By Amy Graff, SFGATE
For decades, every American kid in a schoolyard has known Christopher Columbus as the Italian explorer who “in 1492, sailed the ocean blue.” But that little ditty is being phased out faster than you can name the explorer’s three ships.
The rhyme is part of Columbus’ romantic image, which includes searching for riches and spices, discovering America and befriending the “Indians.” But historians have been pointing out for some time there is much more to this story, a rather grisly and gruesome tale of conquest. Now many teachers are presenting more perspectives on European colonization, and they don’t paint Columbus as statue-worthy.
A longtime educator has created an increasingly popular lesson that turns the classroom into a courtroom and asks students to put Columbus, his crew, the King and Queen of Spain and the indigenous people on trial for murder.
“It begins on the premise that there’s this monstrous crime in the years after 1492 when perhaps as many as 3 million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives,” says Bill Bigelow, the curriculum editor of Rethinking Schools and the co-director of the Zinn Education Project. “It asks students to wrestle with the responsibility in this.”