Synthesis/Regeneration 5   (Winter 1993)

500+ Years of Learning

Perpetuating The Myths

by John D. Lyle, Fairbanks, Alaska

I loved hearing stories about Columbus and his brave men. My teacher told us that when Columbus returned to Spain he took some parrots, some plants, some Indians and some gold in order to prove he reached the Indies. I recall an illustration in one book which showed several Indians smiling happily as they stood on board ship, next to the plants, parrots and the gold. "They must be excited to go on a trip," I thought. "Maybe they didn't like where they live."

My childhood remembrances of Christopher Columbus were framed with feelings of respect and envy. What I and tens of millions of American schoolchildren did not learn, however, was that this expedition and the ones which were to follow were driven by an insatiable greed for gold which led to the murder, rape, torture and enslavement of hundreds of thousands of native peoples.

Today, more than 30 years later, I again sit in elementary school classrooms and hear the same semi-factual stories I'd heard as a child. I look at the excited faces of the children as they eagerly swallow the information, and I see myself. I feel sadness and anger knowing that when these children learn the truth they, like myself, will feel cheated.

Our nation's history has much to be proud of. The principles outlined in the Bill of Rights, and the individuals who have lived and died for the purpose of protecting and promoting these rights should neither be denied nor forgotten. It has been said that the ultimate strength of a nation is the recognition of those aspects of history which were unjust.

Even if the truth hurts a little, we're doing more of a service to our young people when we tell it like it was, rather than pretending events in our nation's history were different than they really were. Because in time, they may come to know the parts which have been deleted or embellished. When they do, they'll question our motives, our history books, and our teachings.

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