Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past

Teaching Activity. By Bill Bigelow. 6 pages.
How to engage students in a critical analysis of the textbook version of “discovery.”

  • Time Periods: Colonization: 1492 - 1764 | Themes: Education, Imperialism, Native American | Reading Levels: High School | Resource Types: Teaching Activities (Free)

Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past (Teaching Activity) | Zinn Education Project: Teaching People's HistoryMost of my students have trouble with the idea that a book — especially a textbook —can lie. That’s why I start my U.S. history class by stealing a student’s purse.

As the year opens, my students may not know when the Civil War was fought or what James Madison or Frederick Douglass did; but they know that a brave fellow named Christopher Columbus discovered America. Indeed, this bit of historical lore may be the only knowledge class members share in common.

What students don’t know is that their textbooks have, by omission or otherwise, lied to them.

This lesson was published by Rethinking Schools in Rethinking Columbus. For more lessons like “Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past,” order Rethinking Columbus with more than 80 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans edited by Bill Bigelow and Bob Peterson. See Table of Contents.


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There are 2 comments by other visitors:

  • I teach 5th graders and we have been learning about mesoamerican cultures. We have been shifting into how these cultures were impacted and destroyed by European explorers. Comparing and contrasting history texts that are told from different perspectives has really helped my students to see both sides of the story and see the injustices that have occurred throughout history. I wish their were more resources available to teacher that help shed light on the non-white perspective of history. My fifth graders are fired up and engaged about their learning now! —Shannon Jaeger, elementary school teacher, Richfield, MN

    Response shared by Shannon Jaeger — May 23, 2016 @ 1:22 pm

  • The Discovering Columbus lesson helps students contextualize perspective and point of view in a very real fashion, and provided an invaluable jumping off point for assessing perspective, context, and validity in history. —Jessica Pullen, middle school social studies teacher, Anacortes, WA

    Response shared by Jessica Pullen — May 23, 2016 @ 1:23 pm

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