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Issue/Question:

When I was growing up, everything was so much simpler. I loved celebrating holidays like Columbus Day in school. It was fun and gave us a chance to learn about the history of our country. Now things seem much more complicated. Should I ignore these holidays in my classroom for fear of offending someone -- in this case, Native Americans?

Suggested Response:

It's painful to give up traditions that were fun and held meaning for us as children. It is important to remember, however, that even when you were a child, holidays that were uncomplicated for you may have been troublesome for people from different cultures and traditions. The complexity also existed then -- it just hadn't been brought out fully into public awareness.

Columbus Day still can be used to help children learn about this nation's history. In fact, the holiday commemorates an event that triggered a series of extremely complex phenomena. The arrival of Columbus marked the beginning of a migration of European settlers that caused the destruction of the civilizations already existing on these shores -- a myriad of diverse cultures collectively known today as Native Americans. At the same time, America offered a wonderful opportunity to those Europeans searching for political, religious, and economic freedom. It is important to help children explore and understand both of these truths, to help them learn from historical problems, and to recognize the effects of those problems on modern-day America.

While elementary age children are too young to understand political complexities, they can grasp from the start that Native American cultures were highly developed societies when Columbus arrived and that the Europeans did not actually "discover" America. As they grow older, they can use that as a foundation on which to build an understanding of the complexities of a multicultural American society.

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