I have two children in school now. My oldest is in 2nd Grade, and my second oldest is in Kindergarten. With Columbus Day coming, my oldest is learning about him in his history book and marking him on the timeline we’re creating about the discovery and settling of the Americas.
There is a huge controversy over Columbus. I never gave much thought to it before, but I have become very aware of it as a homeschooling mother these last couple of years as I look up and purchase school books and create crafts and teach my sons.
There is argument over the day celebrating Columbus. There is argument over what we should teach out kids, and even talk of striking him from the history books. I’ve thought about it long and hard, since what we tell our kids shapes them. In 2014 I wrote about my oldest’s first learning about Columbus, and our run in with a critical family member who ruined the experience for him. So this year, when the explorer appeared once more in my son’s history book (in greater detail), I wanted to think about how to present him. As a hero? As a murderer? As an explorer?
What is Columbus Day about?
I think it would be wrong to strike him from the history books, or to remove his day from our year. Here’s why. Because what we are celebrating is not the man himself, but the first time the continent of America made its appearance on the maps of the world. Before then no one knew of America, no one knew that the world they knew was actually only half of the world God created.
Was Columbus a hero? No. Was he a murderer? Yes, and a slaver. Many ship captains were back then. For some reason there was this prevailing thought that if a being was not white and did not speak one of the white languages, they were meant to be enslaved. It was their purpose, and it was okay. Sin makes people do awful things. His greed took him to dark places, and he did wicked things for his love for gold and power.
Was he an explorer? Yes. He went where others were too afraid to go, and explored and explored, originally for a greater cause. He encouraged those who were frightened. He mapped where he went so that others could follow safely. He was brave; one would have to be to take on the journey he originally took… setting off into an unknown vastness of ocean that he might never return from, in an effort to find a safe route to Asia so that merchants could retrieve and deliver their goods more safely than they could across the vast continents where they were besieged constantly by robbers and thieves. That is a noble cause.
And in the end, we learn about him because he’s the one who put the continent of America on the map. So in the end, that is what I am teaching my 2nd Grader. How the Americas were found.
He can learn about the murdering and enslavement later. When he’s older and learning about slavery.