Columbus's legend tarnished, says history teacher

By Courtney Lane - bio | email
Posted by Ellen Krafve - bio | email

TYLER, TX (KLTV) - Celebrated for his bravery and ideas Christopher Columbus is a historic legend. He even has his own holiday. But, in classrooms across America, the early explorer is becoming more depicted as a villain.

Many schools across the country no longer observe Columbus Day. Tyler Junior College history professor, Dr. Jeffrey Owens, agrees that in the last few decades, the legend and bravery of Christopher Columbus has become tarnished.

"In a very negative environment where people thought of Columbus as a person who was just conquering people who should've been left alone, you know, all the sympathy for native Americans and all that...then he began to be seen as a bad person," explained Owens.

Lesson plans vary but some teachers say they're trying to present a more realistic depiction, teaching that Columbus was responsible for the deaths of millions of native Americans and also brought over diseases.

"Yes, the missionaries and Columbus and all the rest of them did bring small pox and malaria and cholera," said Owens. "Did they know they were bringing it? No."

Dr. Owens says there's also many positive developments by bringing the world closer together.

"Columbus had a massive and huge impact by bringing science and culture and religion and technology over to the Americas then discovering that they had vast amounts of food crops that could feed the world," said Owens. "Within 100 years you had people in China eating potatoes."

And, of course, debunking the idea the world was flat.

"He proved in less than one semester's time what people had wondered about for 2000 years...that you wouldn't fall off the edge and be eaten by mermaids," joked Owens.

So, while a darker side of the explorer is coming to light, his discoveries are part of our heritage, with much to learn from. Columbus, of course, was not the first one to land on America's shore. The Norse, led by Leif Ericson, built a temporary settlement 500 years earlier.

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