PS/IS 686 | Brooklyn, NY

Grade 7 Humanities: Week of 10/14/2019: Maybe Tradition Really Is Just Peer Pressure From Dead People



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.  

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. 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 courtroom sketch artists and photographers! And last, special thanks go to Dexter Wilson, Ethan Lager, and Jessica Oviedo for stepping out of their other responsibilities to photograph our trial!

So, on this Columbus Day 2019, it is vital to reconsider Christopher Columbus’ contributions and iconic status. It is important to challenge traditional thinking, especially when we are faced with irrefutable proof that the tradition in question must end. When we ask, who is responsible? The answer is that we must unravel unpleasant truths in our own American Mythologies. We must examine our belief systems, traditions, and “own” and correct the injustices of the past. And what should be done about Columbus Day? Some states and cities 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 judge checks the Courtroom Docket for the day . . .


Diligent note-taking by 701’s jury . . .


Our 701 courtroom sketch artist, Teddy, captures the action . . .

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701’s jury asks difficult questions . . .


Sometimes a royal advisor is needed to help a monarch out in 701 . . .


One of Columbus’ men pleads guilty in an 80’s style rap (a first for Humanities Court!) . . .

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701 highlights . . .



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Reciting the Defendant’s Affirmation in 702 . . .


702’s King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella on the Red Carpet . . .


702’s System takes notes . . .

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702 highlights . . .



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