Duke Gardens: September 23, 2006
"The Scarlet Pimpernel"/"Poldark"

Columbus

When we were walking around Boston a few weeks ago, we took one of the usual walks that I used to take when I had been there in college (more on that, possibly, eventually).  One part of this walk was a small waterside park (I didn't know the name) past Faneuil Hall.  I used to walk around Boston early in the morning, before classes started, and I would get something quick for breakfast and go there to sit and look at the water (and sometimes the sunrise). 

When we went back, the park looked totally different.  Besides the highway behind it being gone (submerged into the "Big Dig"), the waterfront has been extensively redeveloped since 1980, and the park itself had been renovated in 2003.  It was hard to believe it was the same place. 

Columbusstatue At one point, daughter went over to the prominently placed statue, looked at the name, and then quickly stalked away.  Older son and I went to find that the statue was of Christopher Columbus.  "Oh, that's why she walked away like that.   She was walking away 'at him.'"

To explain...one of her favorite subjects, practically since she learned to read, has been history.  Bad history makes her angry.  And a lot of what is believed about Christopher Columbus is bad history.  He is presented as a forward-looking idealist with the bravery to challenge the flat-earth theories of his time and venture into the unknown. 

But:

  • In his time, it was not generally believed that the earth was flat.
  • He actually calculated the circumference of the earth to be smaller (25,255 km) than it is (40,000 km) - and he was in disagreement with experts of his time.  Most navigators and sailors did not want to try to sail west to known lands.  Since a ship could not carry enough food or water for the length of such a journey, they feared dying of starvation or thirst - which would have happened to Columbus' crew if they hadn't happened to find an island (he never set foot on the mainland).
  • He brought back slaves more than once from his trips to the "New World."
  • Which wasn't "New" since it was already settled by the Native Americans (and the Vikings also probably had traveled here).
  • He was a brutal governor of the "new Indies" (according to a report found only last year in a state archive in Valladolid).
  • There is controversy over whether or not he kept a separate log book with reduced distances to show his crew so they wouldn't panic (long discussion of the controversy here).

I was reminded of this when reading Breakfast with Pandora's recent post, "Columbus, the flat earth, Santa and Saint Nicholas"  which discusses the usefulness of the myth of Columbus (and also the fact that bad history is still taught). 

DF, at Breakfast with Pandora, has also recently had an evocative short story, "Hesperia," published online at the "Loch Raven Review" (current issue then page down).  Congratulations!

Comments

Karen-In-Law

Boy, this is a hot topic for me. It's easy even with little kids to find oneself in a corner where one must either a) cop to a myth that the adult in you knows to be incorrect, or b) try to illustrate a more accurate version that the child might not be old enough to hear. I wonder sometimes if our kids have heard too much, too soon from us. But it bothers me to think of what they are already exposed to in school environments and I never feel that I should leave the story there. I can still remember learning the truth about some of these "history stories" of my childhood and wondering why we were ever told the glossy versions.

DF

Thanks for the plug and the congrats.

If you know any other homeschoolers that like bloggy things, you might direct them to BwP-- I have aspired to be a resource to homeschoolers for some time now, having a good number of friends who have done it or continue to do it.

M Light

I don't get into the gory details with little children, but just mention that the person wasn't really as nice as they're portrayed in the books.

The glossy versions bother me, though. Why learn things you have to just unlearn? - especially if you're just going to be disappointed.

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