I have unshakable faith in children. They always show me the way. ♥

Monday, October 12, 2009

rethinking columbus day...

I have the hardest time with Columbus Day.

In our school system, first graders have to learn about the Columbus Day holiday. To their credit, they no longer tout him as the person who discovered America, but instead say that he was "given credit" for doing so.

When I teach about Columbus, children usually have some knowledge about him already. We talk about his plan to find a western route for sailing to the east, and how his mistake taught people in Europe about lands they did not know existed. We also talk about how there were already people living in the places he landed, so he didn't discover a new land, but rather find land that many people hadn't known about before. I tell them that he didn't always make the best choices with how he treated the new people he met, that sometimes he didn't treat them well at all.

What first graders have to learn is simple: that Columbus Day is a holiday that celebrates Christopher Columbus, that he was given credit for discovering America, and that Columbus day is celebrated in October.

But Christopher Columbus is far from simple. The way he treated the Taino people that he came into contact with, the way he wrote about them as people that would make good servants... I don't necessarily think Columbus Day is the right holiday to be celebrating.

So, I face a professional dilemma every October: how do I make sure children get the knowledge that they're going to need for the future (and, let's face it, for the standardized tests they're going to have to take in a few years), but also make sure not to paint a saccharine, contrived picture of something untrue?

There's a wonderful website and resource - www.rethinkingschools.org. I don't spend enough time reading articles here, but there is a wealth of knowledge here. I've recently found another site: reconsidercolumbusday.org. It's not a well designed site, but there is a thoughtful video there that's worth watching.

So, I don't have any answers to this, mostly just questions. I wonder: how do you reconcile your own teaching dilemmas?

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