie Antoinette said, “Let them eat cake,” when she said no such thing. History has not treated her well.
Image source: TheVoicesAreMine
#9 The myth of the Alamo and birth of Texas vs the real story of why Mexican army attacked. All the illegal immigrants from the US breaking laws on Mexican land (Texas), not paying taxes, and still pushing things like slavery even though it was against Mexican law.
Image source: martineden1234
Image source: Financial_County_710, By U.S. Air Force (Operation Holly 1970 (Folder 13 of 15), sheet 182) – This tag does not indicate the copyright status of the attached work. A normal copyright tag is still required. See Commons:Licensing., Public Domain
The Vietnam War started in the mid-sixties when it started in the fifties.
apocalypse_chow replied: And lasted into the 70s. Good God, that was a disaster
SHIELD_Agent_47 replied: Some misinformed people still teach that the USA did not lose the war (by using the red herring of a slow withdrawal) when in reality North Vietnam succeeded in their goal of kicking out the occupying foreigners and reunifying Vietnam.
#11 r/askhistorians can teach you a lot more about these, but one thing that seems to be kind of implicitly taught is that since medieval Europeans were white, therefore they never saw or interacted with anyone who wasn’t. I’m not saying there were a *lot* of people of colour in Europe at the time (there weren’t) but Europeans did travel to other continents and had contact with Africans and Asians going back to the classical era and before.
Also foreigners did travel to Europe sometimes and there were the Romani people (who are from India) living all over Europe. The Mongols invaded Europe in the 13th century or so, and the Arabs once colonized Spain. So a work about the Vikings or something that has a few people of colour in it wouldn’t necessarily be inaccurate.
Image source: vayyiqra
#12 Generally when it comes to the slave movement in the United States most people have the impression that slavers just went over and kidnapped the natives, which although did happen, wasn’t the only way slaves were acquired. Quite a lot of slaves were actually bought from African chiefs, who’d sell their own and captured people to the Slavers.
Image source: AugustineBlackwater
#13 My mother and all her siblings were taught at a Catholic school that men have one less rib than women and that’s to origin of the Adam and Eve story. Completely untrue. Men and women have the same number of ribs.
#14 “Only 8 percent of U.S. high school seniors can identify slavery as the central cause of the Civil War.” So 92% of students are taught an inaccurate account of one of the most critical and defining parts of US history.
Albert Einstein didn’t fail his classes.. He succeeded very well.
Sometimes it’s repeated by adults trying to uplift younger kids who struggle in school. 3rd grader having trouble with long division and is crying because he thinks he’s stupid? “Aw, don’t worry, even Einstein failed math. Math is hard. You’re smart you just need to keep at it.” The “keep at it” part being the point (because in this legend, Einstein eventually stopped being bad at math).” But yes, that is something that older kids take and run with to argue that their crap grades are in fact evidence that they are brilliant geniuses, and it’s the school’s fault for not challenging their genius.
#16 The Declaration of Independence was signed on July 4, 1776. No, it was signed on July 2, it wasn’t announced until July 4 but regardless even Thomas Jefferson and John Adams, and others, wrote that they expected July 2 would be the date that would be celebrated with great festivities. That got lost to history.
#17 That only Europeans were colonizers or imperialists.
#18 That Napoleon was very short. He was slightly taller than an average Frenchman of his time. Around 168-170 cm. It was English propaganda. He was also often surrounded by his Imperial Guard who used to be a lot taller. Still, alot shorter than average Europeans these days.
#19 Corsets aren’t meant to be painful and tight lacing was only practiced by a few people.
Corsets originated as “stays” or “a pair of bodies” (sometimes “bodice”, though that word is used for other types of tops as well). They were originally basically like wearing a camisole with a built in bra. They were made of stiff canvas and has baleen (whale teeth) used to give them shape. I haven’t worn any with whale teeth but I have worn some with the plastic alternative that is said to be very close to the baleen. If they’re made correctly, they are snug but not tight. Your body heat will actually slightly melt the baleen or plastic into place and if you don’t gain or lose too much weight they become like memory foam after a while.
The reason we think of corsets and tight lacing is because a few women did it in the late Victorian and early Edwardian eras (late 1800s/early 1900s). But for most of the time that corsets were popular, the goal wasn’t to have a tiny waist, it was to have an hour glass figure. So you just padded out your bust and hips and bam! There were some women (and men) who hurt themselves achieving some impossible idea of beauty but a good modern equivalent would be: most women aren’t out here trying to look like Kim Kardashian. If they are then most of them are using non-invasive ways to look like her (like make up, hair dye, clothing). Some women are getting plastic surgery to look like her (butt implants, etc). But the women getting surgery to look like her are the minority.
