“’Discovery’ represents the point of view of the supposed discoverers.
It’s the invaders masking their theft.”
Re-examining Basic ‘Truths’
Things to consider before the activity:
All written material should be read skeptically. Explore the politics of print. Perspectives on history and social reality underlie the written word, and that to read is both to comprehend what is written, but also to question why it is written.
My intention is not to encourage an “I-don’t-believe-anything” cynicism, but rather to equip students to analyze a writer’s assumptions and determine what is and isn’t useful in any particular work.
Reading is a metaphor. How I encourage students to approach written material reflects how I hope students will approach the world. Will they be mere consumers of text—and the world—or will they feel empowered to question, critique, and act?
Activity and Assessment
After your group has examined and we have discussed it as a class, write a half page paragraph answering the following bolded questions (1, 3, 4, 6).
1. Historical Thinking
2. Career Related Learning Standards
Using one of the historiography texts, critique the book’s treatment of Columbus and the Taínos.
1. How factually accurate was the account?
2. What was omitted—left out—that in your judgment would be important for a full understanding of Columbus (for example, his treatment of the Taínos; slave-taking; his method of getting gold; the overall effect on the Taínos)?
3. What motives does the book give to Columbus? Compare those with his real motives.
4. Who does the book get you to root for, and how is that accomplished? (For example, are the books horrified at the treatment of Taí- nos or thrilled that Columbus makes it to the so-called New World?)
5. How do the publishers use illustrations? What do these communicate about Columbus and his “enterprise”?
6. In your opinion, why does the book portray the Columbus/Taíno encounter the way it does?
7. Can you think of any groups in our society who might have an interest in people having an inaccurate view of history? (This last question is tough but crucial.) Is the continual distortion of Columbus simply an accident, or are there social groups that benefit from children developing a false or limited understanding of the past?