Lance Scranton: Christopher Columbus’ forgotten history
October 13, 2015
On the heels of a great homecoming week, we're in the mood for celebrating. Thanksgiving isn't too far away, Christmas is on our radar (at least at Walmart) and in a few weeks it will be Halloween. In American public education we celebrate many things as well; test scores (when they are good), veterans (their sacrifice is always good), accomplishments of alumni (well, we used to have banners by the gym) and graduation rates (always a good thing). We also teach children about our nation's history but if your name is Chris and in 1492 — you sailed the ocean blue — you might not be celebrated or even mentioned this week.
Times have changed and we are concerned about being on the "right" side of history. Columbus Day used to be a big event in school when I was growing up. We talked about exploration, new worlds, traveling, taking chances, being brave, adventures and even learned a little about sailing in the landlocked little town I spent part of my childhood.
Today, we barely hear about this wandering explorer because he has fallen out of favor in many schools and is derided in more than a few school curriculums. One Common Core lesson plan that is written for grades 5 to 12 asks the following questions: Why was the exchange so deadly to the natives? How were the Europeans able to take control so quickly and easily? Where (sic) there any negative effects for the Europeans? How did this effect (sic) the future?
Legitimate questions to be sure and using our 20/20 vision with laser-guided accuracy, we know that when people groups collide, unsettling things can happen (sickness, germs, disagreements). Christopher was looking for adventure and a faster route (shortcut) to India, China and the vast gold and spices he had been told about. But slapped right in between, unbeknownst to him was this vast continent we now call North America. So, instead of the Asian continent, he landed here and the rest, as they say, is history.
Columbus fell out of favor sometime after I got into college as picketers surrounded our campus accusing the Santa Maria, Pinta and Nina of transporting syphilis and other diseases to the North American continent and wiping out vast people groups. He also represented a vast Euro-centric view of history and something had to be done — and it was! We just pretended he, and others like him, didn't exist so that those tyrannical, despotic, power-hungry, adventurers and rulers would be expunged from history.
I mean, it's worked out so well, the world is a safer place and we're free of all that uncomfortable historical perspective and any positive mention of Columbus is likely only to be heard by some private club that doesn't need tax-exempt status. Columbus' voyage was fraught with issues we can now look back upon and learn some important lessons but we can't because we just don't really talk about him much anymore.
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Sorry Chris — it was nice knowing ya — sort of.