Thursday, October 4, 2012

Teaching about Columbus

Columbus Day is Monday, October 8. A U.S. national holiday since 1937, Columbus Day—and Columbus’s legacy—has become increasingly controversial in recent years. (Full disclosure: I fall firmly into the anti-Columbus camp. When my fourth grader had to write a report on Columbus, I helped her supplement the biography she checked out of the school library with some internet research, and she ended up putting him on trial. At the same time, I will very much enjoy the day off work.)

Regardless of how you feel about Columbus, there is no doubt that 1492 was world-changing, for both sides of the Atlantic.

Teachinghistory.org is my go-to site for American history resources, lessons, and critical thinking techniques. (If you don’t subscribe to their e-newsletter, you are missing out.) Their blog post, “Teaching about Columbus Day: Mythbusters,” provides great background, information about resources (including relevant historical fiction), and links to lesson plans and online material.
Among their links is one to the Library of Congress online exhibit, “1492: An Ongoing Voyage.” This exhibit “describes both pre- and post-contact America, as well as the Mediterranean world at the same time.”

Teachinghistory.org does not link to the flippant, fast-paced (almost frenetic), and sometimes juvenile “Crash Courses in World History: The Columbian Exchange,” but I’m going to. This informative 12-minute summary of the book, The Columbian Exchange by Alfred Crosby, is designed to appeal to high school students (if mentioning syphilis in high school is allowable. Is it?) I am a little hesitant to recommend the video because its goofy tone cannot do justice to the devastation the video describes (I keep trying to imagine the creators making a similar video on the Holocaust, but can’t do it.) At the same time, the video makes important material accessible, and, well, interesting to learn about. So, watch it for yourself and pass your own judgment. Then drop me a line and let me know how, if at all, you teach about Columbus Day—and Columbus—in your classroom.

p.s. Are holidays important to your teaching? Here are links to last year’s posts for Veterans Day and Thanksgiving.

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