“Knowledge is power.” The original author of this quote is debatable, but the idea itself is nothing but the truth regardless. It is only through knowledge that humans can actually come to make the right decisions.

Nathanael Madden, a teacher at Cold Spring Elementary in Potomac, Maryland, decided to break with tradition and to tell the real history of Columbus and Columbus Day to his 4th-grade class. Madden tweeted about this and posted a handful of responses from his students. It went viral.

Bored Panda got in touch with Nathanael Madden, who was more than happy to elaborate on the matter. Madden is currently a 4th grade teacher with a passion for educational justice and equity, who teaches literacy skills such as reading, writing, and research.

Nathanael Madden, a teacher at Cold Spring Elementary, taught his students the untold history of Columbus

Image credits: Nathanael Madden

Back in 2016, Madden was strongly moved by awful acts of racial injustice and police brutality hailing through the country. This made him question whether he knew enough about this topic and whether it has been taught properly. As a teacher, he felt a duty to know more about the matter of racial inequality.

So, he hit the books. After some eye-opening research came Columbus Day and Madden decided to tell the true history of Columbus as a slave trader, murderer, and colonizer in his class. Following the lesson, he asked the students to reflect upon what they heard: what new information have they learned, how has this affected them, and why is it important to learn?

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Madden posted a handful of the students’ responses on his Twitter account

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Image credits: thel0rdbyr0n

Image credits: thel0rdbyr0n

Image credits: thel0rdbyr0n

Image credits: thel0rdbyr0n

Image credits: thel0rdbyr0n

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Madden concluded his string of tweets by saying how proud he was of his students

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“School is often a very confining and controlling place for kids, and I want to create a space for students to feel liberated by learning,” explained Madden. “I want all students to feel that they are free to be who they are and that they have a place of belonging in my classroom.”

He continued: “This also means that we can’t ignore our world’s current realities, as well as how everything has been impacted by historical realities. Through my teaching, I constantly encourage and challenge my students to be critical questioners and critical thinkers so they can be active and informed participants in our world.”

Columbus Day is a national holiday in much of the Americas as well as Spain, Italy, and ethnically related locations. The celebration honors Christopher Columbus, a 15th century explorer, and his arrival to the Americas in 1492.

However, there is an often untold side of the history of Christopher Columbus. Few mention the slavery and serfdom systems Columbus put together to systematically subjugate the American Natives. Besides that, there was violence towards the American Natives and Spanish colonialists. And, to top it all off, many of the Natives died because of diseases that the expeditions introduced to the newly-found continent.

Students also made posters to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and to honor Native Americans

Image credits: Nathanael Madden

The class also made posters and plastered them all over the school to honor and to show solidarity with the Natives. Some students even went so far as to write to the school’s administration in hopes of changing the holiday celebrated at the school.

When asked if his colleagues, the parents of students or others in the school reacted in the same way his students did, he said: “The reaction has been almost entirely positive for me and my classroom, but I know this is not the case in much of the country.”

“For so long, particularly in the US, the story of Columbus as a heroic explorer has been the dominant narrative, erasing and ignoring the voices of Indigenous peoples who have known the truth for centuries,” elaborated Madden. “As we grapple with the myths of American exceptionalism and start listening to the voices of different marginalized groups, we can uncover the truths of history.”

Image credits: Nathanael Madden

Maryland is one of almost half of the US that observes Columbus Day and recognizes it as an official holiday. The students decided to flip it around and to instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day—a holiday that is celebrated by just three states at the moment: New Mexico, Maine, and South Dakota (where it’s called Native American’s Day).

The young educator’s viral tweet serves as an inspiration and a wake up call for all teachers to not shy away from showing the entire picture of things: “I am not the first person to teach this history and I will not be the last. I am following in the footsteps of others, primarily Native educators, scholars, and activists, and I hope others will follow in their footsteps as well.”

Madden concluded our interview with the following: “What it really boils down to is this: will we lie to our youth or will we tell them the truth? What I’m hoping to see as a result of the tweets is that teachers, as well as all other adults, will stop underestimating children. Kids are brilliant and they can think deeply, critically, and creatively. They have a beautiful sense of justice and injustice, and they have the capacity for great empathy. And they can handle a lot more than we give them credit for, including the often hard truths of our history.”

Image credits: Nathanael Madden