Christopher Columbus, the truth?

Today is Columbus Day. We celebrate the voyage taken by this explorer, his discovery of America, and the many wonderful things that have happened since. We teach our children about the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. We sing songs and we talk about life in 1492. But, what is the real story? Read the Oatmeal here: for a slideshow that shows some of the more disturbing facts about this explorer that we celebrate.

History is a hard subject to teach. How do you distill a long life, a devastating war, or a decade of contradictions into a forty minute lesson? Oh, you also have to take attendance, check homework, maintain classroom order, and complete the fire drill. Don’t ever complain about teachers to me, I think it is a miracle that our kids ever learn anything. But, back to the main point, how do we teach Columbus?

I think we do a little bit of what we are doing. When kids are young we give them the outline of history and present important people, a review of holidays, a sense of time and change. As they age we fill in details and flesh out the stories. As they approach an age of reason and discussion we present competing ideas, gray areas, points of contention. We look at different sides of the story, we look at how stories are made, we look at how all of the facts come together and still offer a contradictory foundation upon which we build the story of our country.

When kids are young and in elementary school, we are scaffolding. We are providing a place to ask those questions, challenge those assumptions, and jump to the next level. I’m not saying we should tell glowing stories about Columbus or anyone else. We can give the facts as we know them and we can also talk about truth and fiction, stories and science. We can remind them that history is a story, it is written by the winners, and it is and always will be flawed.

We can also remember that children love stories and they love those anchors that tie them to their families, their communities, and their history. They like to know their place in the flow of time and their connection to the past as they contemplate the future. The study of history gives this to them. Our stories today will flow into questions tomorrow, and, we hope, understanding, empathy, and reason for tomorrow. Click the picture for the full slideshow at The Oatmeal or click HERE.

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