There are many occasions to celebrate in October. There's Sweetest Days and Halloween of course. Neither of these holidays inspire parades. In New York, Chicago and for many Italian communities around the country, Columbus Day is the perfect time to have a parade. For the Italian American community this fellow countryman is a symbol of the Italian roots in the Americas. Sadly, in recent years, Christopher Columbus has gotten a bad rap. Mostly for political reasons, there are educators and others who call Columbus a racist because he owned slaves. Thus, trying to smear Columbus' place in history. This is a disservice to youngsters who should learn all of America's rich stories.
The first opportunity to introduce Christopher Columbus is with Marion Dane Bauer's book simply titled Christopher Columbus, which is part of the My First Biography series. With simple text and illustrations, Bauer retells Columbus' story. Children will learn the basic facts of Columbus success and failures in his quest to complete his voyage.
For the older elementary school aged child, Jean Fritz's book on history and historic figures are wonderful. Her work, Where Do You Think You're Going, Christopher Columbus? is one of her best. The author portrays Columbus a stubborn yet visionary navigator. The question in the title reminds the reader that Columbus was convinced that he could reach the Indies and bring back riches to Spain. Although he was not successful in finding the Indies, he did find the New World. Another good title is Who Was Christopher Columbus? written by Bonnie Bader of the Who Is? series. The chapters are short with black and white illustrations which add to the theme of the chapter. What is especially helpful with this book is the timeline of Christopher Columbus' life along side the timeline of World history provided at the back of the book. It is a tool that is helpful for the reader to understand how Christopher Columbus' achievements impacted world history.
For the skeptics who believe that teaching about Columbus is a waste of time Perhaps even going as far as suggesting that the holiday be removed from the American calendar. Here is something to consider. First, if were not for Columbus discovery of the New World, American history would have been different. Secondly, to label Columbus a racist because he owned slaves is a fact based on emotions. In the 1400's, the views of humanity were different than what is believed today. Were they wrong to believe that blacks should be slave? Yes just as they were also wrong about the world being flat and that the Sun circled the Earth. It was the "theory" of their times. Thirdly, what students can learn from Columbus is that he was a man who steadfastly stuck to his belief that he could find the Indies. Granted his journey was not successful in the way that he had hoped but it is still something to celebrate in the history books. Last but not least, men and women of historical fame were human. They made mistakes. Their mistakes should not take away from what their accomplishments.
Yes, let's celebrate Columbus Day with story times, rhymes, books and crafts. Children deserve to be taught history in a manner that places facts above biased feelings and opinions. America owes a debt of gratitude to the man who navigated his ships across the ocean to find a new passage to the Indies.