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On Monday, October 11, we remember the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who landed in the Bahamas in October 1492 and became the first Western European to discover what Europeans would call the New World.

When Columbus and his crew of about 200 sailors left Spain in three overcrowded ships – the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria – they set their sails toward an unknown horizon. He hoped to discover a trade route to India. (Most Europeans at the time knew the Earth was round – but they were unaware of the North and South American continents.) Instead of finding a route to Southeast Asia, Columbus and his crew landed on a continent of new opportunities. The sudden discovery of Columbus opened a permanent route across the Atlantic and reconstructed the known map of the world.

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For this reason alone, Columbus and his voyages deserve study and commemoration.

Unfortunately, there is a large and growing effort across the country to erase Columbus from history and discredit him and the other European explorers who followed him. During civil unrest and riots in the summer of 2020, public statues of Columbus were toppled, beheaded, or otherwise broken across the country.

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While Columbus Day remains a federal holiday, dozens of states and cities across the country have chosen to eliminate or replace the holiday in the name of so-called social justice.

Just last month, the Santa Maria Joint Union High School District in California voted to remove the Columbus flagship from its logo and school branding.

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All these efforts emphasize the worst aspects of historical anti-radicalism and erode our understanding of the past. While Columbus and the people who followed him may not meet today’s standards of morality, some people in the 1400s (including Native Americans) would have.

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While Columbus never sailed for the United States—or directly participated in England’s colonization of North America—his courage and willingness to risk everything to pursue a better life followed a course, Many of our ancestors followed.

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Colonial America is a major and often unknown part of our history. It is extremely important that American children understand how our country began and how our characteristics and traits were shaped as Americans during the colonial period.

Sadly, Department of Education data indicates that the majority of fourth graders have no idea why Europeans sought new trade routes in the 1400s, and only 8 percent have a complete understanding of this. That’s how Native Americans were influenced by European colonists. Furthermore, only 34 percent can identify Jamestown as the first English colony, and less than 33 percent of eighth graders know why we fought England during the Revolutionary War.

We have a good deal of catching up to do and erasing important figures like Christopher Columbus will only hold us back. Instead of rewriting history, we should make every effort to study it.

This Columbus Day, we hope you remember the adventure of Christopher Columbus in 1492. If we do not learn and learn from our history, we will fail to understand who we Americans are.

Calista L. Gingrich is a former US ambassador to the Vatican.

To read, hear and see more comments from Ambassador Gingrich and Speaker Gingrich, visit Gingrich360.com.