Brave explorer or genocidal maniac? Will the real Christopher Columbus stand up? And what should we tell our students about the man and his legacy?
Columbus Day is a “ complex and conflicting event” for Mr. D, a New York City social studies teacher. The explorer was the only Italian he saw in most social studies textbooks growing up. Compared to pop culture icons like Don Corleone and Tony Soprano, Columbus “was proof that Italians need not be criminals to succeed on this continent. Yet the decades of historical revision about him cannot be ignored,” he writes.
“In academia, Columbus-bashing is a cottage industry: you’re not even considered a credible historian if you don’t rough up old Chris at least a little bit. Like an incoming tide, the knocking of Columbus involved numerous waves and relentless advances….Even the stone-cold fact of Columbus’ first voyage has been downgraded from a “discovery” to an “encounter”, as if Chris and the Taino were matched up on eHarmony using their ridiculously long questionnaire.
So, Mr. D asks: Is there enough good to salvage Columbus’ holiday from total irrelevance?
Whether you admire or abhor the man, this much is true: Columbus’ first voyage was a world-changing event. A barrier that seemed impossible was now breached; in fact multiple times, by Columbus himself. Two worlds once isolated now formed a new and transformative connection, for good or ill. The development of two continents, and subsequently the world at large, could have taken a far different course had the voyage not succeeded.
Teachers should make sure Columbus gets his day in the sun—warts and all, Mr D concludes. “Please, no more crappy wall decorations with three pathetic sailboats and what looks like Buster Brown in a funny robe saying hi to what appears to be Sitting Bull and the Hekawi tribe from F Troop,” he writes. “Give your students the real deal about the voyage, the dangers, and the historical significance of reaching the Americas.”