Category Archives: Knowledge

I Walk Down The Street

Many years ago in my life I was in a situation that I didn’t like. I was a teenager, struggling not only with being a teenager but also with some serious mental health issues. I remember at the time feeling like I was doing everything I could and being extremely frustrated that, despite my efforts, my life did not change.

At some point during this time period I was given this poem:

I think the first time I was given it, I didn’t even read it. I was given this poem on several other occasions as a teenager. Eventually I read it but, seriously?, this person is stupid! Just don’t walk into the hole, right?

Later, as an adult, still struggling with many of the same issues that plagued me as a teenager, I was again given this poem.

Reading it, I understood that the person in the poem wasn’t actually walking into a hole in the sidewalk. It was a metaphor. And it made a lot of sense.

The title of the poem, “Autobiography in Five Chapters” is aptly named. I won’t dissect the poem because, like most poetry, each person interprets it in their own way. However, I will discuss the implications to change.

Change really centers on a few things. First, we must realize that there are things that we cannot change and that we have no control over. Next, we must be aware of our own actions and behaviors and acknowledge them as our own choices and responsibility. And last, we must desire and have the courage to make different choices.

It’s obviously an over simplified description of a life-long, complex process. As a teenager I viewed my life much as the second verse in the poem. I continually made the same choices and was surprised that I was in the same place. It simply wasn’t my fault.

With time and a lot of effort to be more aware of my choices and responsibility for those choices, I shifted into a viewpoint somewhere in between the third and fourth verses in the poem. I made the same choices and ended up in the same place, but I wasn’t surprised anymore and I knew how I had gotten there. Eventually I was able to avoid the choices I had made out of habit. And by doing so avoided the outcome.

At present, I’m very much present in the fifth verse of the poem. I’m making new and more aware choices. I realize that those choices are mine to make and, if I don’t like their outcomes, I am always free to make a different choice.

There are parts of life that are out of our control, that we cannot choose and we cannot change. But the majority of our lives and things come directly from choices that we ourselves make. We are in control of those choices and any change we wish to make for ourselves. So often we lose sight of all the choices we (unconsciously) make and all the choices we can make, by focusing too greatly on the few we cannot.

Someone once told me that there are always choices, and they were right. It’s your life. It’s your choice.

The “First” Thanksgiving

Every Thanksgiving Americans across the nation gather with family and friends. Huge, multiple course feasts are prepared, with all the fixings and favorites. Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Sweet potato pie. Cranberry sauce. Corn. Green bean casserole. Corn bread. And finishing with desert (if we have any room left in our stomachs!). We give thanks and rejoice at the bounty we have before us.

There’s traditions in each family around Thanksgiving. Special dishes of food. Perhaps viewing the Thanksgiving Day parade on TV. Or a football game. These traditions are special to each gathering, to each group of people. We take comfort and joy on this day as we reflect on what we are thankful and grateful for.

This aspect of Thanksgiving, of being mindful and aware of our gratitude, is one I support and enjoy. I have much to be thankful for. However, the myth of Thanksgiving is something I strongly disagree with and that I find upsetting. Especially as it’s taught in our public schools.

I wrote about my disdain on how Columbus Day is perceived and taught earlier this year. I am equally appalled by how Thanksgiving is presented, especially in schools.

My oldest daughter, Z,  is in 2nd grade and for the last three years I have needed to “re-teach” her about Thanksgiving. This year she told me her teacher had read the class a book about the Pilgrims coming to America and how the Indians helped them. She told me about “the first Thanksgiving” where the Pilgrims and the Indians sat down and shared dinner on that day. In 1st grade she shared a similar story with me that she had learned in school. And in Kindergarten, she brought home a photocopied book she had made, the first few pages are shown below.

Looks real peaceful. Smiling Pilgrims with a gun and a solemn Native American.


So… what’s so wrong with any of this? Why am I upset over it? Honestly, I’m upset and saddened because what I was taught in school as a child, and what is apparently still being taught to my daughter, isn’t true. When I mentioned to Z this year that what her teacher read the class was a nice story, she defended the story of the first Thanksgiving by telling me that it really happened.

