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Should Columbus be Celebrated?

The first Monday in October has been observed as a federal holiday since 1937, honoring Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas on October 12, 1492. Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, was sent on behalf of the Spanish King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to explore a new route to the spice-rich lands of Asia. As he officially connected the Americas with Western European empires, Columbus is credited with “discovering” a “New World,” when, in fact, there were thriving civilizations in the Western hemisphere, and other Europeans, such as Leif Erikson, had established routes to the Americas prior to 1492. However, this connection eventually led to the European colonization of Americas, and arguably, the establishment of the United States.

Columbus Day celebrates this voyage as momentous and historically significant. However, due to the disease, war, and oppression that ensued as a result of European contact with the Americas, some localities have begun celebrating the first Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, honoring the Native American peoples who inhabited the Americas before Columbus’ arrival.

This eLesson uses a letter written by Columbus himself as the basis for a Paideia Seminar lesson on the short- and long-term consequences of Columbus’s journey and whether or not these should be celebrated as a federal holiday. Students are the drivers of discussion and are able to draw their own conclusions based on historical evidence in this seminar.

To test students’ knowledge on Columbus, be sure to have your students play Kahoot! with us LIVE on Friday, October 6.

Objectives of Lesson:

  • Students will be able to analyze a primary source in order to draw conclusions about the impact and legacy of Christopher Columbus.
  • Students will be able to evaluate the impact of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the “New World” in order to determine the positive and negative consequences.


Lesson Materials: Extra paper for name tents; markers if desired.

Facilitation Notes: A Paideia Seminar is similar to a Socratic seminar, but is intended to interrogate a single text or a pair of texts. The purpose for this activity is to allow students to discuss their understanding freely and openly in an academic fashion, and to collectively build understanding on a topic.  Students should first complete the primary source activity on Handout A: Primary Source: Letter from Christopher ColumbusThis can be completed in the class preceding the seminar, or for homework the night before.

For the Paideia Seminar, students should be arranged in a circle or a square so that all students can see and hear each other without obstructions. If necessary, students can be arranged in a “fishbowl,” with half the students on the outside circle, who will not speak in the first half of discussion, and the other half on the inside, who will be the main participants in the first half of discussion. Students can then be paired to observe and record a partner’s participation in the discussion, and then switch halfway through the questions.

It is important that students and the teacher create an environment that is respectful of all views and opinions, and cultivates civil discourse. The teacher should only interject to correct a misconception or understanding, to redirect or refocus the conversation back to the question, and to present a new question to the group. Not all questions need to be asked for the seminar to be successful; the questions asked are up to the teacher (and potentially students’) discretion.

The teacher should also keep track of student participation in the discussion using Appendix A: Paideia Seminar Rubric, and ideally provide this specific feedback to students with specific goals for developing their civil discourse skills in speaking and listening. As this is towards the beginning of the course, this activity can be greatly beneficial to building classroom culture. If students are at first uncomfortable with free discussion, they can be provided with Appendix B: Individual Goal Bank. For more information on the Paideia Seminar practice, please visit

Warm-up Activity (5-20 mins):

  1. Prior to this lesson, students should be introduced to the concept of a Paideia Seminar, and the purpose of the activity.
  2. Students should make a name tent for themselves by folding the piece of paper and writing their name in marker.
  3. Students will use Handout B: Paideia Seminar Goals & Notes to write down one individual goal for themselves. As this is most likely the first time students have participated in a Paideia Seminar as a group, students may need assistance in developing goals for themselves for this activity (see Appendix B: Individual Goal Bank). It may be helpful to distribute a few copies of these sentence starters to students to assist in their goal creation.
  4. Ask one or two students to share their individual goal, if they wish.
  5. Remind students of the purpose of the day’s activity. Then, ask students to brainstorm some class norms to which all can adhere during the discussion. These norms may include:
    1. Respect others and other opinions
    2. Criticize ideas, not people
    3. One mic, one voice (or, take turns speaking)
    4. Be aware of others trying to speak
    5. Ask questions when you don’t understand
    6. Speak loudly and clearly and in a respectful tone
    7. Sit up straight and practice active listening skills
    8. Take notes on important points
    9. Use the text to support your answer
    10. Be patient and allow others to speak their minds; practice wait time between responses before speaking.
  6. Then, ask students to suggest goals for the class to strive towards. This goal should be a concrete, measureable, and something that everyone contributes to and can attain. These goals may include:
    1. Everyone should speak at least one time
    2. Everyone should ask a question at least once
    3. Everyone should use the text each time they speak
    4. No one should speak more than three times
  7. The class should be in consensus about their class goal(s) and state it succinctly. Once a consensus has been reached, a volunteer should post the goal(s) on the board so they are visible throughout the activity, and students should write down this goal on Handout B: Paideia Seminar Goals & Notes.

Exploration (20-40 mins):

  1. The teacher should be seated in the circle along with students. Remind students of the goals of the activity, and set the tone:
    1. A Paideia Seminar is a collaborative, intellectual dialogue about a text, facilitated with open-ended questions. The main purpose of this particular seminar is to arrive at a fuller understanding of the ideas and values in Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the Americas, of ourselves, and of each other.
    2. As the facilitator, I am primarily responsible for asking challenging, open-ended questions. I will take a variety of notes to keep up with the discussion, and I will help move the discussion along by asking follow-up questions.
    3. As participants, I am asking you to think, listen, and speak candidly about your thoughts, reactions, and ideas. You can help each other do this by using each other’s names and referencing each other’s comments. It is not necessary that you raise your hands during the discussion; rather, the discussion is collaborative in that you try to stay focused on the main speaker and take turns sharing your ideas. Be sure to take notes on our discussion so you can remember your ideas and conclusions later.
    4. Are there any questions about how this is going to work or what your responsibilities are as participants?
  2. Begin the discussion with the Round Robin question on Handout C: Paideia Seminar Questions Each student should go around the circle and share their answer in a single word or phrase, and students should not elaborate until all have shared. This does not count towards students’ participation.
  3. Continue the discussion by opening up the floor for elaboration on the Round Robin question. Based on the direction of the discussion, continue by asking other relevant questions from the “Explore” section on Handout C: Paideia Seminar Questions

Application (10-25 mins):

  1. Continue the discussion using questions from the “Elaborate & Apply” section on Handout C: Paideia Seminar Questions. If you are using the fishbowl method, ensure that students in the first and second half of discussion have the opportunity to answer both “Explore” and “Elaborate & Apply” Questions during their time.
  2. End with the Closing Round Robin question for both groups: “Should Christopher Columbus have his own national holiday in the United States? Why or why not?” Students should first all share their “yes” or “no” response, and if time allows, they can elaborate on their answer.

Conclusion/Assessment (5-15 min):

  1. After the discussion, students should complete Handout D: Paideia Seminar ReflectionIf time allows, students may reflect as a group on the experience of the Paideia Seminar format, and how well they think they did as individuals and as a class. Students should also reflect on how they wish to continue to grow in this kind of activity in the future.
  2. Students should be assessed on their participation using Appendix A: Paideia Sem Rubric

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