The People vs. Columbus et al.

In 6th grade Social Studies, students have been learning about Christopher Columbus. Acknowledging that most of what we hear today is about how terrible of a person Columbus was, the student's participated in a role play to decide if they believe that Columbus is solely responsible for the crimes he committed, or are there other additional parties who should be blamed instead or as well? Through this activity, students learn more about Columbus and the history of his expedition to Hispanola, but they also have to exhibit critical thinking, appropriate courtroom etiquette, and have persuasive and fact-based conversations with people who have a different opinion than their own. Mary Kratz, 5/6 Social Studies Teacher explains their role play:

This role play begins with the premise that a monstrous crime was committed in the years after 1492, when perhaps as many as three million or more Taínos on the island of Hispaniola lost their lives. (Most scholars estimate the number of people on Hispaniola in 1492 at between one and three million; some estimates are lower and some much higher. By 1550, very few Taínos remained alive.) Who — and/or what — was responsible for this slaughter? This is the question we confront in our courtroom.

Defendants are charged with the murder of the Taíno Indians in the years following 1492: 

  • Columbus
  • Columbus’s men
  • King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella
  • The Taínos
  • The System of Empire.

In groups, students portray the defendants and I serve as the prosecutor. Student responsibility is twofold: a) to defend yourselves against the charges, and b) to explain who you think is guilty and why. There is also a jury, sworn to neutrality, who will decided the final verdict next week.

We will keep you updated on what they the jury decides and why.