It didn’t. The story of the first Thanksgiving that we have been told is a myth. A legend.  The idea of Pilgrims and “Indians” sharing a peaceful meal is entirely fabricated.  There were many days of thanksgiving, both amongst the Pilgrims and in Native American tradition and these were celebrations of a successful harvest season. Much more of the myth is, well, myth, right down to what the Pilgrims and Native Americans wore or ate.

There’s also many omitted details. Such as  in 1637, when the day of Thanksgiving was a celebration of the return of Pilgrim men who had traveled to Mystic, Connecticut and fought against the Pequot tribe resulting in the deaths of 700+ Pequot people. Or of Pilgrims robbing the graves of  the Wampanoag tribe and stealing their food (information that comes from a Pilgrim’s account of the first year). Rather than these events being altered, they are entirely left out.

My dismay over the Thanksgiving story as it is currently presented isn’t solely based on the omissions on how Native Americans were treated. Or the stereotyped construction of Native Americans being primitive and dumb. It isn’t from the way Pilgrims are presented either, as pure models on which to base our selves. My dismay is that we are teaching our children (and adults) that this story is truth. That the story that has been constructed as the first Thanksgiving is history.

Why do we teach false history? If the idea of the thanksgiving tradition is important somehow, then why don’t we frame it as a tradition? Why don’t we frame it as a story? When we frame it as, “this happened” we aren’t teaching our children anything worthwhile. James W. Loewen wrote in his novel Lies My Teacher Told Me that, “The antidote to feel-good history is not feel-bad history but honest and inclusive history. If textbook authors feel compelled to give moral instruction… they could accomplish this by allowing students to learn both the ‘good’ and the ‘bad’ sides of the Pilgrim tale. Conflict would then become part of the story, and students might discover the knowledge they gain has implications for their lives today.” (p 97)

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it

History should allow us to learn from it. It’s my hope to raise two confident, intelligent children with the capacity to critically think and examine what is presented to them. And to be able to decide what is truthful based on their own exploration of such, not blindly believing what they are taught or told. It isn’t only the past history of our nation that we are misinformed on. The events that are currently happening in our nation are often misconstrued, censored and even hidden — by the media, by those in power and by the overwhelming fact that most of us aren’t even aware. Try googling ‘UC Davis Pepper Spray’ or ‘Occupy Wall Street’ and see how aware you are of the events happening right now, in our nation.

This Thanksgiving, I am thankful for the teachers and people in my life who taught me to critically think, to question, to examine and seek out the truth in everything.

Focus on Success

Some days are filled with frustration. With waiting. With anger. With lack of movement. With lack of change.

Some days, despite our best efforts, we don’t receive the things we need and require. We don’t accomplish the goals we set out to reach.

And we don’t hear the words we need to hear.

On some days, this is due to our own inability to hear them. Those around us are speaking words of praise, acknowledging our accomplishments and our successes. Providing support and encouragement in continuing to succeed and offering constructive criticism in an effort to encourage our growth in those areas. On some days, we are lost in our own minds, our focus elsewhere, and we do not hear all the positive feedback that we receive.

On other days, there is no one speaking words of praise. On these days we must speak praise to ourselves. We must acknowledge our own accomplishments and successes, encouraging ourselves to continue moving forward in our goals. On these days we must be patient with ourselves and realize that despite the lack of outside support and encouragement, we are doing a “good job.” We are doing the best we can and we will continue to do better. We must be kind to ourselves and speak positively of our accomplishments, noticing our strengths and weaknesses while weighing them equally.

At times I become frustrated as I continue to look for praise & approval from those who have never given me such. From those who continually choose to overlook my strengths and instead focus on my weaknesses.  I am not perfect. Neither are you or anyone else. We all have our own strengths and our own weaknesses. To focus solely on either, in ourselves and others, is neither kind or productive.

