Columbus, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Leaving School for Unschooling

Columbus helped inspire me leave school and start unschooling. Really, at age 15 I read Lies My Teacher Told Me: What American History Textbooks Got Wrong and it had a profound effect on me: especially the part about the atrocities Columbus committed.

Of my own volition, on my own time, I read Lies My Teacher Told Me by James Loewen while attending my freshman year of public high school. I read other books and articles, was active online, and went to a Noam Chomsky speech about the truth behind the U.S. war in Kosovo in 1999.

Loewen outlines how the 12 high school history textbooks he reviewed all portray Columbus as a hero and many include outright lies and unverifiable facts. Loewen describes the terrible things Columbus actually did.

“Columbus was not only sent the first slaves across the Atlantic, he probably sent more – about five thousand – than any other individual.”

But it was Loewen directly quoting Columbus himself that really seared into my mind:

“A particularly repellent aspect of the slave trade was sexual…. Columbus wrote a friend in 1500, ‘A hundred castellanoes are as easily obtained for a woman or a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.'”

He writes so casually about maybe the worst thing you could ever do.

Also Columbus is just given too much credit: not only is it ridiculous to claim someone discovered a place where people already lived; there were also other people who came before him.

Loewen talks about Indonesians, Japanese, Chinese, Afro-Phoenicians, Celts, West Africans, Scandinavians, etc. possibly arriving before Columbus with different degrees of likelihood (i.e. Scadanvians: High, Afr0-Phoenicians: Moderate, and  Celts: Low).

How fascinating is that? Not only is an injustice to the people who may have arrived before Columbus to not mention them, it robs history or its fascinating mystery and complexity.

So my basic logic was eventually: “Not only am I reading lies in my history textbooks at school (and in mainstream media all over the place). But mainly, school is just wasting my time when I could be finding out the (terrible, wonderful, and exciting) truth about the world.”

To say I was ripe for the idea of unschooling would be an understatement!

When I heard one brief mention of the unschooling philosophy it made perfect sense to me. I finished that year of high school but made the choice to leave school almost instantly.

This has actually gotten me thinking about a lot of things. I’ll probably write more posts following this topic….

Thanks for reading,


(This post developed into a thread about what I learned from my experience reading the book Lies My Teacher Told Me. You can read the rest of the posts from the category by clicking here.)

14 Responses to “Columbus, Lies My Teacher Told Me, and Leaving School for Unschooling”

  1. Jean says:

    It’s crazy, isn”t it?
    Just mind blowingly crazy.

    • Just wanted to say thanks for reading and posting your comment on my blog! I was thrilled to hear from an unschooled adult and I look forward to reading your very interesting blog here!

  2. Eli Gerzon says:

    It really is. Thanks for commenting Jean!

    At least Columbus Day is an opportunity for discussion. This blog post by my friend Milva McDonald talks about that and lists some great resources, including a site with more direct quotes from Columbus:

    And I should add there is some hope that schools are telling the truth more. Here’s an article from MSNBC: “Columbus’ Darker Side Emerges in Classrooms”:

    One thing I did notice though is some teachers seemed to go to the other extreme and demonize Columbus without maybe giving enough responsibility to Spain and the nations that followed in its footsteps.

    I think it’s really an opportunity to look at how countries and people still emulate Columbus’s primary example today.

  3. Idzie says:

    I’ve been reading stuff by Howard Zinn recently, specifically about Columbus, funnily enough, and it is quite fascinating, as well as horrific! That he’s portrayed as a hero disgusts me, frankly.

    • Eli Gerzon says:

      Yeah, Zinn is wonderful. I recently discovered the graphic novel adaptation of his classic: A People’s History of the United States.

      The graphic novel is called A People’s History of American Empire:

      Comics don’t usually get much respect but I found it a really evocative and memorable way to learn. I had read about the history of U.S. involvement in Iran but didn’t really understand it until I read the chapter about it in this book.

      Curious to hear more about your thoughts as you read more of Zinn Idzie!

      • Idzie says:

        Thanks for the book recommendation! I actually read an excerpt when it first came out, and found it quite engaging… It’s on my ridiculously long to read list. *Grins*

  4. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by lfranks and Eli Gerzon. Eli Gerzon said: Thanks for RTs! @DarrenBeck @lfranks How learning the truth ab Columbus inspired me to leave school: #unschooling […]

  5. Chris says:

    Great post, Eli. I look forward to more.

  6. Cynthia says:


    I read to my children from Howard Zinn’s Young Person’s History of the United States. Thanks for the recommendation of the graphic novel … that will appeal to several of my children.

    I just passed your website on to my daughter who is making plans to travel, nationally and internationally.

  7. Eli Gerzon says:

    @Chris Thanks! It’s really helpful to have the encouragement. I’ll be writing more soon.

    @Cynthia That’s so cool! I wondered if reading directly from People’s History might be too much for some young people but that’s really cool. I guess with your mom right next to you to explain and such it doesn’t have to be so bad.

    How old were they? What do they think?

    That’s great about your daughter traveling. Tell her to feel free to friend me on Facebook too:

    Tell her to feel free to contact me to share travel ideas.


  8. Cynthia says:


    The ones left living at home are 18 yod, 16 yos, 15 yos, 13 yod, 12 yos and 9 yos. Reading the Young Person’s book out loud to them is sparking their interest in reading People’s History for themselves and I think the graphic novel will captivate them even more. We are all looking forward to The People’s Voice airing on the History Channel in December as well.

  9. Liam says:

    I love that book! Lies My teacher told me that is, haven’t read Zinn, but I want to! James Loewen has another book, similar to Lies My Teacher Told Me, Lies Across America. It’s about mis-marked statues, and markers all across America.

  10. Eli Gerzon says:

    @Rainbow Rivers Thanks! I was excited to find your blog and read that post and happy to leave a comment. Looking forward to following your blog too!

    @Idzie Yeah, I hope you can check it out. I’m sure a lot of it won’t be a big shock to you but I did find it very informative myself.

    @Cynthia What a nice big family! Four kids in my family but by now my little brother is 20, my sis 23, me 25, and my older brother 30….

    I just saw someone else mention the children’s version of Zinn’s book: that’s wonderful they have that. Because I know some of the real version is pretty heavy. I’m curious how they do it with the kid’s version so I’ll have to check it out.

    I actually went to the Waldorf school here in Lexington, MA with one of Howard Zinn’s granddaughters. I just ran into her mom and she told me about the People’s Voice special. I’m really looking forward to that too!

    @Liam That’s really cool you’ve read Lies My Teacher Told Me too. Maybe it influenced your choice to unschool too? Anyway, yeah, I heard about the Lies Across America book, sounds interesting too….

  11. […] discovered Eli Gerzon’s blog yesterday via his post that begins “Columbus helped inspire me to leave school and start unschooling.” (on that note Milva posted some great resources for learning the whole story of Christopher […]

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