Native Village Youth and Education News
November, 2009   Volume 2

Kids Study the Dark Side of Columbus
Condensed by Native Village

TAMPA, Fla.  During October, classrooms across the country celebrated Christopher Columbus's voyage to the New World as feats of navigation and raw courage. But in others schools Columbus's stature has declined, and many districts no longer observe his namesake holiday.

Today, many teachers are offerin more balanced lessons of events after the Italian-Spanish explorer reached the Caribbean. They talk about the suffering of indigenous populations, beginning with the
Arawak (Taino) peoples.

  "I talk about the situation where he didn't even realize where he was," said kindergarten teacher Jeffery Kolowith.   "And we talked about how he was very, very mean, very bossy."

  "The whole terminology has changed. You don't hear people using the world 'discovery' anymore like they used to. 'Columbus discovers America.' Because how could he discover America if there were already people living here?"" said James Kracht,  Texas A&M College of Education and Human Development.

  In Texas, students start learning in the fifth grade about the "Columbian Exchange" where not only gold, crops and goods were shipped back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean, but also diseases carried by settlers that decimated native populations.

   4th-grade students in McDonald PA put Columbus on trial this year charging him with misrepresenting the Spanish crown and thievery. They found him guilty and sentenced him to life in prison. "In their own verbiage, he was a bad guy," said teacher Laurie Crawford.

  "We have a very large Alaska native population, so just the whole Columbus being the founder of the United States, doesn't sit well with a lot of people, myself included" said Paul Prussing from Alaska's Division of Teaching and Learning Support.

  New York City, Washington and Chicago schools will no longer be closed for "Columbus Day."

Some people claim the discussion has shifted too far. Patrick Korten, a vice president within the Knights of Columbus organization, mentions a lesson at a New Jersey school.  Some students were forced to stand in a cafeteria and not allowed to eat while other students teased and intimidated them apparently so they could better understand the suffering indigenous populations endured because of Columbus.

"My impression is that in some classrooms, it's anything but a balanced presentation," Korten, said.  "That it's deliberately very negative, which is a matter of great concern because that is not accurate."

"Every hero is somebody else's villain," said Felipe Fernandez-Armesto, a scholar and author of several books related to Columbus, including "1492: The Year the World Began."  "Heroism and villainy are just two sides of the same coin."

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