We must try to focus on the strengths in ourselves and others.  Constantly receiving negative feedback (about our weaknesses, our failures, our mistakes) while neglecting any positive feedback (about our successes, our accomplishments) doesn’t make us feel good — whether the talk is coming from another person or ourselves. A focus primarily on negatives (even if the goal is improvement) brings our thoughts to “I-can’t-do-it” and provides supporting examples of such beliefs.

Identifying and acknowledging strengths provides a foundation on which we can build on. A focus primarily on strengths provides examples of times we have been successful, allows us to examine how we were able to succeed and empowers us by identifying methods that have previously resulted in success.

I know when I’m told that I’m, “doing a good job” I tend to not believe such. What does “doing a good job” mean? How is it defined? Statements like that are generic and don’t provide any supporting “evidence” that I, or anyone else, really did a good job. In acknowledging success we must be specific. For example, “You did a good job at setting the table. You really paid close attention to where the forks needed to be placed.” Not only did I offer praise but I gave focus to a specific aspect of success and used “you” statements to show objectiveness, rather than “I feel…” or “I think…” statements, which show my subjective view.

We could all benefit from an increased focus on strengths. While there is a space and time for constructive criticism, we as people also need to hear what we are doing well. We need to hear praise and acknowledgement of our accomplishments. We need to hear support and encouragement. We need to hear these things from ourselves but we also need to hear them from those around us.

Can we try to not only focus on the positives, but also communicate them – to others and to ourselves? I truly believe that we are all doing the best we can in this moment, given the knowledge, resources and support we currently have. Let’s tell those around us that we see the accomplishments they’re making and the things they are doing well. Let’s help them build their foundation for continued success and build upon our own in the process.

#ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Across the country (and even over seas!) young mothers are uniting in a discussion on a common topic – their experiences as a young parent. The hash tag #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear was started by blogger and former teen mom, Natasha Vianna about her frustration with comments made to young mothers. You can read more about how and why #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear started in Natasha’s blog post at the PushBack.

Clearly Natasha struck a chord with other current and former young moms, who have utilized the hash tag and shared their own frustrations and experiences. As a former young mom, I too joined in on the discussion. I was 19 years old when my first daughter was born and by 23 I had two daughters. The stares I received and the comments people have felt the need to share with me have, at times, been appalling.

Shortly after leaving my abusive, dead-beat boyfriend I was at my postpartum check up. My beautiful 6-week old daughter was sleeping in her car seat, as I sat in the waiting room filling out papers.  Two middle-age ladies who were sitting near by “whispered” to one other about how I was, “Just another one of those girls.”  It sadly wasn’t the first nor the last negative comment I have heard.

You’re doing a good job… for a young parent (& why is that surprising?)

Why didn’t you marry your [abusive] baby’s father?

Your life held such potential [it still does]

Really? You have two kids?

Its irresponsible of you to want your own identity and interests

 How unfair that teens are having babies when there are couples who are unable to conceive [no correlation]

I was fortunate to connect with a young mom group in my area at that time called MELD. Once a week several other young moms, myself and our children would meet. For the first hour we shared dinner with one another and our children. Afterwards our kids would be watched by volunteers and the remaining time would be split between sharing and education. As we shared our experiences with one another, there seemed to be an endless supply of rude, appalling things we were being told.  Though I have graduated from the group, I still keep in contact with most of the moms. I have also made amazing, supportive friendships with many young parents online.

Despite assumptions and stereotypes placed on young mothers, we are succeeding. I’ve completed a college degree and am working on a second one to become a social worker (working with young parents and their children). I’m a member of my school’s honor society and my GPA is a 3.549. My young mom friends have also graduated high school and gone to college.

As Katie of A Girl Like Me blogs: “We’re not all on welfare, and we’re not all party animals or sluts or druggies like the girls who give the rest of us a bad name. We love and take care of our kids just as much as ‘normal’ aged mothers do. We’re still intelligent and productive members of society. We grow up with our kids, and I feel like we learn more life lessons that way. The young moms I know are some of the wisest people in my life.”

