Should Columbus Day Become 'Exploration Day'?

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"In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue." And with that benign little mnemonic many people sum up their working knowledge of the endeavors of the Genoan sailor who discovered America (even though he didn't) for the glory of the Spanish crown (which later imprisoned him for his "atrocities").

But regardless if you know the Santa Maria from the Mayflower, if you live in the U.S. there's a good chance that you'll be enjoying a day off work this coming Monday in honor of a man who's traditionally celebrated regardless of his accidental discovery, dubious motivations and more-than-questionable actions across the islands of the Caribbean.

There are a few people who'd like to change that.

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Not the day off of course, because we all like that, but specifically who's being honored — or, more accurately, who's not specifically being honored. For rather than setting aside a day that exclusively respects Columbus (for better or worse) Tom Diehl, Karl Frank and Dr. Rod Wright are suggesting that Columbus Day — which wasn't officially recognized federally until 1937 — be rededicated as "Exploration Day", thus calling attention to the spirit of not only Columbus' exploits but also of all those that came after… and all who are yet to come.

"Rededicating Columbus Day as Exploration Day will allow those who wish to commemorate his accomplishments to continue doing so," says Frank. "But for those who find Columbus's role in history disquieting, it will enable them to celebrate the day in a very different way. Exploration Day covers the depth and breath of America’s rich history of exploration, research and discovery. Thus, Exploration Day will be something that unites rather than divides."

Frank, Diehl and Wright recognize that this is not a decision to be taken lightly — but they feel that it is warranted.

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"We do not view our federal holidays as trivial matters. They drive our nation. They give us pause. They serve as moments of reflection, as well as celebration. For many Americans Columbus Day no longer fits the litmus test of credibility and relevance. Federal holidays should be a day celebrated by the vast majority of Americans regardless of background or political orientation. When Congress created a federal holiday to honor Christopher Columbus, most of what was widely known about him was a myth — a myth which Columbus himself helped perpetuate."

The inspiration for the movement? The death of astronaut Neil Armstrong, a reluctant hero yet still a symbol of exploration for America and the world since July 1969.

"Neil Armstrong's triumph was not just in what he as an individual accomplished, but what we as a species have accomplished together. It makes you wonder what this world would be like today if we only had the same kind of attitude that put a human being on the moon in the first place," says Frank. "Inspired by the likes of Armstrong’s generation, we are finished wondering and are ready to make it happen by rekindling that fire of exploratory spirit intrinsic in all of humanity. Like the exploratory fire found in women like Sacajawea, Hedy Lamar, Amelia Earhart, and men like Lewis and Clark, John Fremont, Matthew Henson, Charles Lindbergh, and the more contemporary Elon Musk."

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Having a federally-recognized holiday in honor of the spirit of exploration would only serve to inspire young Americans to want to engage in explorations of their own, hopefully in the fields of science, math and engineering.

"I believe it makes sense to take every opportunity to encourage young people to appreciate the importance of exploration and research. Solving the great problems we face will take inquisitive minds and determined souls. Exploration Day would highlight the explorers, scientists and researchers who have made a difference in the world," says Tom Diehl.

In order for this to happen, though, others have to be on board. That's why two petitions have been put up — one on Change.org, the other on the White House website — to send the word to Congress and the President, respectively. With enough people who believe in the true nature of discovery and exploration and how it makes us unique as a species, the switch may just become possible. So if you agree, take a moment and sign both petitions (and share with anyone you think would be interested too).

"There is nothing more wondrous about humanity than what we can do when we work together with optimism. That's what Exploration Day would mean to us."

Read more at ExplorationDayUSA.org.

Image composition by J. Major. Images via Wikipedia Commons and NASA/Project Apollo Image Archive.

Jason Major is an advisor on the Exploration Day team, helping to spread the news about the project on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.

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