Should We Teach Christopher Columbus In School? [Jose Vs. Mr. Vilson Part 4]

Jose Vilson Jose, Resources

Christopher Columbus

Christopher Columbus

In this post, we see an argument brewing between Jose and Mr. Vilson (my alter-egos, whose personalities you’ll see in a minute). Today, they’re arguing about the value of teaching Christopher Columbus in schools. Check:

Mr. Vilson: Here’s this: we both agree that Christopher Columbus was at best, a wayward fool who didn’t fully understand his actions at the time, and at worst, was a megalomaniac hellbent on stealing, raping, and murder entire peoples for his own avarice.

Jose: Why can’t it be both?

Mr. Vilson: True. Now, the argument becomes: should we teach Christopher Columbus in schools? Obviously, the topic of the “New World” and 1492 won’t go away. Too many people are invested in the story of this man, and the happenings of how these explorers discovered …

Jose [interrupting]: Excuse me. Found erroneously. Tripped on.

Mr. Vilson: Etc. etc, and on the other hand, we have a guy who spur on the genocide of an entire people and the exploitation of our Earth’s riches while raping women and children, enslaving them, and laying waste to their cultural histories. So, should we teach it?

Jose: That’s a dicey proposition. At this point, even with books like Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States and James Loewen’s Lies My Teacher Told Me, many educators haven’t ventured past the assumptions we have about Columbus, especially his shortcomings, and perhaps with good reason.

Mr. Vilson: I’m not sure I’d want my kid getting the shock treatment that this country was founded on bloody murder, dead bodies, and pestilence, either, Jose.

Jose: Man, you’re morbid.

Mr. Vilson: It’s a gift.

Jose: The thing is, based on what we know now, kids are getting the most vanilla version of the events of 1492 possible. Why give that any validity? Why should we have kids imagining the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria, much less painting them as part of their October projects? Why do we still have a reverence for him, and by proxy, his legacy?

Mr. Vilson: I hope it’s not the case that people actually revere him, but in the case that they do, their only real argument is that, if not for Columbus, we wouldn’t be here right now, a strange argument considering that millions of lives were lost on the count of us being here. Maybe we need to rethink the way we teach Columbus overall.

Jose: Agreed.

Mr. Vilson: Instead of teaching kids about Christopher Columbus in the early grades, perhaps we’ll bring him up in the sixth or seventh grade. With as many students as we have who play Call of Duty or live in a town with a Native American name, we could develop units that introduce conflict and discussion.

Jose: Wait a minute. Why wouldn’t we want our students to have our point of view about Columbus? He really was a no-good scoundrel, and we ought to excoriate his image whenever we get a chance.

Mr. Vilson: Yes, we should. It just doesn’t make any sense telling students explicitly what to belief because it takes away their agency, their ability to question, and their independent thought processes. Anytime we don’t let students think things through, we lose everything we believe for students in one fell swoop.

Jose: You win. Though, please believe, if I’m asked, I’m telling the students exactly what we think.

Mr. Vilson: Yes, we’ll call this a Day On instead of a Day Off.

Jose / Mr. Vilson

*** photo c/o ***