Natasha Vianna blogs that, “Hearing the success stories of young moms can sometimes anger people even more. If we’re not falling into the ‘stereotype’ and have made something of our lives, we are told we are still a bad example! We are told we are promoting the concept of becoming a teen mom. When we fail, we get the ‘I told you so!”

The stereotyping and judgments placed on young parents is appalling and damaging to their success and the success of their children. General assumptions, such as the ones shared on #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear can be truly damaging. We are empowered by speaking out and sharing our experiences as young moms. I encourage all young moms, current and former, to join in the  conversation on twitter #ThingsAYoungMomDoesntWantToHear

Are We Doing Enough for Our Veterans?

Today, November 11, is Veterans Day. An annual holiday in the United States honoring military veterans. While it’s wonderful to have a day honoring the brave men and women who have served, and who continue to serve our country, it isn’t enough.

The fight doesn’t end when they get home…

Homelessness, unemployment, disability, substance abuse and mental illness all face service men and woman upon their return. Lack of family or a support system, compounded by inadequate or nonexistent services does not present the honor and respect our veterans deserve.

There are some resources available to veterans. The National Center for PTSD offers information on Post Traumatic Stress disorder in veterans, though they do, “not provide direct clinical care or individual referrals.” Afterdeployment.org, “is a behavioral health resource supporting service members, their families, and veterans with common post-deployment challenges.”

Flickr: finishing-school

Serving San Diego county in California, Veterans Village of San Diego (VVSD) provides comprehensive and innovative services for military veterans and assistance to needy and homeless veterans and their families. Solider On, serving the state of Massachusetts, “assist[s] veterans with both picking up the pieces of their lives and filling in the gaps that public agencies do not address.”

Soldier On’s mission statement declares that, “Homeless veterans need an interwoven effort that provides a safety net of housing, meals, health care, substance abuse aftercare and mental health counseling. They also need job assessment, training and placement assistance. Our mission at Solider On is to offer a continuum of care that includes immediate and long-term housing, treatment and recovery for addiction, food, and clothing, as well as medical, counseling and job-related services.”

“Because government money for homeless veterans is currently limited and serves only one in 10 veterans in need, it is critical that private groups such as Soldier On reach out to help provide the support, resources and opportunities most Americans take for granted: housing, employment and health care.” Private groups comprise a large part of programs providing assistance and resources to homeless veterans.

The story of Herold Noel, an Iraq War veteran suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and living in his car in Brooklyn, is featured in the documentary WHEN I CAME HOME. The film examines the challenges that are faced by combat veterans returning home and the battle that many must fight to receive the benefits promised to them. The trailer is provided below and you can view the entire movie streaming online for free on hulu.

I Miss You

July 7, 1949 – November 10, 2010

One year ago today my father passed away. He was 61 years old and died alone at his house from heart related problems. He was also an alcoholic. I don’t dare omit that information because it’s important. For most of my childhood my dad was sober. For the last five or so years of his life, he was in a cycle of active alcoholism, treatment/rehabilitation, being sober and returning to active alcoholism. At the time of his death he had been sober for a brief period.

I loved my father. He was the person I most looked up to. I tried to help him. I drove him to hospitals. I offered my support. I called to check up on him and to help him with anything he might need. But, here’s the thing that I feel those who have not directly dealt with alcoholism/addiction may not understand: Only the person using (alcohol and/or drugs) can decide to get help.  Family and friends can assist in creating conditions that may make that decision more attractive.

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD) offers

I know my dad knew I loved him. I don’t have any guilt over how I acted towards him. I feel no regret that I didn’t do enough for him, because there was nothing more that I could have done. I felt I needed to set boundaries to protect myself and my children. I don’t feel bad that he didn’t see them more, because when my daughters saw him, he was well. He wasn’t falling down drunk and they will never have those memories of him being like that. Instead they have memories of a papa who made them fairy houses and brought them presents from the festivals he had been to and who dressed up on Halloween like a fisherman.

