Columbus Day is coming up, but there's a lot more to this holiday than a break from work or school. In fact, it isn't just about Columbus sailing the ocean blue and discovering America in 1492. The things teachers want you to know about Columbus Day may reframe the holiday completely.
A brief chat with my friends in education revealed that wow, they are not fans of Columbus and his federal holiday at all. One pointed me toward the Abolish Columbus Day Campaign on Teaching For Change, which is a movement to abandon the holiday entirely. That sentiment was pretty prevalent among other educators, I found.
As it turns out, there's a lot more to Columbus Day, the figure of Columbus himself, and the way the holiday is perceived in modern America. To learn more, Romper spoke with Christopher J. Williams, M.A., Certified Secondary History Teacher and Private Tutor with Varsity Tutors. A full-time history teacher in Denver, he provided tremendous insight into the reality of the Columbus story, particularly the man's terrible mistreatment of indigenous peoples. From their point of view, Columbus' arrival marked the beginning of a terrible tragedy, the effects of which are still felt to this day.
1. He Didn't Discover Anything
The idea that Columbus discovered America doesn't tell the whole story at all. "As kids, we were taught that Columbus discovered the new world, but in reality, he didn't discover it, but rather robbed the resources, heritage and identity of the indigenous peoples who already inhabited the land, terribly mistreating those around him," said Williams. There's a big difference between discovering and straight-up stealing.
2. Columbus Didn't Land In America
Yep, Columbus didn't even land in what's now known as America. He landed near the West Indies, as Williams noted.
3. He Wasn't Seeking A New World
The reasons for Columbus' journey weren't all that noble, really. "Columbus was NOT looking for a new world," said Williams. "He wasn’t even looking for colonization nor a place for religious freedom. He was looking to gain riches and fame for himself." He was just using Queen Isabella's money to fund his voyage.
4. Seriously, The Voyage Was All About Money
So why did he set sail? "He was looking for a route to Asia because the silk roads had been cut off because of the religious wars of the crusades," said Williams. Finding a route to Asia would have made him rich. Stumbling into the West Indies was just happenstance.
5. Columbus Was Basically A Jerk
And what did Columbus do when he ran into the people already living in the West Indies? He immediately wanted a takeover. "With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus journaled on his third day in the Americas, according to the Abolish Columbus Day Campaign. He wrote that on the third day. This meeting could have gone any number of ways, but Columbus wanted to control the people he accidentally ran into.
6. Dealing With The Real History Can Be Rough
Very young kids get a pretty censored, positive version of the Columbus story, and it's sometimes hard to let go of that as they mature. "As they get older, we are now trying to view history from positions of power," said Williams. "Some students resist the idea at first because they see it as America not being perfect or not taking a stand against the right cause." Learning the entire story of Columbus means facing some harsh realities.
7. Learning More About Columbus Is Easy
Thankfully, it's easier than ever to research the whole Columbus story from many different points of view. To start, you can learn more about the history of Columbus and the Indigenous Peoples from Williams over at Varsity Tutors. Get Harvard's take on the Columbus Day Problem, and read 1491 by Charles C. Mann to learn more about life in the Americas before that guy showed up. Use these awesome resources to get a more rounded view of the dude who changed history by basically getting lost at sea.