With her mother’s permission, I’m sharing this assignment written by a Chicago Public Schools’ third-grader. The assignment was to write five facts about Christopher Columbus. The teacher took issue with these statements, declaring them opinions, not facts. While the final statement is an opinion and is the subject of current debate, the previous four statements are well-documented facts.
Christopher Columbus was far from the first European to arrive the Americas. Five hundred years before Columbus, the Viking explorer Leif Eriksson established a settlement in modern-day Newfoundland, Canada. More speculatively, there are stories of the Irish St. Brendan sailing there with a crew of monks. And of course, the first humans to arrive in the Americas were not Europeans, but Asians, who migrated in boats along the Pacific coast of North America. In fact, some scholars have made arguments that seafarers from China, the African continent and possibly even Ice Age Europe made it to the Americas. (For more on this topic, check out this excerpt from the book, Who Was First.)
As is well known, Columbus came in search of gold, but when his dreams of gold and silver fell short, he turned to enslaving indigenous people. Though the Spanish king and queen banned slavery in Spain, they permitted it in their new colonies. Because 90 percent of indigenous people died of new European diseases, captured and enslaved Africans were imported to add to the labor force.
Here’s hoping this third-grader’s teacher gets schooled.
Let’s Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day
If you’d like to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day by remembering the indigenous peoples of the Americas, take a look at this video introducing Antonio Curet, curator of the archeological collections from Mexico, Central America and the Caribbean at the National Museum of the American Indian.