What is it like to put Christopher Columbus on Trial? Ask an Eighth Grader!

As part of their summative assessment, Eighth grade Humanities students put Christopher Columbus on trial for the genocide of the Taíno people. Following Bill Bigelow’s role-playing simulation from the textbook Rethinking Columbus, students were split into partners, and within each pairing, one student played the historical figure and the other played the lawyer defending the historical figure. The list of accused people were: Christopher Columbus, the Taíno people, Columbus’ men, Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand and the system of the Spanish Empire. Each pairing had to figure out how to defend themselves and pointed out who was really to blame for the death of this indigenous group.

In preparation for the trial, students worked together to create an argumentative script in which they used sources we’ve studied and found sources on their own to leverage their defense for the day of the trial. They also learned court vocabulary, types of objections lawyers might use, and the basic structure of a trial. After several class periods of preparation, they entered into the “courtroom” today and presented their arguments. This included thoughtful opening statements, excellent questioning of witnesses, cross-examinations, and purposeful closing-statements.

This year, our Head of School, Chris Watson, served as our single juror so that the students had an authentic audience for their trial. They are waiting for his verdict tonight and will hear the results of the trial in tomorrow’s class.


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