Columbus Day and history


            In fourteen hundred ninety-two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.

            I think about that today because this is Columbus Day, the 508th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the “New World.”

            I don’t know what you learned about Columbus, but I can tell you that when I was a student I wasn’t taught anything about the way he slaughtered and enslaved the indigenous Taino peoples of the Caribbean islands (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) that he “discovered.”

            The teaching of history may have improved since the days when I was in school. But there were things I didn’t even learn then. For example, I was an adult before I heard anything about President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s signing of Executive Order 9006 that confined American citizens of Japanese descent to internment camps around the country. This is now being taught in schools.

            Likewise, it wasn’t until I was out of school that I learned anything of the genocide perpetrated against the Armenian people by the Turks in the early part of the twentieth century.

            History books are overwhelmingly slanted toward telling the stories of caucasian men. The teaching of history in our schools is geared toward what is asked on standardized tests. These events, however, are not necessarily part of your family’s history.

            What can parents do about this? If you belong to a group that has an underrepresented history, it is your duty to talk about this with your children, for that may be the only way that they may hear about these events.

            Personalizing history will not only make it come alive to your children, but it may serve as a contrast to what they are taught formally in school.

            Whether members of your family experienced the Great Depression, the Irish Potato Famine, the Holocaust, a civil war in another country, or are refugees from a repressive political regime, the best way that your children can understand the lessons to be learned from these events is from the way your family has overcome the hardships from those days and succeeded to the lives that you share together now.

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