High Schoolers Researching and Teaching True Columbus to 1st Graders

One of the reasons that I decided to become a history teacher is because when I got to college I became so upset at the many things the history classes I took before that point didn’t teach me. One of the events that upset me the most was when I learned the true history of Christopher Columbus. My earlier schooling just kept my knowledge at “Columbus was a brave explorer who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and discovered America”. It wasn’t until college that I realized he and his men murderedenslavedraped, and tortured the Arawak people that they met. The fact that we have only 6 federal holidays in our country and one of them is dedicated to this piece of trash, is beyond infuriating.

Last year my oldest son, who was in kindergartner at the time, brought home a book that was donated to the school about Columbus. I immediately read it and realized that this book was filth, because it made him out to be a hero. Here is how I handled that book with my son:

picture1

I thought about this incident over the summer; how little kids were still not learning the true history of Columbus. I decided this year to have one of my high school classes start a momentum to change this. As part of their culminating project on the legacy of colonization, they were to create a historically accurate, 1st grade appropriate children’s book of their own about Christopher Columbus. To take it one step further, I then partnered with some amazing teachers at a neighborhood elementary school to have my students read their books to the 1st grade students.

Before my students could begin to write their books, they had to research whether educated people believed the world was flat or round, if Columbus was the first non-indigenous person in this part of the world, learn about the encounter with the Arawak people, and then finally decide how Columbus should be remembered and if we should celebrate Columbus Day. All of these things were required to be in their book.

Here is the actual assignment:

Columbus Children's Book Assignment

Columbus Children’s Book Assignment

Since you don’t have the books my students researched and then made in front of you, here are some spoilers: Educated people believed the world to be round, the Vikings came to North America 500 years before Columbus AND Phoenicians from the African civilization of Carthage most likely came to North America 1500 years before the Vikings.

My students described Columbus’ encounter with the Arawak using 1st grade appropriate cruelty as, “Columbus enslaved all the Arawak’s and didn’t treat them as equals”, “Columbus took advantage of the Arawak’s because they were giving off good vibes, he hurt and damaged the Arawak tribe”, “He mistreated many women and children and forced them to do things they didn’t want to do”, “Because of the treatment of Columbus and his men the Arawak’s started dying rapidly because of the lack of the food, being abused or worse”.

While I would love to include the beautiful pictures of my 11th and 12th grade students reading to 1st graders I must respect the privacy of all the students involved. After the visit, my son, who was in one of the classes that my students came to, said to me, “Dad, I don’t get how people could be mean to other people just because of skin color. It is just skin.”  My response, “I know buddy, the messed-up thing is cruelty because of skin color and greed has been around since our country first started and it is still going on today.” My 1st grade son’s reply…a deep frustrated sigh.

To view this piece on ChicagoNow click here.

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