There is a shared feeling of revulsion and horror when students inevitably discover the truth about Christopher Columbus in high or middle school. Most of all, there is a feeling of anger among students that they hadn’t previously known about the multiple atrocities he committed. Most of us probably grew up celebrating Columbus in elementary school on Columbus Day. We were fed a lie that he was a hero.
The truth is that Christopher Columbus was not a hero. Some of the atrocities he committed include kidnapping Native Americans, approving mass rapes of native women as a reward for his men, and physical dismemberment of Native Americans as punishment for not providing gold. It is worth noting that the Native Americans he encountered were friendly and eager to share their food and goods.
One common argument for not teaching about Columbus as anything other than a hero who “discovered” America is that elementary school children are too young to be taught about such atrocities. While discussing rape and physical dismemberment may not be appropriate at that age, it is equally inappropriate to teach students that Columbus was a hero. Columbus was the beginning of an extraordinary string of injustices that Europeans have committed against Native Americans. These injustices have not been resolved. Native Americans are the poorest ethnic group in America today, as we continue to shrink their reservations smaller and smaller and destroy the land they live on.
Just as Native American youths today will surely feel the unfair consequences of European colonialism in their lifetime, all of our children deserve more than lies about the European discovery of our land. Indeed, many states have replaced the federal holiday set aside for Columbus with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which recognizes all Native Americans and their many cultures and shared history.
We should be teaching our children more about the long and varied history of Native Americans, a group that we continue to marginalize and mistreat today, rather than the false heroism of the man who brought centuries of injustice onto them. To teach otherwise is to further that ongoing injustice.
By Antonio Wu
Categories: JMM Opinions