The point in the discussion has not been the uniqueness of the Columbian exchange in terms of either bad or good things. The discussion’s point has been about disallowing perspectives. Perhaps all this has changed in the 3 years since I have retired, but the issue of Columbus has been celebrated in the past from one perspective, not to dismiss those teachers who have indeed tried to introduce a multiple perspective treatment. However, they have been and continue to be attacked for the crime of multiculturalism. I see on this and other listservs an attitude that treats hostility to multiculturalism as just an opinion rather than an organized political movement within the so-called culture wars, an attempt to take us back to a monochromatic view of America.
No one I know would willingly divest themselves of all traces of European civilization, even as exemplified by the rapacious C. Columbus, but I do know lots of people who wonder why our history textbooks (and I read these so I am not basing my opinions on something I read 30 years ago) and classroom teaching treat non-European cultures, many of which were nearly or completely destroyed by the Europeans, as exotica rather than major forces in the world.
We had an attack on this listserv a few years ago on so-called “Mayan math”, the thrust of which was that Arizona students, in an attempt to bolster Hispanic self-esteem, were being taught some jigged-up version of the Mayan mathematical system INSTEAD OF regular good ol’ math. My friend, Brian decided to investigate this since we live in AZ and have been teachers a long time and had never heard of this Mayan math creeping over our school system like illegal immigrants creeping into our schools and suburbs a la Sharon Angle.
It turns out the threat to our youth consisted of an elementary teacher in southern AZ devising a lesson plan to show how the Mayans HAD a mathematical system. The lesson was never implemented, just demonstrated at a conference. True, however, it WAS intended to make little Hispanic kids think their Indian ancestors did something besides dance around fires and shoot ineffective arrows at brave European explorers In that sense, I suppose it was a salvo in the culture wars.
Well, I’ve written myself another blog post since I don’t want to pursue these unending conflicts in values we’ve seen on flteach for years. In two paragraphs, Sharron cannot possibly flesh out her entire conceptualization of all this but her post did seem to me to lead us away from the original point of the thread and that, again, to me, is what happens whenever we try to talk about how we allow various perspectives into the classroom and textbooks: the subject shifts to a generalized “let’s all get along” format, leaving the entrenched view that the only people who matter in our history are those who were enshrined a long time ago. Change might be seen as an attempt to dethrone Europeans and their descendents in the U.S. already feel threatened with marginalization, just like the……… oh, never mind.

Addendum later that night…. We just got back from a small party of graduates from my wife’s high school celebrating their 50 year reunion. Small b/c some of them got tired of the way the main bunch wanted to bring back the Little Rebel mascot with his Confederate flag and the rebel yell and all. Fifty years ago the city had just been trying to integrate its schools; b/c South Mountain H.S. had most of the Black students in its boundaries, that’s where those students went. My wife’s friend from 5th grade and the wife of another friend tried to help with the organizing of the event but were squeezed out. That’s a good example of sensitivity. Now most of the people at this smaller event were White but had been those who were sensitive to the many injustices toward the Black kids. They were friends with Blacks and spoke out against things like reserving some sports for Whites only. All of those present were student leaders in some way and should have been involved in the planning. Some of them were going anyway and we will hear about it. But it’s those kinds of things that we mean when we talk about perspectives. Is it that hard to understand that attending that school in 1960 was one experience for a White kid and a different one for a Black kid. Just be sensitive to that. That’s what we are asking for in the classroom over issues like “celebrating” Columbus Day. But it seems that any such recognition is considered by some to be a concession, a giving in, a relinquishing of power. One might even be forgiven for thinking that maybe it’s an attempt to restore, at least for one night, the glory of White supremacy. One of the attendee’s father was the district superintendant in those days, so he had his father’s take on the whole thing. Wouldn’t it be a hoot to just bring everyone’s perspectives together. Yet to recognize the other is very threatening to some people. Better to stake your claim on “there’s a proper way to do this – my way – and you can just wait by the side of the road and we’ll pick you up if we can.” How hard would it have been to acknowledge the total domination of the school by Whites then, even in athletics? Just given that, most Black and Brown people who attended could breathe easier and then go on and have a good time. B/c those Whites at this party did acknowledge that, we all had a good time.

Next day addendum – my wife talked more about the people at the party, wondering why it was that people who ignored other people 50 years ago still wanted to ignore them and people who recognized other people 50 years ago still were happy to recognize them. We often label this “acceptance” as opposed to mere “tolerance”. I suggested it was personality. Just the one guy I talked to had a father who not only was an educator but allowed his teenage son to tour with bands and not just any bands but Mexican bands. This in a time when segregation was legal. There are certainly other explanations, but my own sense after almost 70 years of getting to know lots of people is that one’s comfort level with certain people, certain ideas, and certain practices is heavily determined by one’s personality.

Then I received a comment on the listserv about my posts re Columbus Day. The poster cited what appeared to him to be a discrepancy between my stated wish not to start any blow-ups and the 4 posts I wrote on the topic. He may not know the amount of ink spilled in the past on this topic, an amount in which 4 posts would be an ink drop. But what I thought notable was this aside of his:

“That’s false. If you didn’t want to rehash past “flteach blow-ups” you wouldn’t have posted four consecutive e-mails on a subject you yourself say has caused precisely that in the past .

I don’t know exactly why you’ve posted so many e-mails about a subject you’d rather not discuss, though I do have a pretty good idea. But whatever your reasons, it certainly isn’t to “avoid blow-ups”. How absurd.”

Where he says:”…though I do have a pretty good idea. But whatever your reasons…” he is hinting at an ideological basis for my concern. It could not be, to his mind, that my life experiences have made me sensitive to what people go through; it must be an underlying ideology I am loath to espouse openly, so I am a crypto-Marxist or Old Leftie or some such.  And this illustrates precisely why I did not go on with this. It’s not that it’s not important; some of the posts indicate that there are teachers who would like to dismiss all this and just continue as usual. But on this particular listserv, flteach, it’s been hashed to death and we are left with the same confusion and resentment as before. It’s pointless. Yet I must admit, it chafes me that a teacher would never be told that some of his students have very good reasons for not being happy with how he presents things in the classroom.  But there’s a time and a place to get into this and a listserv isn’t it.

But the poster will forever believe that I have an agenda beyond that of saying to teachers, “Look, at least give acknowledgement that not everyone thinks as you do nor shares your beliefs and try to reflect that cognizance in your lesson plans. It’ll go a long way toward easing tensions in the classroom.” So I try to say those things but get a wink and a nudge that I am really operating on an agenda derived from some party to the culture wars. The only thing that softens it all for me is that I know the person who posted this will never believe any other way, no matter what I say or do. So it is pointless.

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