What are you celebrating?

Today is Columbus Day, and I’m not sure whether to celebrate. Despite all of the problems in the United States, I am proud to be American.  Our country is beautiful and rich with many different cultures. Columbus was one of the explorers who brought news of this land back to Europe, and a lot of development took place here as a result. This morning, as I flew back from Washington DC, I got a spectacular view of the city.

In my photograph above, you can see the Washington Monument, National Mall, and Capitol Building — they are truly a majestic sight from any angle.

A Mayan women for whom I made a balloon hat in Panajachel

I am happy to have a day of rest after a busy weekend, but I also feel sad that we are celebrating Columbus Day.  I know that Christopher Columbus killed many Native Americans in his quest to “discover” new land. Imagine what this landscape looked like during the 1400s?  After Europeans arrived, many trees were cut down and the whole landscape changed.  Hundreds of tribes have been displaced and many are gone forever. There are many people who think of Columbus as a murderer, not a hero.  Today, I was reminded of the song  1492 by Nancy Schimmel and came across this e-card on the web.  Instead of calling this “Columbus Day,” should we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Sadly, Native Americans in the United States do not have much land and many aspects of their original languages, cultures, and traditions have been destroyed.  In Guatemala, Mayan people still make up most of the population. Unfortunately, many of them are relatively poor and the people in the country with the most wealth often have European ancestry. When I visited Guatemala in 2006, I learned a lot about the Mayan culture, from their stunning weaving to their hearty farming practices.  This is a group of people who have a lot to share with the global community, and I hope their culture stays alive for many years to come.

Two women I saw touring the sights of Cappadocia together back in April

The issue of Columbus Day is not just about history.  We are still living in a world where people are trying to figure out how to get along with others from different backgrounds. A few weeks ago, I read a news article about a college student in Ohio who posted a photograph online of a Sikh woman he saw in the library. He made a mean comment about her appearance, and many other people online started making rude comments. The young woman in the photograph, Balpreet Kaur, saw the comments. Instead of writing something rude back, she used it as an opportunity to educate people about her religion.  She wrote, “I do not think explaining myself and the way I am is a waste of energy because storytelling in itself is a way to fight the apathy in this world… By simple interactions like this, we can better understand each other and make this world more open and loving even if it is just one person or many.” What could have been a sad situation of cyber bullying turned into an opportunity.

Students from many backgrounds who worked together in China this summer

Learning how to appreciate other cultures and work side by side is fundamental to being successful in the 21st century. Over the next 10, 20, and 30 years, more and more jobs will be multi-national, multi-lingual, and multi-cultural. Your co-workers, neighbors, friends, and family will hail from many corners of the globe, if they don’t already.  This blog is one small piece of an effort to prepare all of us to live in a “global world.”

My talk at the Teachers for Global Classrooms symposium: “Beyond Blogging”

This weekend reminded me that I’m not alone in this effort. The Department of State funds the Teachers for Global Classrooms (TGC) program, which flew me to DC and Ukraine. I’m proud that foreign policy dollars are being spent to make sure that young Americans are prepared to live and work in a global economy. I gave a talk on this blog to Department of State representatives and teachers from more than 30 other states. A few other teachers also spoke about how they are doing global education, and each person in the room had ideas to share in break out sessions afterwards. Nobody was there because they had to be. All of the teachers in the program were clearly hungry for ideas, because we all care so deeply about this movement.

This is the end of our TGC program, but it’s just the beginning. I will soon introduce my Global Education Resource Guide to teachers at Innovation Academy, and work to share what I’ve learned throughout this past year with TGC. While I’ll probably keep adding and editing, you can check it out now in the “For Teachers” tab at the top of this page (especially if you are a teacher)!  I’m proud to introduce this video that I made to introduce the guide to teachers who might want to “globalize” their classrooms:

Let’s work together to think globally, but not because we are trying to beat China and India to the best jobs. Let’s globalize because we have a lot to gain from getting along and working together across cultures. Now that is something to celebrate! If you are a student who is reading this, I hope you grow up to make many discoveries like Columbus. And I also hope you learn some things from his mistakes.

Ukrainian Musicians (playing the bandura)

So, how should we celebrate Columbus Day next year? And what can we do before then to work towards creating the type of world we want to live in?

4 replies »

  1. Well, if it helps to know, Columbus brought smallpox and also Bartolome de las Casas, which he didn’t control.

  2. I also find it ironic that we celebrate Columbus Day, when we teach kids in this generation that Columbus didn’t “find” America, and that he and other explorers like him did so much damage to the native people. What message are we sending them that we take this day off of school anyway?

    On the other hand, our kids are smart and see this irony for themselves.

    I can tell you, I think of it as “I don’t have to drive to school” Day, or “No homework” Day or “I get an extra day to hang out with my wonderful kids” Day. Yesterday especially it could have been “Enjoy the gorgeous fall morning” Day.

    And while I do regret that so many indigenous people lost their cultures and lives because of the coming of the Europeans, I cannot regret the country that is founded here now. I am eternally grateful that we live in a country that allows us to speak out as we see fit, that allows women to work when we want to and stay home with our kids if we want to, that gives men and women both a chance to vote and put out ideas for laws and regulations, that allows us to educate our children in a myriad number of ways, and gives us a chance to worship who and what we please when and where we please if we choose to do so. While the rest of the world struggles to get even one of these blessings, we take them for granted every day.

    So “Columbus” Day? Maybe Columbus himself wasn’t the first explorer to find our continent or discover the spherical nature of our earth. Maybe he wasn’t the most moral or careful or caring human being. But I’m glad my kids get an extra day off of school to enjoy the autumn with me and have a little time to discuss the blessings we receive living in this amazing country…and figure out how we can give back to this country and the global community we’re part of.

  3. I’m sorry I couldn’t comment earlier, I’ve been busy with homework.

    Hmm… I don’t know, Ms. Krakauer. To be honest, I don’t think we should even celebrate Columbus Day at all.
    Why couldn’t we have named this day America Day, or New World Day? Lots of other explorers have at least seen America before Columbus!! Besides, Columbus was one of the most violent of the explorers. 😡
    But I would probably celebrate Columbus Day by discovering something new. After all, Columbus Day IS about the day when Columbus discovered America.
    My family and I were also celebrating the Mid-Autumn Festival on September 30th. The day of the festival is not always September 30th because this festival is based on the Lunar Calendar. I like to call it the Moon Festival though. On this day, we eat moon cakes.
    The moon cakes symbolize the shape of the moon, and it also symbolizes the coming together of a family.
    This festival is kind of based on a long ago time. Long ago, there was a really bad murderer in China, and one person really wanted to get rid of the bad guy. So, he made all these moon cakes and stuck a little piece of paper inside each of them. The little piece of paper basically read something like, “Kill the bad guy!” Then all of the people came together and they worked together to the kill the criminal. It worked!

    Best Wishes!!
    😉 ~ Anna

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