Columbus Day: Commemorating a Holiday in Flux

By Brenda Iasevoli — October 09, 2017 2 min read
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It’s the second Monday in October and teachers across the country are thinking about how best to address Columbus Day, the federal holiday that was established in the 1930s to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ four voyages from Spain to the Americas.

Columbus Day has in more and more school districts been replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day in acknowledgement of the people who were already living in America when the Italian explorer landed. Here, TIME Magazine lists the cities and states that celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Today in Los Angeles, the city’s first celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day after the city council voted in August to rename Columbus Day, a statue of the explorer has been covered up, according to CBS Los Angeles.

In New York, where both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day are celebrated, there are planned protests of a Columbus Day parade in New York City and talk of taking down a prominent statue of the explorer in midtown.

Italian Americans argue that the holiday celebrates the American spirit of exploration along with the contributions of their ancestors, while advocates of Indigenous Peoples’ Day say the explorer doesn’t deserve celebration because of his connection to brutality and slavery.

Take a look at some of the past coverage of Columbus Day, and the debate around it, in Education Week.

Jackie Zubrzycki in this blog post traces the history of Columbus Day and the wave of school districts from Rochester to Seattle that have begun celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day and the students who have led the charge. The post also includes a rundown of the pushback against changing the holiday in Omaha, where Italian Americans argued that the holiday celebrates the contributions of Italian Americans.

Check out this Education Week article to see how teachers across the country were addressing Columbus Day in their classes in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s landing. Debra Viadero explores the debate over how best to teach about the historical significance of Columbus’s voyages while also recounting the devastating effects on the native people who made America their home before his arrival.

In an op-ed piece on Columbus Day in Education Week, former writing teacher Marilyn Rhames explains why it annoys her that we celebrate a man whose ambitions led to the demise of millions of indigenous people in the Caribbean and opened the Atlantic to the African slave trade, and how that legacy continues to impact the African-American educational experience.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.