I refuse to let the years when my dad was an active alcoholic cloud my memories of him. Instead I’ll focus on the years prior, when he was the dad I looked up to, who believed in me, who understood me, who was my hero. That’s the dad I’m going to remember.

I’ll remember the dad who I could call when I locked my keys in my car for the 5th time – an hour away. I’ll remember when he would take me fishing. When he took me to pick fiddle heads and dandelion greens. I’ll remember his obsession with the Iditarod. And the presents he would make me out of wood. The time he taught me how to weave a basket. And when we would find him on his mail route and have lunch with him, car-side. I’ll remember going camping and walking on the beaches. The time he took me out in the boat on the lake, gave me a canvas and paints and told me we would both paint what we saw and then compare it. I’ll remember all the times he helped me get my cats down from trees they had climbed and become stuck in. The 4th of July parade. The times he snuck my brother and me candy and drove us around looking at holiday lights, so we could finish it before we got home. Canoeing. All the talks with him about anything and everything. The lasagna and soups he would cook. His tattoos. I’ll remember how he taught me about gardening and flowers. His love of animals. Bob Dylan songs. And trips to Vermont and the cows…

Despite the sadness, I honestly also feel relief that he doesn’t have to suffer anymore. He wasn’t perfect but he understood me more than most people ever have.  He shaped me so much in my love of nature, animals and literature and, most importantly, in believing in yourself. I love you dad and I miss you.

————————

Resources on alcoholism and recovery:

The National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence, Inc (NCADD)
Alcoholics Anonymous (AA)

Resources for people affected by alcoholism of a friend or family member:

Al-Anon/Alateen
Adult Children of Alcoholics (ACA)

Justin Bieber, Sex Education & Informed Sexual Choices

Recently allegations have been made suggesting that teen heart-throb Justin Bieber may have fathered a baby with a female fan. If we can temporarily suspend thoughts on the merit of this claim, we can view Bieber’s possible teen parenthood in relation to sexual education in the United States. Cristina Page of the Huffington Post recently authored an insightful article on the very topic.

In The Sex Education of Justin Bieber, Page states that, “Bieber serves as an allegory for the way we treat American teens: leading them to temptation, unprotected and unprepared, and expecting more of them than we do of ourselves.” Sex education in the US is lacking. An overwhelming amount of US schools do not offer adequate sex education and many that do focus primarily on an abstinence only model.

The temptation that faces hormone-driven teenagers, combined with their embarrassment and lack of education concerning sex is sadly setting them up for potential consequences they are neither prepared for nor often aware of. Contraceptives, such as condoms, are not only important as a form of birth control but also as a method of preventing sexually transmitted diseases.

Recent studies from the National Campaign indicate that nearly half of all teenagers in the US have ever had sex and over one-third are sexually active (defined as having had sex during the past three months). A condom was used in less than two-thirds of those sexually active teens the last time they had sex. Birth control at the last time of sex was used in only one-in five sexually active teens, essentially unchanged from 1991.

With this information its not difficult to see how the lack of adequate, informative sex education may play a role in United States teen pregnancy rates. The US still has the highest rates of teen pregnancy and birth among comparable countries. In 2008 the teen birth rate in the US was 41.5 births per 1000.  Unprotected sex can result in pregnancy, even the very first time you have sex.

Source: The National Campaign

In her article Page suggests that Bieber, “talk candidly about sexual desire and pregnancy prevention” with his fans as, “a single informed tweet from Justin could do more for prevention of pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases than the morning after pill.”

Any informative sexual education aimed at teenagers could prove useful, especially coming from a peer-aged celebrity. As for the allegations against Bieber? We’ll have to wait and see how they play out. Regardless, teens deserve adequate and realistic sexual knowledge with the ultimate goal of preventing sexually transmitted diseases and teen pregnancy.

For more information on sexual education, contraceptives and preventing teen pregnancy & sexually transmitted diseases, please visit Scarleteen. Their page, Birth Control Bingo, can assist you in finding the method of birth control that’s right for you.

Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy?

