Columbus a hero? Some Scholars say no

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After an hour of hearing fifth-grade teacher Erin Rygielski teach about Christopher Columbus and his crew enslaving Arawak Indians, burning them and lopping off limbs, Shyanne Horner said she was shocked.

"The Indians had their own opinions and Columbus had his; why couldn't he just go back (to Europe)?" said Horner, 10, of Norwich, a student at John B. Stanton Elementary School. "Columbus changed everything."

Across the country, some teachers are shifting away from the notion Columbus discovered America and are teaching about the explorer as a pioneer of imperialism, according to local educators, scholars and American Indians.

But the shift has been slow and sporadic, educators say, since new interpretations of Columbus are mired in controversy between historical evidence and ethnic pride.

"Many Italian people today consider Columbus Day as the antidote to 'The Godfather' and 'The Sopranos,' " said Robert Thompson, a Syracuse University professor and pop culture expert. "The traditional Columbus story is a natural, easy way to organize history, but history is really one big complicated mess."...

Sociologist James Loewen, who spent two years examining 12 leading high school textbooks of American history to write "Lies My Teacher Told Me," said accounts of Columbus as a barbaric conqueror are more accurate.

"I think we're still dealing with a white supremacist view when it comes to Native Americans," Loewen said. "The truth about Columbus is not such a pretty picture when you get to the details, which include the complete annihilation of the native population of Haiti within 60 years of his arrival."

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