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Commentary: Christopher Columbus and the Iraq War

By Bill Bigelow

Almost all my high school students can recite the singsong rhyme,

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

Most of them—and most of you—can name Columbus' ships, the Pinta, Niña, and Santa Maria. But since I began teaching in 1978, I've never had a student who could name the nationality of the people he encountered: the Taínos.

This fact hints at how the traditional Columbus myth, and much of the curriculum that follows in its wake, has conditioned children to accept without question imperial adventures like the Iraq war.

For many children, the meeting of Columbus and the Taínos is the first time in the formal curriculum they learn about the contact between different cultures—often as early as October of kindergarten year, around Columbus Day. In fact, it's children's first in-school exposure to the contact between different nations—to foreign policy.

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