Monday, October 12, 2009

Columbus Day: Day of accomplishments and reflection

Today we awake to snow on the ground and the observance of Columbus Day. While the U.S. Post office is closed, very little other observations will be made. It was President Roosevelt that proclaimed October 12th as Columbus Day back in 1937 but it was not until 1971 when President Nixon established the second Monday of October as a national holiday. I recall as a child doing a lot of activities leading up to Columbus Day and then having the day off. I asked my kids over the weekend if anything was discussed during social studies class, unfortunately neither of my two oldest children said they were learning anything about Christopher Columbus or Columbus Day.

Why has Columbus Day fallen off the public school calendar? Is it because of the controversy that surrounds the 1492 voyage? While attending the University of North Dakota I took a class on Christopher Columbus where we read two books, names escape me, which painted two very different perspectives. One of the books discussed the savagery and brutal reign that Columbus implemented in the Caribbean. While conquest and exploration was the era within which Christopher Columbus lived so was it the era of slavery. Perhaps it is the stain of slavery that prevents our children from learning the roots that ushered many of our ancestor's arrival.

History of the United States is not without its own stains. Today is a day that we can celebrate our past, recognize the achievements of Christopher Columbus, and, more importantly, acknowledge that while Columbus expanded the globe he did exploit the "riches" of the new land. Public schools, politicians, parents, and others can use this day as a teachable moment of inspiring our youth to explore their world while instilling the concepts of respect for those they come into contact with. We must, as a society, understand the era that encompasses Columbus and learn from it. Let's all take a moment today and reflect on the historic voyage and discuss the successes of Columbus while learning from the darker elements of his conquest.