History: A Lot Depends on Perspective

Just how should we view Christopher Columbus? The 5th graders in Mr. Salk's U.S. History class have been thinking about this very issue. After learning about the heroic aspects of Columbus - he was certainly an accomplished sailor who exhibited much persistence and courage, and he kicked off the Columbian Exchange (for better or worse, depending on whose perspective one takes), they discovered that he was also a selfish, ruthless man who lied, maimed, and killed to get what he wanted.

Students were asked to situate their opinion of Columbus along a continuum, from villainous to heroic. After much discussion and debate, each student reassessed his/her opinion. The net results: most of the students felt more positively towards Columbus after listening to what others had to say, although overall the class viewed Columbus as more bad than good. Hopefully this exercise showed students that history is more complex -- and debatable -- than it might appear at first, and that perspective makes a big difference in how one understands historical developments.


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