Sunday, October 13, 2013

Columbus Day… what can I say?

"Gathering of Nations Pow Wow" image courtesy of EA/

I had a hard time picking an image for today’s post.

As an adult ESOL teacher, my students often ask “What do Americans think about _____?”

Well, I guess I'm about as American as you can get, descended from an indigenous woman as well as an Englishman who arrived on the Mayflower. (Which sounds like a great premise for a movie, but they’re actually from different branches of the family tree.)

But I don’t feel qualified to answer for “Americans,” especially when it relates to such a contentious issue as Columbus Day.

So I never directly answer my students’ question.

Instead, I remind them that the U.S. includes people from many different backgrounds and with many different perspectives.

We read about Columbus and the other European explorers who first came to this continent. And I take them to the National Museum of the American Indian. (If necessary, I explain why they shouldn’t wear their Redskins hats from a school-sponsored trip to see the local football team.)

Then I tell them that there are a lot of aspects of our culture and history that I'm proud of, and others I'm ashamed of.

I tell them that one thing I’m proud of is the freedom to discuss our history and problems openly in the classroom.

I tell them that “critical thinking” is an important part of our educational system, and that it may be more important for them to understand the question than for me to give the answer.

Which is why, for today’s post, I chose a photo of the colorful swirl of indigenous cultures that preceded and coexists with the colorful swirl of immigrant cultures. 

That's what I want my students to know about Columbus Day.

related posts:

Mindful Teaching of Native American History and Life

If you’re looking for lesson plans, I also suggest the resources at Education World on Beyond Columbus: Teaching the Lessons of 1492.

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