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Columbus Day ( Dare I Say?)

Oct 3, 2018 by

We are bearing down on what has become an explosive and polarizing holiday: Columbus Day.
Was Columbus the larger than life instrument of destiny and template of pure heroism who subdued the tempestuous seas, his hand guided by divine providence to discover a new promised land? 

Or was he an arch-villain,albeit a product of his times, whose positive contributions have been eclipsed by his bloody legacy of slaughtering indigenous peoples, decimating their culture and inflicting disease and ruin upon them?
What are we teaching our kids?  What should we?

Textbooks have for many generations advanced a one-sided and simplistic portrait of Columbus with no hint of the atrocities which historians generally concede he meted out.

Critic may have overreacted to this inaccurate representation, because their interpretation of Columbus’s legacy is also not balanced, but perhaps some over-compensation in their case is excusable.

When examining Columbus, it seems there are no shades of gray, little proportion and the barest context.  In schools, history lessons tend to be filtered through an ideological prism. That’s not limited to Columbus Day.

Traditionalists and critics of the customary Columbus portrayal both accuse each other of historical revisionism. They are both right and both wrong, although the more dangerous and fundamental errors of judgement are held by the pro-Columbus camp.

How should we celebrate Columbus Day? By commercial sales, ethnic boasting, a day off from school and overtime pay for federal workers? Anything more? How should schools prepare?

Let’s teach the whole story of Columbus,–the good, bad and the ugly.  It should not be about either adulation or loathing. Let’s paint Columbus, not whitewash him.  Our students should know what he actually did and see him for actually was: “warts and all.”

Ron Isaac

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