In the Willow Community of fourth- and fifth-graders this year, one big question we are chewing on is:
How might we raise a generation of citizens that know how to sustain a healthy democracy and a healthy planet?
We are exploring this question through the lens of American history as we pay attention to the interdependent social relationships that have sustained and continue to promote systems of injustice in our country.
We began thinking deeply and critically about how the story of Christopher Columbus and his explorations has been constructed. We explored different texts, engaged in dialogues and thinking protocols, and used the arts to deepen our thinking.
As we explored these very different accounts of the “same” story, the children seemed to hold strongly to their first reactions. We brought this noticing to the group.
How do we respond to stories of injustice? Where do you go after your first reaction of blame and judgment?
Emmerson: That’s kind of how the human mind works: “Oh, that’s bad,” and a lot of other people agree. Then, it’s more certain that you’re going to agree on it. You don’t really have to look into it, you’re just like, “Oh, that’s bad”.
Laura: It’s kind of because Columbus is all we know and the Tainos are kind of like the ghost we’ve never seen or heard about. Columbus is the story and Tainos are the ghosts.
Emmy: Columbus sort of ghosted the Tainos and whenever we talk about the Tainos, we only know what happened before and after Columbus sailed and we know about the Taino when he encountered them but not other things.
As the children read more about the treatment of the Tainos, they were surprised when they read that the Taino’s “lives have been made invisible” and that their memory had been “erased from our nation’s classrooms.”
Guided by the following questions, the children used graphite to deepen their thinking.
How can you connect what lives inside of invisible to the relationship between history and the Taino people?
What does it mean to be invisible?
We noticed the initial reaction to many of these stories was one of surprise, blame, and judgment. We wondered how we move through these intense and uncomfortable emotions. What lives on the other side of these reactions? How do we move from feeling to action? What other histories and peoples can we uncover that may have been erased or are invisible? Who benefits from these stories?
This experience generated ideas to guide our next steps:
I wonder why did he kill the Tainos? Why do we worship Columbus if he didn’t set foot in the USA? -Laura
I don’t know what I believe he is. I wouldn’t be here without him. But he straight up tortured people. -Tyler
He went to a land and took people as a treasure – and people are not a treasure, they are a gift and a privilege. What and where would we be without him? -Emmy
Why do textbooks want him to be the good guy? -Todd