Update: A CPS Third-Grader Got in Trouble for Stating Truths about Columbus

In October, we ran a piece about a third-grader who got in trouble for writing truths about Christopher Columbus. This is an update shared by the third-grader’s mother.

Some of you will remember that in October I had a meeting with my daughter’s teacher and principal regarding her assignment about Christopher Columbus. She said he was “a bad man.” Her teacher told her that her point was an opinion. But in our house, we don’t placate teachers or play “niceties” when in fact, Christopher Columbus actually was a murderous, vicious and entitled sex trafficker.

Back in 2020, Chicago Public Schools had already made the shift from celebrating Columbus Day to celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. Heather Miller, director of Chicago’s American Indian Center, brought the Board of Education the facts on his role in the genocide of Native people in the Americas. For my daughter to say Columbus was “a bad man” was putting it mildly, but appropriately for third grade.

When I met with my daughter’s teacher and her principal, I came with the historical facts and information from the teachers’ site to educate students on Indigenous Peoples Day. My daughter’s teacher just hadn’t taken the time to read the material. In our meeting I cited the facts, drawing from Bartolome de las Casas’ accounts. Needless to say, the principal asked the teacher if her assignment could have been better executed. She gave a hurried, “Yeah, sure, I guess.”

I asked if we could agree that anyone who commits genocide is indeed a “bad man.” The principal said, “Absolutely!” The teacher agreed, with less enthusiasm. Oh, well.

But what happened from there for my daughter in her classroom was unprofessional, uncalled for and full of microaggressions. The teacher wasn’t ready for the receipts I brought to the meeting and took it out on my daughter. She subsequently mispronounced my daughter’s name and dismissed her corrections. Other disrespectful interactions occurred, and I was done.

I requested my daughter be moved to a different teacher, and the principal granted the request. She is so happy and beyond thriving in her new class! With the previous teacher, she had earned Bs and Cs in the first quarter. At her progress report with the new teacher, she had all As and two Bs. My daughter literally thanks me every few days for getting her moved.

Fighting for my children–children of color–is a long and exhausting road. But if my children’s education, feeling respected as Brown and Black children, is at stake, I will do it every day. We parents must step up for our children! No matter how that teacher felt during the meeting, I will bet you millions of dollars I don’t have that she won’t teach that mess again next year!

Banner photo credit: Photo courtesy Boston Public Library on Unsplash.

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Maureen Kelleher

Chicago Unheard blog manager Maureen Kelleher also serves as a senior writer and editor at brightbeam, a nonprofit network of education activists demanding a better education and brighter future for every child. Before joining the brightbeam team, she spent a decade as a reporter, blogger and policy analyst. Her work has been published across the education world, from Education Week to the Center for American Progress. A former high school English teacher, she is also the proud mom of a middle-schooler. Find her on Twitter at @KelleherMaureen.

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