‘Scuse Me, Great Nations Comin’ Through!

by Robert Pondiscio
October 12th, 2009

The Wall Street Journal notes the tradition of honoring Christopher Columbus for sailing the ocean blue in 1492 “is facing rougher seas than the Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria” and wonders if the holiday is in danger of sailing off the calendar. 

Columbus’ stature in elementary school classrooms has declined through the years.  The Associated Press notes “many teachers are trying to present a more balanced perspective of what happened after Columbus reached the Caribbean and the suffering of indigenous populations.” In Texas, the idea that Columbus “discovered America” is out.  Instead, 5th graders learn about the “Columbian Exchange” — the widespread exchange of people, plants, animals, goods, ideas and diseases that occurred after Columbus landed in the Americas.   Fourth graders at one Pennsylvania school held a mock trial and found the navigator guilty of thievery, the AP reports.  They sentenced him to life in prison.   “In their own verbiage, he was a bad guy,” said teacher Laurie Crawford.

Over at Jay Greene’s Blog, Jay points out that ”many of the new answers offered are at least as simplistic and historically false as the established answers they are meant to replace.”  Describing the people from whom Europeans confiscated lands as “Indigenous Peoples or First Nations” is inaccurate, since those people had previously confiscated it from earlier groups.  “You can’t just declare that history starts whenever it suits you,” Greene writes. 

These arguments aren’t going away anytime soon.  For a decidely arch take on the “Columbian Exchange,” here’s Randy Newman’s wry  ”The Great Nations of Europe.”

Columbus sailed for India, found Salvador instead.
He shook hands with some Indians and soon they all were dead.
They got TB and typhoid and athlete’s foot, diptheria and the flu,
‘Scuse me great nations comin’ through!

1 Comment »

  1. Love that Randy Newman!

    Comment by Paul Hoss — October 12, 2009 @ 6:18 pm

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