Broadneck history students debate Columbus' role Was he hero, villain or regular guy?

October 13, 1992|By Monica Norton | Monica Norton,Staff Writer

Hero or villain? Discoverer or exploiter? Or was Christopher Columbus just a normal guy?

Yesterday a group of students from Broadneck High School debated just where to place the alleged founder of the Americas in this time of political correctness.

"Columbus cannot be held responsible for the destruction of the Indians," Jessica Nehrling, 17, argued. "He didn't kill the Indians, disease did."

But Ian Brooks, also 17, argued that Columbus' destruction of the native inhabitants "set the standard of inhumane treatment" by Europeans on non-Europeans.

Two groups of 16 students in advanced history class studied Columbus, his life, voyages and 15th century Europe. The students learned of reported atrocities committed by Columbus and his men on the indigenous population, as well as the positive exchanges among the two groups.

Then, the students were asked to debate Columbus' role in history before a group of their peers.

Columbus facilitated a number of positive cultural exchanges between the Old and New worlds, 18-year-old Jessica Parks said. Because of Columbus, Europeans were introduced to pepper, corn and potatoes.

Nate Smarick, 17, told the audience they should judge Columbus by his own time, and not by 1992 standards.

"Columbus was a religious man," Nate said. "And if you want to talk about slaves, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson also had slaves.

"He was brave, that's what a hero is. He wasn't perfect. But it's just inappropriate to judge him by today's politically correct standards," he added.

But Eric Wimmer, 17, told audience members Columbus was not being judged by the standards of 1992, but 1492. The verdict was not pretty.

"Inhumane beliefs are still inhumane beliefs," Eric said. "I don't think cutting off the hands of Indians, using babies for dog food and beating women into submission were acceptable back then."

The debate continued for about an hour, garnering cheers and jeers from members of the audience. But when it was all over, it was a little difficult to tell whether audience members had changed their perceptions of Columbus.

Many of the student debaters said that their perceptions of Columbus were affected.

Jim Tinsley, 16, argued strongly that Columbus was a hero. But Jim said his views on Columbus differ from the viewpoint he argued.

"I don't see Columbus as a total hero," Jim said. "I think he was just a regular guy, but he's gotten caught up in this rethinking of history. I think he should be remembered as a regular guy."

Andrea Battaglini, 17, who argued that Columbus was a hero, said she really believes he was more of a villain.

"The media has hyped him to be a hero," Andrea said. "But if you judge him by [1492 standards] or today, he's a villain.

"Look at all the things he did to the Indians. I just didn't think he was that great of a guy," she said.

Kristen Long, 17, declined to judge Columbus as either hero or villain. Rather, she said, he was a bit of both.

"It really isn't about whether he was good or bad," Kristen said. "We've been asked to make him out to be some super villain or the anti-Christ. He wasn't. He was just a man."

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