NYC’s public schools will close on Columbus Day on Monday, but the Department of Education has avoided any public mention of the controversial Italian explorer.
While schools Chancellor Richard Carranza recently launched a “culturally responsive” education initiative, he hasn’t said a word about what students should think or learn about Christopher Columbus.
The DOE’s calendar still names Columbus Day — which is notable.
Across the nation, a growing legion of states, cities and school districts have rejected a federal holiday to honor the Italian navigator who “discovered” America in 1492.
Just last week, lawmakers and officials in Wisconsin, Washington D.C., and Richmond, Va. declared they would celebrate Oct. 14 as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in honor of Native Americans.
Carranza recently launched a “culturally responsive and sustaining education” initiative aimed at sparking student “consciousness” on racial privilege, diverse historical figures and events, and neglected topics, such as the LGBTQ rights movement.
Sam Pirozzolo, an Italian-American father of two in Staten Island, bristled at the program, saying it downplays his Italian heritage.
“I think he’s doing culturally selective education,” he said of Carranza.
Pirozzolo said he doesn’t mind the historical focus on Columbus’s offenses, but called it “a slap in the face” to Italian-Americans not to have a day of recognition. “They’re trying to erase the contributions of Italians.”
The DOE uses the “Passport to Social Studies” curriculum in 5th and 7th grades. A teacher’s 5th grade lesson plan on Columbus states:
“In his quest for the riches that he never really found, he subjected the native people he encountered to violence, slavery, and disease. Explain that Columbus and his men had the advantage of power since they had access to weapons that the native people did not. . . . he also believed that it was acceptable to treat the indigenous people they way he did because he viewed them as uncivilized and savages.”
Miriam Sicherman, a teacher at the Children’s Workshop School in the East Village, discussed Columbus with her third-graders last week.
“We talked about him and other explorers who treated the natives like they were not quite human, like they were property they could do with what they wanted, that native people were enslaved by Columbus and other Europeans. A lot of people died.”
She also noted positive qualities such as “being determined, brave, trying to discover something new,” she said.
“I don’t want to demonize people who celebrate Columbus Day.”
But the lesson left the kids “perplexed,” she said.
“The consensus was, “This is very confusing. Why would we celebrate someone who treated a big group of other people badly?’”
San Francisco’s Board of Education agrees, wiping the holiday off its academic calendar in 2017 after Native American students protested.
Carranza, who previously served as that city’s schools chief, wasn’t there for the vote. He had left for Houston, where the school district doesn’t observe Columbus Day at all.
Mayor de Blasio won’t ignore the holiday, spokeswoman Freddi Goldstein said. He plans to march in the Bronx’s Columbus Day parade on Sunday and Monday’s big parade in Manhattan.
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