As I was scrolling my Facebook feed this afternoon I came across a new post from The PushBack blog. A project of the Massachusetts Alliance on Teen Pregnancy, the PushBack is a  blog where young parents and those who work with and for them can present truthful stories of their lives.  The  post, entitled ‘Prevention Campaign Promotes Stereotyping’, and written by Natasha Vianna examines a YouTube video  by the DC Campaign.

Supposedly the video is part of a campaign to prevent teen pregnancy. Instead the video uses ridiculous stereotypes of teen parents.  Natasha accurately states that, “By using a teen mother’s life as a way of scaring people into choosing an alternate life, you are offending and seriously harming that teen mother. You are pressuring her into accepting the failures.”  After watching the video, I was angry and offended. Like Natasha, who is also a former teen parent, it hurts to see teen pregnancy continue to be stereotyped, especially by a campaign that is claiming to be promoting teen pregnancy prevention.

This and other stereotypes are largely inaccurate and based on unfounded assumptions. They perpetuate judgement and prejudices.  Negative stereotypes, like the one portrayed in this video, may even cause people in the targeted group to view the stereotype and it’s behaviors as the norm, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy and setting them up for failure. While our goal is to reduce teenage pregnancy, we also need to support and encourage teenage parents to succeed. Presenting stereotypes such as these, only hurts, offends and alienates current and former teen mothers. And is an ineffective way to decrease teen pregnancy.

To check out the blog post, and the video:

Prevention campaign promotes stereotyping | The PushBack

Taking Care of Yourself

I had my afternoon planned. I was going to find a frame for a picture of my dad from upstairs in my house, I was going to get some schoolwork completed ahead of schedule and I was going to write a blog post here about Triggers. As I was upstairs, looking through a box of frames, one of my cats suddenly screeched, jumped and ran like a bat out of hell over the box of frames and my hand.

My initial feeling was confusion. I didn’t see any reason why she was so suddenly spooked. As I looked down I saw that not only had she scratched my hand to the point of bleeding, but she had scratched the picture of my dad. Three deep scratches entirely through the picture.

You may be thinking, so what?, and not knowing the significance, I wouldn’t blame you. The picture of my dad was actually part of his memorial program from his funeral. I had wanted to frame it so I could look at it daily. As the cuts on my hand began to sting and bleed, I felt angry. And sad. I wanted to scream and yell at my cat. I wanted to throw things. I just didn’t want to feel this way.

Taking a moment to calm down, I took deep breaths and tried to focus. I knew that getting angry and acting on it wouldn’t help the situation. My picture would still be scratched. So would my hand. My cat would still be scared. I decided in that moment to move on. Holding onto any anger would only make things worse. Instead I took another deep breath, sighed heavily out, and went to check on my cat.  She was still quite scared. I still don’t know what scared her but, as my pet, it was my job to calm her down and comfort her.

Coming back down the stairs, still quite a bit frazzled from what happened, I decided to try and see what positive I could find in the situation. I had been running around all morning, doing errands, and was really running on empty. I hadn’t eaten breakfast or lunch. Sure, I was getting things done and being productive, but I wasn’t taking care of myself. I fall into this trap quite often, the trap of taking care of everyone around me and never quite getting to the part where I take care of myself.

So instead of doing all the (very productive) things I had planned for the afternoon, I’m going to make myself some lunch, sit down and eat it, and maybe watch some Sons of Anarchy (such a guilty pleasure!). I can do the other things later on. And I’m not going to feel bad about it. Of course there needs to be a balance in our priorities and what we do, but taking care of ourselves needs to be included in that.

I once heard an analogy that has been labeled the “Oxygen Mask Theory”. It boils down to this:

When you’re on an airplane you’re instructed to put on your own oxygen mask before assisting others in putting on theirs. If you don’t put your own mask on first, you’d likely pass out from lack of oxygen before being able to assist anyone else (your child, your family members, your friends, the guy sitting next to you who can’t figure it out, etc). It makes sense it that context. In day to day life how often to we put the needs of others before the needs of our own?

