Oh my, to teach or not to teach about Christopher Columbus? It is a hot topic the last few years. He was not a very nice person, and his actions led either directly or indirectly to the death of almost all the people who were living in the countries he “discovered.” His actions also resulted in a huge spike in the transatlantic slave trade. So what are we to do on October 8? Here is what I did.
So, I did teach about Christopher Columbus. All the other kids were learning about his voyages and impact on history, so I did not feel I had the right to deny my students the same opportunity. I did not, however, do a deep dive as many of my regular education cohorts were doing. There is definitely a trend to “get it right” and teach the real story while still preserving the significance of Columbus’s travels. We all know that Columbus did NOT discover America in 1492. He also did nothing to convince the world at the time that the Earth was indeed round and not flat. So what do we need students to know about this explorer? Specifically, what do we need special education students to know about him.
Here are the main points I thought were important:
- He was an explorer who made very difficult journeys across the ocean.
- He thought he had discovered a new path from India to China. He was wrong.
- He had trouble convincing royalty to fund his trips.
- His main impact was showing others that crossing the Atlantic was possible, and this was one of the main factors in more explorers attempting the voyage.
If you would like to download a copy of the book I wrote to use while teaching this unit, click on the button below. It is a simple, 22 page story that outlines the points above and gives our students some basic appreciation of the history of Christopher Columbus.
If you want to do more with this holiday, I have some activities to go with this unit in my store. There is a circle map (seen above) that students can use to take notes, a cut and paste booklet to review the main points, and an activity where they can practice navigating using the constellations (my favorite).
It is a difficult choice to make when it comes to this holiday and how much detail you choose to cover. I am certain older students could handle the real story, but since I was teaching elementary kiddos at the time, this worked for me. I think we just need to respect how people decide to teach about this holiday, and I wish you luck with that somewhat difficult decision.