Perhaps last week’s column shook what you thought you knew about history. It is ironic and sad that one of the “facts” that students emerge with from school is Columbus proving the earth was round, since it is a complete fabrication. The notion was popularized by one of America’s first great authors, Washington Irving, author of The Legend of Sleepy Hollow and Rip Van Winkle.
Irving wrote a biography of Columbus in 1828, in which he perpetuated the myth that the controversy was over the round/flat earth debate. Educators read that book and taught their students who became teachers and taught their students, on and on to the present day. Most elementary school teachers are not historians, and may not have learned or remembered the reality about Columbus in their college history classes. Parents, likewise, did not learn or remember. Students emerge from elementary school with the wrong idea about Columbus.
Since we are most impressionable in our early years, because many people do not enjoy history classes, and because high school history teachers, often coaches, are not necessarily the most enthusiastic instructors, students do not easily unlearn information. At the beginning of each semester I ask my classes about Columbus’ radical theory, and not once in ten years has any student answered correctly. I have a dream that I will change that, one student at a time, but I am not confident, that even as much time as I spend on Columbus, students actually unlearn and learn what I desire.
The fact is: Columbus’ radical theory was that the Earth was only two-thirds the size scholars believed. He believed the distance from Europe west to Asia was a little over 2,000 miles, not the 12,000 believed since the ancient Greeks in the 3rd century B.C. Columbus, as we will see, was absolutely wrong.
Editors Note: Travis Childs is a history instructor at Cameron University in Lawton, Okla. He is a graduate of Midway High School and lives in Bluegrove. He is currently president of the Clay County Historical Society.