I always seem to see some school teachers talking about Pearl Harbor, and some of them say that thats how WW2 started, I remember when I corrected them once, then i got to sit in the timeout corner.
Man, that must have been frustrating.
To be fair, that’s how WW2 started for the americans, but yes, it was already in full swing in other parts of the world.
There’s this ubiquitous photo of german soldiers removing the barrier that marked the german-polish border in 1939. It’s everywhere. It’s in documentaries, it’s shown in schools, it’s in history books etc. etc. and, correctly so, always in connection with the beginning of the war.
Almost every german has this photo drilled into their brain, and that it was taken in 1939, when the war started.
The Titanic disaster has rooted itself firmly in pop culture as one of those things we think we know the general story of, but the history is quite different. A few-
-Titanic wasn’t speeding
-The fourth funnel wasn’t “fake” or “a dummy”, it just served a different purpose than the other three. It was *not* purely aesthetic.
-Titanic didn’t go out with too little lifeboats… by 1912 standards. She actually had more than she was legally required to take, and was designed to take many, many more. The idea they were so sure of her reliability they cut on safety is very false. Also, no one ended up dying due to lack of boats, but lack of time. Titanic sank before she could launch all 20. While yes, it was inevitable that people would die due to lack of boats, they hadn’t reached that point by the final moments. The idea of people trapped on board waiting to die with no way off isn’t *quite* true. They were still trying to launch them within the last 5 minutes.
-Third class were not purposefully locked below and certainly not because of classism. This one requires a bit of a lengthy response but the short version is, it seemed to be all simply a matter of confusion and/or miscommunication. There was no active attempt to hold back passengers according to ticket- in fact, it was the exact opposite.
-There was no 300 foot gash. The damage was made along *roughly* 300 feet but it was a series of incredibly small indents and holes.
-Lack of binoculars- There was no such thing as “no binoculars”. They had plenty – I think we have three sets from the wreck alone. While it’s true that a last minute staffing change didn’t give the crows nest access to a pair, it’s incredibly important to understand it didn’t matter match. Binoculars were not favored especially high, and were not required. The closest thing we can get to blaming them is testimony that states that binoculars *maybe* would have been just enough to avoid the collision. Maybe- but certainly not for sure. Titanic was almost on top of the iceberg by the time it was sighted, binoculars would have done nothing to see it earlier. A reading of the testimony shows us wishful thinking and hypothesized hindsight, not blame or condemnation.
All of these are centered around the theme that Titanic was the victim of hubris. The history, however, shows that that narrative is a consequence of post tragedy press and not reality. Titanic was an incredibly safe and advanced ship with some absolutely horrible luck. It’s easy to nitpick to try and find reasons “why”, but the reality is Titanic was very safe on a normal, boring (albeit famous) and over cautionary sailing.
I’ve tried to hit some of the bigger, famous ones here. The more nerdy you get and down the rabbit hole you go, the more there is to unpack :)
Image source: YourlocalTitanicguy
No so much inaccurate but heavily downplayed. The American labor movement from 1880 – 1920’s was so bloody that my Anthropology professor referred to it as the second civil war.
The Battle of Blair Mountain, over 1,000,000 rounds were fired in a battle with workers who’d been fed up with 14 hour days in coal mines and living in tents and being brutalized by “private investigators,” thugs hired the Capitalists.” “Lots of good music came from it too. The IWW, communist Party, socialist party, and so on feature heavily here.” “The National Guard was called in by the Capitalists, who shot or imprisoned anyone who didn’t immediately get back in the mines.”
Image source: Lyn1987
There’s definitely this thought process that normal Germans (and Poles, Austrians, Hungarians, etc) didn’t know about the camps at all during the holocaust that gets pushed as fact in schools, which is b******t. The concept of the goings on at a KZ was absolutely something people knew. When my grandfather was growing up it was normal to ‘hire’ people from Dachau satellite camps to build fences or work in fields or whatever. The industrialization process and scale of it was news to them, for sure, but if something happened to you and you were sent to a KZ, everyone knew it was a death sentence, and you were going to be forced into labor until you died. By the time 1944 rolled around they were pretty aware of the gas chambers too, though most people didn’t believe it.
#24 Christopher Columbus discovered America. That’s been bs for a long time and still gets taught in schools.
Image source: Archangel02150, By Sebastiano del Piombo – This file was donated to Wikimedia Commons as part of a project by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. See the Image and Data Resources Open Access Policy, Public Domain
#25 Cortes and 500 Spaniards conquered the Aztec empire. It’s true that he only had a few hundred Spanish soldiers but he had tens of thousands indigenous allies who did most of the fighting.
#26 I don´t know if this is still up-to-date, but my history teacher always pointed out it was often falsely taught that the pyramids and temples of the ancient egyptian period were build by slaves. They were build by respected people that helped voluntrily.