Left-wing lesson plan puts Christopher Columbus, western civilization on trial for ‘slaughter’ of natives

Oct 3, 2013 by

MILWAUKEE – On October 14, Americans will commemorate Columbus Day, the federal holiday designed to honor Christopher Columbus’ discovery of the “New World,” which ultimately led to the creation of the United States of America.

“Commemorate” might be overstating things a bit. The privileged few among us – primarily state and federal employees – will mark the fateful 1492 voyage with a three-day weekend. Most Americans, however, won’t even think about the Italian explorer until they find their mailbox is empty when they get home from work.

As one writer has noted, Columbus Day has always been a “lackluster” holiday since its creation in 1937.

The nation’s indifference toward Columbus and his accomplishments should please progressives and left-wingers who blame him for – in the words of one critic – “discrimination, diseases and the death of thousands of Native American people.”

But indifference isn’t strong enough of an emotion for the radical teachers and malcontents who comprise Rethinking Schools, a Milwaukee-based company that provides activist teachers with lesson plans.

These extremist educators want American school children to despise Columbus – and the “diseased” private property-based economic system he imported from Europe – as much as they do.



That’s where Rethinking Schools’ role-play lesson, “The People vs. Columbus, et al.,” comes in. The lesson was written by longtime high school teacher and Rethinking Schools Curriculum Editor Bill Bigelow.

As the title suggests, Bigelow’s lesson emphasizes how the indigenous peoples of the “New World” were negatively affected by Columbus’ discovery. Specifically, the role play connects Columbus’ first colony on Hispaniola (present day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) to the demise of the Taíno natives who populated the island.

The obvious goal of “The People vs. Columbus, et al.” is to portray Columbus as a genocidal conqueror and to condemn the entire economic and political system he represented.

As Bigelow writes in the introduction:

“This role play begins with the premise that a monstrous crime was committed in the years after 1492, when perhaps as many as three million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives. … Who – and/or what – was responsible for this slaughter? This is the question students confront here.”

The Europeans’ ‘rotten and insane’ economic system

Activist teachers of lesser ability would use a simple lecture to demonize Columbus and his European values.

But Bigelow is a skilled propagandist who knows it’s far more effective to have students reach that (pre-determined) conclusion on their own.

That’s why Bigelow’s lesson is a role play that presents students with five potential culprits for the Taínos’ demise: Columbus, Columbus’ men, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the Taínos themselves, and the “system of empire.” (Taínos are included as defendants because their decision not to kill Columbus and his men could be seen as a dereliction of duty.)

According to the guidelines of Bigelow’s activity, students are placed in one of five groups and instructed to portray their assigned “defendant.” Students are then given “indictment” sheets – Bigelow’s term – that contains background information to help them build their defense. After a vigorous “half hour” of preparation, the “trial” is held.

One by one, the teacher-prosecutor makes a case for each “defendant’s” guilt while students offer their defense to a student-led jury.

Bigelow advises the teacher-prosecutor to save “the system of empire” defendant for last.

He recommends this because, as one of Bigelow’s “indictment” sheets makes clear, “the system of empire” is the truly guilty party in the Taínos’ demise.

Bigelow writes:

“True, Columbus’ men did the killing, Columbus gave the orders and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella paid the bills – and took the profits. But what made them behave the way they did? Were they born evil and greedy? The real blame lies with a system that values people over property.

“European society was organized so that an individual had to own property to feel secure. The more property one owned, the more security, the more control over one’s destiny. There was no security without private ownership of property. If you were poor, you could starve.

“The Taínos were not perfect, but they had no ‘poor’ and no one starved. Indians commented that Europeans’ love of gold was like a disease. In fact, this attitude was a product of a diseased system.



“In order to get more wealth, Columbus and his men took Taínos as slaves, terrorized them into searching out gold and forced them to work on their farms and in their mines. …

“It was a rotten and insane system that led Columbus and the others to behave the way they did. …

“Any European conqueror would have been every bit as bad as Columbus. Why? Because the system of empire was to blame, not any particular individual.”

Time to defend Columbus

It’s tough to gauge whether Bigelow’s Columbus-hating, anti-American lesson is widely used or not.

We do know it was featured in a recent “back to school” email sent to teachers all across the country by Rethinking Schools and their partner organization, the Zinn Education Project. And we also know that Bigelow’s low view of Columbus is shared by many left-wing professors who are busy training the next generation of teachers.

Thankfully, there are a few academically honest historians and educators are pushing back against this oversimplified view of Columbus.

In 2000, Seton Hall University professor William Connell told the New York Times that scholars “have to be very careful about applying 20th-century understandings of morality of the 15th century.”

“Columbus didn’t start slavery,” Connell said. “He brought the entrepreneurial form of slavery to the New World. It was a phenomenon of the times. With all great figures of the past, we need more understanding, critical understanding that sees the person’s flaws and inaccuracies and myths that have arisen around him, but we shouldn’t forget the tremendous changes they created.”

And in 2011, educator and writer Charlotte Cushman offered this defense of the explorer:

“Christopher Columbus is under attack because he symbolizes the beginning of America, which is a shining product of Western civilization. … When Columbus is viciously condemned, it is the dominant ideas of our culture that are threatened. Reason, science, individualism, and progress are morally superior to collectivism and stagnation. The ideas of Western civilization have led to our survival, well-being and happiness. …

“It’s time to stand up and defend Christopher Columbus.”

Left-wing lesson plan puts Christopher Columbus, western civilization on trial for ‘slaughter’ of natives – EAGnews.org powered by Education Action Group Foundation, Inc..

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