History is written by the victors, said Winston Churchill, presumably, and since then, these words have become the go-to premise for anyone criticizing the way history is being told. It’s a valid argument that led to the notion of “historical bias”, a concept that has become as important as history itself. It helps us sift through the predominant ideas and beliefs that have shaped mainstream history through looking at the context and the nuance that every historical topic is loaded with. This allows us to approach history and its implications much more objectively.
But, how do we find a good balance between different historical accounts and respectfully teach kids about this complex phenomenon that even world-wide respected historians have contradictory viewpoints on?
With Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day just around the corner, you have the perfect opportunity to introduce kids to historical bias. As a teacher, you must be aware that there’s a lot of nuance to this issue and you have a variety of ways to teach this topic. Hopefully, in this article, we’ll get to a conclusion on which approach is most appropriate for teaching kids about Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day.
How to Explain Historical Bias?
For kids to understand the complexity behind the “Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day” argument, they must understand the notion of historical bias.
The Nature of Historical Bias
When experts talk about bias in history they refer to the absence of objectivity that stems from two different situations.
The first situation concerns the historians’ bias. Historians are people who use different sources, modalities, fragments of old writings, and many other tools to try and piece together what happened hundreds of years ago. This process involves the projection of one’s personal assumptions that are based on experience, knowledge, and beliefs. This is problematic because we all judge people’s actions differently based on our moral code and cultural values.
The second situation concerns the fact that even first-hand accounts in history are produced by human beings, which are naturally biased. For example, in our situation, if we want to learn more about the first contact of Columbus with Native Americans, the original writings of Europeans of that time hold immense value but are nevertheless problematic. They only tell one side of the story, which is clouded by early 15th-century European beliefs, ideologies, values, and so on. Indeed, some indigenous people’s recorded histories were actively destroyed by Europeans, such as the codices of the Aztecs destroyed by the Spanish conquistadors.
So, we see that there’s a two-layered bias – the bias we have to presume existed when the historical evidence was created, and later the bias when the historical evidence was (or possibly still is) interpreted.
Explaining Historical Bias to Kids
The easiest way to explain this to middle school students, or even elementary students, is to start with an everyday analogy that’s relatable to kids. A good example of this would be to ask two students to act out a conflict story. Each of the students would take the opposite role and share their side of the story with the class. However, while one of them is speaking the other is waiting outside (unable to hear what the other student is saying).
You mediate the situation and make it clear how both points of view were valid, the feelings from both sides should be taken into consideration as we always have unique reasoning for acting the way we did – something we should try to understand.
After this, point out that you (the teacher and children in the audience) now have the same responsibility as historians – to share that story reliably and with respect to both parties. As a demonstration of this point, you can even ask the children in the audience to re-tell the story in their own words – after listening to only the first student and then again after listening to both. This will go a long way in demonstrating how historical bias works. Plus, you can all work on trying to report what was heard in a more objective way without projecting personal and moral views.
At the end of this exercise, start drawing parallels with the topic at hand – the historical bias surrounding Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day.
Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day
Respectively, explaining the controversy behind Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day is no easy task considering you’ll have to blend two strikingly different perspectives. Let’s try to better understand these perspectives individually.
Columbus day is a national holiday that many countries (not all) in the USA celebrate to mark the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas on October 12, 1492.
It was President Franklin Delano Roosevelt that designated the second Monday of October (Columbus Day) as a national holiday in 1971. Since then, many states organize festivals and parades commemorate the day.
While many people celebrate Columbus Day to honor Columbus’ achievements, in particular discovering America, and the Italian-American heritage, others are not convinced that Columbus’ achievements are something that should be celebrated. This is mostly because of two reasons.
The first reason concerns the origins of this holiday. Italian and Catholic communities in America were the first who began commemorating the day in honor of Columbus. And, a powerful Catholic fraternal organization called “Knights of Columbus” was the main reason why Roosevelt proclaimed the day a national holiday. In the 19th century, anti-immigrant groups in America rejected the holiday because of its connection to Catholicism.
The second reason concerns the colonization of the Americas, which was a direct result of Columbus’ discovery. In recent years, many Native American groups have also rejected the holiday, pointing out that the event led to violent practices against Native Americans, the slave trade, wars and deaths, as well as the spreading of infectious diseases. Additionally, the other issue is the fact that, in recent history, the whole notion of Columbus discovering the Americas has also been disputed, as there’s historical evidence to suggest that the Vikings got there centuries before him.
Indigenous Peoples Day
The controversy that began in the 19th century and experienced a second-wave a few decades ago resulted in an act by the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas that ultimately replaced Columbus Day in the USA with Indigenous Peoples Day – a celebration in honor of Native American’s history and culture.
What began as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day, was officialized in South Dakota in 1989. The Governor backed a resolution to celebrate Native American Day on the second Monday of October. This was instituted in California in 1992.
Outside the USA, Latin America celebrates this day as Día de la Raza (The Day of the Race), The Bahamas as Discovery Day, Spain as Día de la Hispanidad and Fiesta Nacional, and Argentina as Día del Respeto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity).
Today, Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day is the most inconsistently celebrated holiday in the USA. Depending on where you live, you might go to work or have a paid day off to celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day (in states that renamed the holiday).
Teaching Kids About Columbus Day vs Indigenous Peoples Day
All these inconsistencies and controversies bring up a valid question: “How do we teach children about Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day?”
Many teachers across the USA have the responsibility to create lesson plans for this holiday that will promote kids’ critical thinking and empathy while being culturally sensitive and historically accurate. This is not an easy task and a lot of things have to be considered.
In general, starting the lesson with a practical exercise (as explained at the beginning of the article) for learning about historical bias is a wonderful approach, and we highly recommend it. From there, you should draw parallels between the two alternate holidays and the topic at hand – Celebrating Columbus vs. Indigenous Peoples Day.
Make sure you explain the arguments on both sides and touch upon why some people choose to celebrate one version of the holiday over the other. Point out that the most important thing is for children to know all the facts and regardless of what they consider “right” they should always be considerate and tolerant over other people’s views.
To back up your theoretical teaching approach, here are some practical activities that will help you complete your lesson plan for this Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day.
- Organize a Scavenger Hunt
Hide several objects in the classroom or in the school’s backyard, divide students into small groups, and give them maps they should follow to arrive in a specified location. However, the hidden objects can only be found if the students pay close attention in some areas along the road to the specified location. The team that finds the most objects wins.
- Learn about the language and culture of Native Americans
With our Indigenous People’s Day Facts & Worksheets bundle, you’ll get 22 in-depth pages of interactive worksheets kids can get familiar with Native Americans’ famous people, food, words, and even play themed crossword puzzles.
- Quiz kids about the history of this holiday
Before You Leave
Don’t let the controversy surrounding this day stop you from turning the holiday into an insightful and valuable lesson plan. You can teach kids about the historical bias around Columbus Day, the different perspectives people have regarding this holiday, and teach empathy and tolerance with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
To make sure you’re ready to execute this task in the most respectful, yet educational manner, we included a detailed explanation of a practical exercise and included several teaching resources.
For all of your future lessons, simply browse our website and find the worksheets suitable for your current topic. Furthermore, visit our blog to find so many more articles like this one that can help you handle difficult tasks in your child’s education.
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