Yes, everyone matters. And, if you’re like me, you want to help everyone. In anyway you can. But don’t you count as part of “everyone”? Don’t you matter too? On an airplane, putting on your oxygen mask allows you to better help everyone around you. In life, taking time to take care of yourself also allows you to better help everyone around you. This is so important as a parent. Or a social worker. It also serves as an example of what we wish for others to strive to do.

Why I Won’t Be Celebrating Columbus Day

 For many it’s a day off from school or work and, I guess, reason enough to celebrate. For me, it goes back to history and the manner that history is taught across our country.

My seven year old daughter came home from school this past Friday and told me how her teacher read her a book about Christopher Columbus to explain “Why we celebrate him.” When I asked her what the book was about she told me it was about “some guy” who sailed on 3 boats, the Nina, Pinta and the Santa Maria and who “discovered America.” Then she rattled off the grade-school rhyme that many educators use to teach students about Christopher Columbus:

“In fourteen hundred ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

What my daughter describes being taught is not much different from the myth of Columbus that is perpetuated throughout many classrooms in the US. A google search of ‘Christopher Columbus rhyme” brought up numerous pages with lesson plans for teachers, incorporating the rhyme and other myths. Some common myths of the Columbus story: Columbus thought the earth was round when everyone at the time thought it flat. Columbus set sail to search for much-needed spices. Columbus discovered America or Columbus was the first European to discover America.

These statements simply aren’t true. Columbus, and most people of the time, knew the world was round. Columbus didn’t set sail in search of spices. His primary  motive was the search for gold and a secondary motive of spreading European Christianity. That Columbus discovered America is false for several reasons: a) Columbus landed on many islands in the Americas (as seen in the map above) but never touched ground in continental North America, b) many explorers, including Leif Erikson, the Viking, landed and founded settlements in the Americas, many years before Columbus and, c) Native Americans discovered the Americas, including North America, tens of thousands of years before Columbus was even born. In sum, these statements are false, though the greatly exaggerated and omitted parts of the Columbus story are what truly make me upset.

In fourteen hundred ninety three, Columbus stole all he could see.

Christopher Columbus is portrayed to be a hero. Humanizing factors of his character have been exaggerated and focused upon. The history that is omitted and, often not know by many Americans, does not fit in alignment with a hero. Christopher Columbus was directly involved in the enslavement and genocide of entire cultures. “[He] introduced two phenomena that revolutionized race relations and transformed the modern world: the taking of land, wealth, and labor from indigenous peoples, leading to their near extermination, and the transatlantic slave trade, which created a racial underclass.” (excerpt from Lies My Teacher Told Me, by James W. Loewen)

Other acts of cruelty committed or ordered by Columbus included sexual slavery, rape, punishments by way of cutting off a native’s nose, ear or hands for resisting slavery, sending dogs to hunt after natives and maiming them, killing natives to be fed to the dogs and many more horrific atrocities. Not to mention Columbus’ role in the destruction and genocide of the Lucayans, Taínos and Arawaks cultures.

So, why does Columbus get the hero treatment? Why are the parts of his cruelty omitted while the parts of his exploration played up? Looking back on my childhood education I wish I had been taught the true story of Christopher Columbus; the truth of all history. Teaching children blatant lies about history, often omitting the negative details, does not benefit them or the adults they grow to be. If more people in our world were taught all of the truth and not just bits and pieces, they could potentially form better, more informed choices.

Of Interest:

Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong, by James W. Loewen. I received a copy at my high school graduation from one of my teachers. It was an eyeopener at the time and a book I recommend to everyone.

Transform Columbus Day, webpage for the Transform Columbus Day Alliance who actively rejects the celebration of Christopher Columbus and his legacy of domination, oppression, and colonialism. As well as rejecting historical misconceptions regarding Columbus.

NY Times, Slavery and Colonialism Make Up the True Legacy of Columbus.

Huffington Post, Eric Kasum: Columbus Day? True Legacy: Cruelty and Slavery