How do you teach Columbus Day?

I’m just curious.  Do you teach Columbus as the evil conqueror who brought disease, death and cultural annihilation to the New World?  Or as the hero and great explorer who discovered the New World and brought civilization to it?  Or something in between?

We studied Columbus a few years ago using predominantly his own journal which was rather interesting.  We looked at him as a man with great ambition, great opportunity and great faith who unfortunately became a wee bit obsessed with gold, corrupting all the potential of his mission.

We are actually studying how horses have affected world history at the moment, and this week we are supposed to be finishing up the Huns.  It would be a good time to begin our look at how horses affected the colonization of the Americas, but that is a bit too much jumping around on the time line for me.  For those interested however, he are some Columbus Day resources for the horse lover.

The Native Americans Columbus encountered feared the horse, making it possible for very few men to intimidate large numbers of natives.  This proved very important to colonization for obvious reasons.  Cortez was later quotes as saying, “Next to God, we owe our victory to our horses.”  Once the Native Americans got hold of horses, however, their cultures were changed profoundly, unsettling some of the “balance of power” between the tribes.  White Americans would later find some of these groups, such as the Sioux and the Apache, mighty warriors who could strike swiftly and fiercely upon their mounts although a few centuries previously their power would have been severely limited.

Some good information about the descendants of some of these first horses:

The Wild Horses of Shackleford Banks

An outline of some of this history (word document)

And the book we will be using when we get there:  After Columbus:  The horse’s return to America

Happy Columbus Day!


Home School Talk will be canceled today due to the fact that the host has no voice.

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0 Responses

  1. Thanks for the great resources but this link:

    And the book we will be using when we get there: After Columbus: The horse’s return to America

    takes us to the same Word document referenced in the preceding line.

  2. Never mind! I was reading your blog on my Google Reader and now that I’m actually on your blog, I see that the book is pictured and I will search for it on Amazon.


  3. As a p.s. pupil growing up in south Louisiana, Columbus Day was that day that we didn’t take off so that we could have extra time off for Mardi Gras. Needless to say, Columbus who?

    As a homeschooling parent, I try to present both sides of the story. We talk about Columbus’ courage (sailing off to the “end of the world”), as well as the things that he did that were not as positive. We talk about how this discovery radically altered both the history of Europeans and Native Americans. We also discuss why Native Americans would not necessarily consider Columbus Day a day to celebrate.

    (And then we talk about heading home in February for King Cake. Laissez les bon temps rouler!)

  4. “Guns, Germs, and Steel” has an incredible section on domesticable animals and their importance in a nation’s health, wealth and success. …if you’re looking for further reading. I thought it was fascinating. [smile]


  5. I haven’t ever taught Columbus Day specifically; in fact I didn’t even realize it was Columbus Day today until I tried to go to the post office! We covered Columbus along with a whole gaggle of other explorers when we got to that point in history (the Scientist was “sick of explorers” before it was over!) but we spent quite a lot of time on Native American history during the same time period (I wrote post at the time about the resources we used if anyone is looking for info on this topic). So I guess like LOTP I just throw both sides of the picture out there.

    BTW horses in history is a great topic for study — I was once a tween horse lover (still a horse lover, but it was a focused and insatiable obsession when I was that age!) and learned a lot of history and science through my horsey passion. Have fun!

  6. It is an interesting study, Rebecca and one that I am looking forward to returning to in a few years in one form or another when my daughter is old enough to really understand the significance of some of the things we are talking about.

    It is like reading about the world’s first arms race as nations rose and fell based on their “horsepower.”

  7. We haven’t gotten to the European explorers yet in our study of history, but when we do, I’m planning to give a “fair and balanced” treatment of the subject. Like many historical figures, Columbus wasn’t all heroic and he wasn’t all evil. We don’t ignore the negative aspects of Western Civilization but we don’t dwell on them either.

  8. Very true. Interestingly in the whole discussion of the “Great Explorers,” conquistadors, imperialists, etc., we generally only talk about the imperialism of the European.

    No culture is wholly good or wholly evil, but lately, we seem to have an increasingly skewed view. It is sort of interesting to read older histories, though. I have a sort of popular history book from the 40’s that is quite interesting reading, but still very much portrays the fights with the Indians as a good vs. evil thing, and counts their disappearance as a good thing for civilization. A bit too far in that direction for me, but it is sort of interesting as a piece of history in itself.

    The “story” we teach our children about ourselves is of historical significance as well, I think.

  9. Last night I read online some excerpts from Beaumont and de Toqueville on their encounters with Indians and with the American attitude toward them. It was interesting to see a) how deeply rooted in our history was that attitude of “the disappearance of natives is a good thing for civilization” (de Toqueville observed and wrote about it) b) how shocked and appalled these two French visitors were at American callousness toward the Indians (de Toqueville describes a situation in which no one will help a drunken Indian who is unconscious on the roadside, even when de Toqueville offered to pay expenses — it was eerily reminiscent of a certain parable) and c) what the Indians once were and what they were becoming as European settlements encroached, seen side by side through de Toqueville’s eyes

    Here is the link:
    It is interesting reading.

