Why You Need to Rethink Columbus Day Right Now

October 31, 2016

On Monday October 10, Gould history teacher Savannah Sessions gave a talk to the school on Columbus Day. Savannah artfully tied together the history of the Columbian exchange and a Dr. Seuss story “The Sneetches” to explore issues of bias and discrimination in American history. So I think it’s fitting to close with another thought from Bill Bigelow. She closed her talk with these thoughts:

Columbus Day

Ms. Sessions challenging a group of Gould ninth graders to identify their biases.

“Rethinking Columbus was never just about Columbus. It was part of a broader movement to surface other stories that have been silenced or distorted in the mainstream curriculum… Let’s continue to use this and every so-called Columbus Day to tell a fuller story of what Columbus’s voyage meant for the world, and especially for the lives of the people who’d been living here for generations. And let’s push beyond ‘Columbus’ to nurture a ‘people’s history’ —searching out those stories that help explain how this has become such a profoundly unequal world, but also how people have constantly sought greater justice.”

Check out Episode 1 of the Gould Idea Cast and hear Ms. Sessions discuss her thought provoking presentation to the Gould community on Columbus Day.

In Gould’s US History classrooms, students are also exploring similar questions. The Gould 11th grade US History courses is using Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States in conjunction with the US State Department’s US History text. From Zinn’s book, students were exposed to the perspective of the Colombian invasion on the Bahamas and South America. The US History students had a rich discussion about the differences between the romanticized versions of Christopher Columbus we all learned in elementary school to what Zinn describes as a genocide of the Arawak people.

Gould history teacher Katie Stack noted that despite their understanding of romanticism of Columbus it was hard for them to change their initial perceptions of the history. Her students reflected on what they learned from their reading and discussion:

“It is interesting that the story of Columbus is told similarly around the world. It makes me wonder what other stories of history are romanticized around the world that aren’t the whole truth, or the detailed truth…the side-by-side comparison gives a much deeper lesson of history because we can see it from multiple perspectives” – Matthew Bennett ’17

“What is often depicted as a ‘melting pot’, was really people being removed from their homes and being forcefully relocated. My perspective of the big melting pot has changed to one of question as to where the values of America really came from. ” – Noah Grammas ’18

“Zinn does not sugar coat any of the horrific details or terrible events these people withstood. He describes the lives of the black slaves and indentured laborers, along with an explanation of their horrendous travels to America. ”
Nicole Kutenplon ’18

“Typically Columbus and America’s discovery are grossly over glorified. In elementary school we were taught that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, landed in America started the colonies, and shared Thanksgiving with the Native Americans. Reading Zinn’s book paints a completely different picture, in which Columbus is not a hero but an anti-hero who unnecessarily kills and plunders in the name of God and his country.” – Ellie Bailey ’18

Brad Clarke
Dr. Clarke is the Associate Dean of Academics and History Department Chair at Gould. He loves his family, trail running, playing baseball, and his epic collection of vinyl records.

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