PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Grade 7 Humanities: Week of 10/8/2018 Columbus Among Us

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Dear Families,

Who is responsible for the genocide of The Taino?

Should Columbus Day be celebrated in The United States of America?

Everyone thinks they know about Columbus — we are even off from school TODAY to celebrate his life and work. And while we acknowledge Christopher Columbus, the navigator and explorer, we can not ignore Christopher Columbus, the slave trader and terrorist.

Our focus is also on The Taino, the indigenous people who once populated the Caribbean, and whose textbook history has been rendered invisible. After analyzing journals, timelines, and other documents, we formed groups to examine the shared responsibility of the annihilation of a once thriving people. Columbus, Columbus’ men, King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella, The System of Empire, and even The Taino, themselves, were all indicted in our Humanities Court of Law.

In each group, we created a written document that detailed the Context, Defense, Accusation, and Conclusion based on the indictments. On Day One of the trial, each group presented their CONTEXT and DEFENSE. Everyone in the class took notes and the jury asked clarifying questions about the CONTEXT and DEFENSE only. After each group presented, there was time for crossfire questioning between groups. I, personally, had the opportunity to bang the gavel and call for “order in the court!” during the crossfire ;).

On Day Two, each group presented their ACCUSATION and CONCLUSION, with additional questions again when all groups were finished. The jury then deliberated while the class reflected on the trial in writing. 701 rendered a guilty verdict for Columbus’ men, while 702’s verdict was for Columbus, alone. 

Some other information of note is that this trial proceeded without the use of prosecutors. Each group’s defense relied solely on their own statements. The trial also proceeded without a Bailiff as I served as both Bailiff and Judge. A limited prop bag was made available to each group, but students were mostly responsible for creating their own characterizations for their roles, including costumes and props. Both 701 and 702 had courtroom reporters and 701 even had a courtroom sketch artist! And last, special thanks go to Jose Polanco for the beautiful photographs of the trial. 

So, on this Columbus Day 2018, it is important to reconsider Columbus’ contributions and iconic status. When we ask, who is responsible? The answer is that we must unravel unpleasant truths in our own  “American Mythologies,” and own and correct the injustices of the past.  And what should be done about Columbus Day? Some states in our union have taken upon themselves to re-name the day to reflect remembrance of indigenous peoples. Others, (like our own New York) continue to celebrate Christopher Columbus, although they are often met with protest. Recognition and admission of past wrongs are the only way we will move forward as a society towards the peace that should be a right for all and never a privilege just for some.


Ms. Sacilotto



The swearing-in of the jury in class 701 . . .


Written document from King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella . . .

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A tough question from a juror in 702 . . .


Written document from The System of Empire . . .

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Day One trial highlights in 701 . . .

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Highlights 702 . . .

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Our courtroom sketch artist, Fiona, captures the trial . . .

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‘When asked by an anthropologist what the Indians called America before the white man came, an Indian said simply, “Ours.”’

~Vine Deloria, Jr.