The Portrayal of Christopher Columbus in Elementary School Education

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Christopher Columbus has been portrayed in different ways at various times throughout history. In his own time he was not famous for "discovering" a new land, but hundreds of years later he is. Slightly over one hundred years ago the United States proudly celebrated the quatercentury. Approximately 24 million people attended a great international exposition in Chicago marking the event (Thernstrom, 1992). In stark contrast is the controversy that was ignited over the 500 year anniversary of
Columbus' voyages. In the very recent past how Columbus is presented has begun to change. Up until the late 1980's Columbus was portrayed as a great discover. "Even when the Spanish were seen as cruel and greedy, Columbus was
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Among these people are the 1992 Alliance, a coalition of Native groups, The Association of Indian Cultures,
The National Council of Churches, the America Library
Association, and many authors. The argument of this group is that presenting Columbus as a hero who stands at the beginning of a long of heroes who brought freedom to the Americas is history at its ethnocentric worst (Nash, 1992). These groups want the
Native American point of view emphasized in schools so that "our children grow into healthy adults by eliminating dehumanizing images of Native people in popular culture (Harjo, 1991, p.32).
The National Library Association passed a resolution asking member libraries to display materials dealing with "topics like cultural imperialism, coonialism, and the Native American
Holocaust"(Lunenfeld, 1992). The fear of these groups is that children will accept and think it natural for white people to rule over people of color and for powerful groups to rule over weaker groups (Ricklin, 1992). They believe that the "Columbus myth" is so pervasive that it inhibits children from developing anti-racist views. This group would applaud a child's picture book such as Encounter by Jane Yolen. This is the story of a
Taino child and his reactions to the sight of Columbus and his men. In this book you can feel the fear of the child and there is a sense of impending doom. Ms. Yolen said that she wrote
Encounter because "this is history's other
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