Twenty-six out of 30 fifth graders in Manhattan’s P.S. 3 in the West Village, voted to ban Columbus Day yesterday. The 10 and 11-year-old students agreed that Christopher Columbus no longer deserves to be hailed as an American hero
The students gained their knowledge of the history of Christopher Columbus’s pillage into the “New World” through the progressive curriculum taught at the school. While this classroom chose to present more than just the bare-bones, name, date facts of Columbus’s 1492 sail into modern day America, many classrooms across the country do not do the same.
A recent study found that 33 out of 34 elementary school teachers’ curricula did not present multiple interpretations of Columbus’s voyage or engage in any detail outside of a minimal description of who Christopher Columbus was and why America celebrates him. Elementary school teachers spend less time on average teaching history and social studies than any other subject.
Hannah Sawyer, lead teacher in the fifth grade classroom, said that her own introduction to Christopher Columbus in elementary school was vague and uninformative. She now works to equip her students with a full and comprehensive knowledge of history.
“It is impossible to teach fifth graders to be critical thinkers without giving all the facts,” Sawyer said. “Especially when dealing with a culturally sensitive topic.”
Many young adults recall learning very little about Christopher Columbus’ practices in their elementary classrooms, suggesting that more comprehensive curricula have only recently begun to creep into schools nationwide. https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2015/10/columbus-day-school-holiday/409984/
New York University student Chanel Seto said that her public elementary school in Rockville, Maryland, not only taught about Columbus in an altogether positive way, but continued to celebrate his actions well into the holiday season.
“My school celebrated him not only for Columbus Day, but for Thanksgiving, too,” Seto said. “The story we heard was that Christopher Columbus discovered America and we are here because of him.”
Saddleback College volleyball player Mandy Sides recalled that her California classroom taught her next to nothing about Columbus.
“It wasn’t until my last few years of high school that I actually found out how he brutally treated the native people already living here and stole their land,” Sides said. “It wasn’t even my high school that taught me. I researched it myself.”
The fifth grade students of P.S. 3 were given the option to develop their own opinions on the celebration of Columbus Day after being taught by Sawyer not only about Columbus’ sail into the New World but about the subsequent enslavement and murder of native peoples that occurred because of his voyage.
“I’m not just going to teach one side of the story,” Sawyer said. “That would be equivalent to teaching them nothing. They need to be informed.”
Following their Christopher Columbus lesson, the fifth graders were encouraged to articulate their stance on the controversial holiday.
“I don’t think we should celebrate Columbus Day anymore,” Ezra Silverberg said. “I know Christopher Columbus wasn’t a good person. He killed a lot of people and it’s just not right to celebrate that.”