Saturday, October 10, 2009

Columbus Was Lost

If you ask the average American about Christopher Columbus, they will usually tell you he "discovered" America in 1492. They look at me me with a dazed look when I say America wasn't lost.

Then I say; "If I left Billings, MT and ended up in Denver, CO; would I have discovered Denver?"

The answer is usually; "You can't discover it, there are people living there."

"Well, there were people living here when Columbus came. And to top it off he never set foot on North American soil."

Dr Oz said that men and women are hard wired differently. (Dah) He said men believe they know where they are, hence they don't need to ask for directions. Christopher Columbus truly believed that he had found India and a shorter route to the spice trade. What he really needed was a GPS unit.

One of the books I shared with my older students is the "Coyote Columbus Story" by Thomas King and illustrated by William Kent Monkman. The illustrations are almost cartoonish. I would read the story and ask the students to comment on what they noticed in the pictures. Visual Thinking Strategies work smoothly with this story.

From School Library Journal

"Grade 2-5-Coyote is in her female guise, and King reminds readers immediately that she is responsible for everything in the world-rainbows, rivers, toenail polish, and TV commercials. Her favorite thing of all is playing ball-all positions at once. But she finds it rather boring without a companion. However, the beavers have dams to build, and moose and turtles are also otherwise occupied. The humans will play, but they get rather hostile when Coyote wins every game. (After all she makes up the rules, and changes them as she pleases.) Then, three ships, Christopher Columbus, and a crew of clowns arrive. Will they play ball? No, they say, they've got to find things they can sell. No gold? No computer games? Convinced they're in India, they decide to grab some of the Native people and take them back to sell in Spain. Columbus sails away with his captives, the remaining humans catch the bus to Penticton, and when Coyote tries to fix things, what does she get? Another bunch of funny-looking clowns, led by Jacques Cartier. Monkman's illustrations are perfect. Brilliant colors are daubed onto screwball figures, and anachronisms abound. What seems a funny romp turns out to have a very sharp edge. This irreverent treatment of Columbus and his fellows may be disquieting to some, but it is long overdue."
Ruth Semrau, Upshur County Public Library, Gilmer, TX
Copyright 2003 Reed Business Information, Inc.

Seriously though, an excellent book to explore is "Rethinking Columbus: the Next 500 Years" 2nd ed, edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. This book is available from Rethinking Schools online. This book provides other voices that tell about the encounter of the Europeans and Native Americans.

I was reading the blog from National History Education Clearinghouse, "Teaching About Columbus Day: Mythbusters". The article is well written and has some wonderful links to other voices and perspectives. If you are curious go to Fact Monster and look at the timeline of Columbus Day.

Education World featured a lesson plan titled "Should we Celebrate Columbus Day?". The students are told they have been hired by a fictitious community to determine if the community should continue recognizing Columbus Day. The students use an inquiry model and primary sources to explore this question. This lesson plan is also available on the National Education Association Website (NEA).

Documents of Taino History and Culture has some great background information about the people who greeted Columbus.

Examining the Reputation of Christopher Columbus by Jack Weatherford is a very thought provoking article. He makes some very powerful observations.

"Because Columbus captured more Indian slaves than he could transport to Spain in his small ships, he put them to work in mines and plantations which he, his family and followers created throughout the Caribbean. His marauding band hunted Indians for sport and profit - beating, raping, torturing, killing, and then using the Indian bodies as food for their hunting dogs. Within four years of Columbus' arrival on Hispaniola, his men had killed or exported one-third of the original Indian population of 300,000. Within another 50 years, the Taino people had been made extinct [editor's note: the old assumption that the Taino became extinct is now open to serious question] - the first casualties of the holocaust of American Indians. The plantation owners then turned to the American mainland and to Africa for new slaves to follow the tragic path of the Taino.

This was the great cultural encounter initiated by Christopher Columbus. This is the event we celebrate each year on Columbus Day. The United States honors only two men with federal holidays bearing their names. In January we commemorate the birth of Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America. In October, we honor Christopher Columbus, who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide known in history." (Jack Weatherford)

1 comment:

  1. I really enjoyed reading your point of view. I live in an area where we do not celebrate Columbus Day, but instead celebrate Native Heritage Day. These links give a lot more insight into why this may be a more appropriate day.