Sunday, October 13, 2013

I'm Ambivalent About Columbus Day

When I was twenty years old, I learned the truth about Columbus.  I was living in the Dominican Republic at the time.  I was living among the Dominicans, not as a missionary, but as a student.  A learner.  

I attended school.  I rode the guaguas.  I walked through the Colonial Zone and watched the cruise ships dock and explode with foreigners looking for trinkets.  I watched the beaches become roped off so the tourists could enjoy the waves by themselves.

I experienced what it was like to look different than an entire population of people.  I experienced being singled out because of my skin color or hair texture.  I felt the discomfort.  But yet, I loved the people, the culture, the food, the sweltering hot weather.

It was during my time there that I learned about the Taino native people.  I learned that the island was once called Hispaniola, and that an entire race of natives was annihilated by Columbus.  And, to this day, not one full-blooded Taino lives due to disease, murder, and mistreatment by the Spanish conquerers.

And then, just recently, I read this post about Columbus Day on The Oatmeal: 

I know it's my duty to teach my students about the real history of Columbus and what happened so long ago.  

So why do I feel ambivalent every year?  Because I feel like I might be committing heresy against the many history textbooks that still gloss over the history?  Because I don't want to anger my students' parents?  There is such a fine line between teaching the truth to eight year olds and completely traumatizing them.

This year we do not have school on Columbus Day due to Fall Break.  But I still plan to use Jane Yolen's wonderful book Encounter, which describes the events of the Spanish conquerers from the perspective of a Taino boy.

When I was living in Santo Domingo, the running water and electricity were often turned off in sections around the city.  Imagine my surprise when I learned of a museum in town called the Columbus Lighthouse.  It is shaped like the cross and at night, using thousands of watts of light, projects the image of the cross onto the sky.  (Rumor has it that it can be seen from neighboring Puerto Rico.)  It was an interesting feeling to be sweltering in my room at night, with no access to A/C or fans, but to see the lighted cross in the sky in honor of Columbus.

I will share some of what I know with my students.  And I will feel comfortable not knowing the answers to all of their questions.  And I will be satisfied knowing that they will not be twenty years old when they finally learn the truth.

Friday, October 4, 2013

Two Tweets that Changed Everything

In honor of Connected Educator Month...

8 year old Keagan loves The Day the Crayons Quit by Drew Daywalt.  He kept the book at his desk for days until finally, just recently, he told me about a book he wrote.

"I was inspired by Drew Daywalt," he announced.  "I wrote a book just like the Crayons book.  Wanna see?"

Of course I did.  The book is called "Highlighters," and it was organized in letter-format, just as Crayons is.  The highlighters in his book are hilarious and obnoxious.

Later that night, I realized that I am connected to Drew Daywalt on Twitter.  I reached out and told him about Keagan's book, hoping for a response.

Here is the communication that followed:

And here was his response:

The next day, I shared these two tweets with our class.  

Here were some of their responses:


(And keep in mind, this isn't the first time we've communicated with an author.)

Keagan was highly impacted by this.  He walked around for days holding both his book and Daywalt's book, telling anyone who would listen that he was inspired by an author, and that the author responded to his idea for a book.  

So validating.

My students were previously strong writers.  However, their writing identities and stamina for writing are stronger since using Twitter to connect with authors from around the globe.


Connecting on Twitter helps my students see authors as real people, instead of magical beings who have talents beyond what children can possess.  For example:

  • Drew Daywalt tweets about how he sits at hotels and thinks and writes.  (We sit and think and write!)
  • Mo Willems tweets doodles he makes while sitting at a restaurant for dinner.  (Hey, some of us doodle all the time!)
  • Jon Klassen shares pictures on Instagram of animals and landscapes and parts of his artwork.  (Some of us love taking pictures of and drawing animals!)
  • Linda Urban tweets about having to cut hundreds of words from her draft.  (Hey, we are always making revisions to our writing too!)
These writers feel closer to us because of Twitter.  More accessible.  And if real people can write and revise and publish, then surely, we third graders can too! 

Alas, I am not a perfect connected educator.  I know I don't follow as many people on Twitter as I should.  I don't participate in as many chats as I should. There are always so many more ways for me to be connected.  I'm working on it!  (And yes, I may get a bit starstruck when authors tweet us back, but that's beside the point.)  

In the end, I wonder if it's my students who eventually benefit as much, if not more, than I do.  

So thanks, Twitter.  And thanks, Mr. Daywalt.