Friday, May 29, 2015

It's Your Fault, Christopher Columbus

Ready for battle, at Jamestown

What do you get when you combine snippets of Amazing Race teams running around India, a classmate of Ethan's who hails from the country, and a family trip to Jamestown, Virginia?

A whole lot of confusion, apparently.

"Mamma," Ethan asked the other night at dinner earnestly. "Why is my friend from class not fighting me if we are at war with India?"

Because I am fluent in Ethan-speak, or maybe it's Ethan-think, I knew exactly what he meant. I just had no idea how to respond.

I've always wondered if, when and how Ethan would grasp history. Science, math, and reading are more concrete. And while history does involve lots of facts and dates (a plus in his category), it's also more abstract. It's covering long-ago events and people. It's not right in front of us (obviously -- it's history!). For a long time I haven't known how Ethan would "get it."

Now I see he's, well, kind of "half" getting it. And I can't blame him.

The gist is this: In Ethan's mind India is a far-away country where it's hot and the people have darker skin (thank you, Amazing Race). He knows a boy in his class is from India. But then there's this whole dump of information that came from the movie we watched in Jamestown about the American Indians and the English settlers.

It was a 20-minute film. I wondered how much he was paying attention. Listening to a bunch of guys in wigs speak in bad British accents can't be that fascinating to a seven-year-old boy. I figured he'd take special note that they were fighting, sometimes with bows and arrows. I was right. Apparently he also picked up on the word Indian and that the Indians were fighting the other guys.

So you can see how this is coming together. And you can see why he is confused. The American guys were fighting the Indian guys, who of course, must be from India. Who can blame him? Thanks, Christopher Columbus, for messing up, big-time.

"Ethan, we are not at war with India," I began half-heartedly, knowing this would be a struggle.

"Yes we are!"

"That movie in Jamestown was about a long time ago. And they were not fighting the people from India."

"They said Indians!"

"I know, I know." I shook my head. Inspired, I went off for the globe and brought it to the dining room table.

I attempted to show him the India of The Amazing Race; North America; the route Columbus sailed when he got really confused and "bumped" into what he thought was India and named the people he saw "Indians."

(On a side note: It would have been tremendously beneficial if the film had used the term "Native Americans." I could be wrong, but I thought I read somewhere that native peoples actually prefer overall the term American Indian, however.)

So, after lots of gesturing, spinning the globe, and explaining the difference between Indians and American Indians (including some bits about the land bridge that completely danced over his head), I asked if he understood.

I waited.



He's only in first grade. He hasn't even officially started taking "history" yet. We've got time. I'm more than willing to let this one go.

Only -- he doesn't want to. Which is why he came home from school again the other day and asked, "Why are we still fighting India?"

Back to another futile spin of the globe.

Wait until he gets the story straight and then asks why the settlers were fighting the Indians for land.


As usual, my kids help test me on what I believe, and why. And you know, it may be frustrating sometimes, but in the end, that's a very good thing.

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