Oct 11, 2009

History is little else than a picture of human crimes and misfortunes. Voltaire You may have heard that tomorrow is Columbus Day. At least among those segments of the population that still celebrate the arrival of the explorer in the New World. That would be the public sector workers and old-time Catholics. Most of the rest of us have long ago stopped honoring Columbus as anything but a guy who brought a load of trouble to the native people living in the Western Hemisphere. There was a story this morning by AP writer Dorie Turner, in which she chronicled the change in the perception of Columbus among US elementary school students. In the article entitled, A darker side of Columbus emerges in US classrooms, Turner details how elementary school teachers are teaching an enlightened version of the Columbus saga. According to one visionary kindergarten teacher, the kids in his class think Columbus was a "bad dude". Never mind that this "darker view" emerged about 30 years ago and disregard the fact that a teacher can make elementary students believe most anything. Columbus is not a hero, at least by 21st century standards. His hero status based upon the 15th century norms is something else altogether. But we forget that part. Columbus, for better or worse, was a man of his times. Stronger, more technologically advanced people have always used their superiority to victimized weaker people. Whether it is the European explorers or the Apache terrorizing the Pima in the Southwest. The only difference is the technological limitation on their ability to wreck havoc on their victims. Teaching history is always a selective thing. We choose history that reinforces what we believe to be right . So, Old World conquerors bad, New World conquerors not so much? In the current mythology, all European invaders are murdering opportunists and all indigenous people are peace-loving innocents. Neither is completely true, but it makes us feel good to believe it. History provides us the luxury of seeing how things turned out for both sides. Five hundred years removed from the events of the time, we are all experts on what we would have done differently. There is certainly no justification for teaching about New World exploration without recognizing that indigenous people were victimized, murdered, uprooted and plagued by Old World diseases. All for the enrichment of European powers. If you want to teach school children that Columbus was a "bad dude", a good start would be to stop taking Columbus Day off. Things in this blog represented to be fact, may or may not actually be true. The writer is frequently wrong, sometimes just full of it, but always judgmental and cranky

8 comments:

Megan said...

Well, I'm happy to have tomorrow off. Any port in a storm!

Kurt said...

He was a pretty intrepid explorer. He should get some credit for that.

Barbara said...

I don't see anyone apologizing for Columbus so much as to give back all the land we eventually stole from the Indians. It is rather strange how the re-telling of history re-writes it sometimes. It's all a matter of perception. Maybe one day we will be the heroes who saved Afghanistan and Iraq, but somehow I rather doubt it...

Reya Mellicker said...

Humans are humans. I agree with you that history is always more complicated than the good/bad paradigm.

Self loathing has become very popular among European-Americans. Does that help anything?

Steve said...

I'm with Kurt -- I think he gets points for sheer bravery, sailing off to the ends of the earth without any idea about what was out there. And he can't be entirely responsible for the actions of all the conquerors who came after him.

I don't get Columbus Day off, though. I'm at work as usual.

The Bug said...

I got today off - a surprise gift from Corporate! I'm happy to not be working. But I have to say I am just a smidge uncomfortable with the holiday. I'm like Reya - it's all so complicated, and we do tend to enjoy feeling guilty too...

Coffee Messiah said...

Damn, I thought this post was about Columbo ; (

Julia said...

Well said.