  10. For me, it depends on the age of the student. I just got done teaching my 6 year old about Columbus, so I stuck to he was a great explorer that was instrumental in our country becoming a country. When he is older he can hear about both sides, but even then I don’t think it makes any sense in demonizing him since we (in the USA) benefit in his “discovery”.

  11. The Columbus dilemma is an interesting one. It’s right up there with some of these:

    1) Was King David and adulterous murderer, or a man after God’s own heart?
    2) Was the Apostle Peter a traitor or a building block of the
    Christian Church?
    3) Was Sampson a mighty defender of Israel or a man with a weakness for the “love of women?”

    I find it interesting that the Bible tells the story of men’s failings and their greatness. I was reading the “Hall of Faith” in Hebrews 11 once when I noticed how many real failures were included on the list as great men of faith!

    This is my quest about America. I want to discern America’s Godly Christian Heritage without denying one ugly bit of truthful history.

    I think the same goes for Columbus. He was a great man who had a great faith and achieved great things with God, and he was fallen like the rest of us.



  12. This year to celebrate we read some poetry about Columbus during lunch.

    We studied Columbus more in depth last year. We discussed things such as his endurance, but also his keeping of two records. (basically lying)

    We discussed government as it relates to Columbus’ mutinous crew. The men were forced to sail, so they were rebellious and scared.

    And I’ve heard over and over again, that Columbus didn’t discover America. Is that an attempt to discredit him? I don’t know, but what is significant was that he introduced Europe to the New World. It gave liberty a new place to grow. Tragically, selfish ambition got in the way. It still does.

    I do think it would be beneficial to use more of Columbus’ notebooks as a reference. The material we used had excerpts, but nothing cohesive.

    And thanks for the links! I always need more books for our library.

  13. Great points, Renae! We talked about that a bit. We were talking about leadership qualities at the time and determined that he was a poor leader. He chose men who didn’t want to come, when he had the chance to let go of some of the trouble makers, he didn’t take it and they damaged the ship and then he lied about the distance they were covering. Things didn’t improve much when they got to the New World.

    One thing I found interesting in our studies that I hadn’t known before were the reprimands he received from the Crown. I always thought he was more or less doing their will, but they were not happy with his treatment of the natives nor with his obsession with gold.

  14. And one thing I think to keep in mind when looking at how these later generations viewed the Native American was the sort of “cultural memory” of the French and Indian War. Not that all was peaceful coexistence before it, but there was a more widespread terror after that started. Before that, there were some high points in relationships…and some definite low points.

    Irrelevant but interesting…I have a distant relative who was murdered in an Indian raid. Their twelve year old son walked to Ohio in hopes the only surviving relative he knew about would take him in. Native Americans helped him and his little brother along the way. Interesting, huh? I wrote a little more about it some time ago here.

  15. Dana, what an interesting topic. Actually, I had forgotten that yesterday was Columbus Day until I went to check my mail. I hadn’t really thought much of this day until I started reading about Haiti in preparation for adopting my children. As we study history, I plan on including the history of Haiti and the Island of Hispaniola.

    I doubt our look at this man’s life will produce many warm fuzzy feelings. I don’t know that my children will be able to see the God of the Bible and the faith of His followers in the “faith” of Columbus. He was greedy. He required the inhabitants of Haiti to pay tribute and enslaved them. Eventually the original population was annihilated and black Africans were imported as slaves.

    “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” ~ Columbus.

    While is seems clear that Columbus believed he was some kind of missionary carrying the gospel message across the waters to the unreached, his behavior upon arriving did little to evangelize the inhabitants. Perhaps they didn’t accept his message. Perhaps since there was a language barrier they didn’t understand what in the world he was saying. But, there simply isn’t any biblical support for kidnapping and enslaving people who fail to convert. In fact 1 Timothy identifies man stealers/slave traders with “lawbreakers and rebels, the ungodly and sinful, the unholy and irreligious.”

    Rather than tying Columbus to the faithful sinners of Hebrews 11, I will probably discuss Luke 9:5 or Luke 10:11-13. Or, maybe it would be a good time to discuss the times a pastor from the pulpit or a crazy person says, “God told me…” What would it look like if God really said? Would this person’s actions be in line with biblical truth? As I learn more about Columbus, I may even tie him to King Cyrus, who is called God’s anointed even though “you do not acknowledge me.” Cyrus was used by God to help restore the nation of Israel, achieving great things for God, despite the fact that his personal motives were not at all lined up with the truth of God.

  16. I agree, Julie. 🙂 From what I have read from his journal and other sources, he seemed to start out with intentions which were good enough but by the time he got here, all he was concerned with was gold. That may have been his primary motivation all along, but he didn’t express it so much until he got here and even the Crown seemed to think he took it too far.

    Slavery and the treatment of natives is always a tough one. That is our history right up until the Civil War, with very devout Christians fighting on either side. I seem to have lost the link, but I read an interesting article some time ago which linked some of the decline we see in the church with the way the North dealt with the slavery issue because they essentially tended to spiritualize the issue rather than deal directly with the text.

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