I always start my 7th grade Jewish History class by talking about identity. Students create identity charts, identify aspects of their identity which they consider “public” and aspects they consider “private” and then we move on to a discussion during which students explore deeper questions such as “What might be the benefits and drawbacks of having public and private selves?” and “How do the labels we give others affect how we see someone as part of an ‘us’ or part of a ‘them’?”
What would it mean to have your picture taken by a world-renowned fashion photographer? What would it mean to your daughter or son? What could it mean for your students, more specifically for that student who walks in, head down, and heads to the back of the classroom, to the shadows?
Positive Exposure, featured in a special exhibit at the Museum of Tolerance, turns society’s definition of “beauty” on its head and asks us to “change how you see, see how you change.”
StoryCorps's mobile booth is in Los Angeles this month, which makes us appreciate all the more the power of stories. I'm always amazed by the depth and breadth of stories a simple conversation with another person can yield.
Here's one of the animated StoryCorps shorts I found recently that is quickly becoming a favorite:
This month Facing History and Ourselves is the featured partner on Connected Learning TV for the series, Creating Upstanders in Today’s World. We are publishing the recorded webinars here with additional resources.
Becoming an upstander in today’s world includes being equipped and willing to engage with the challenging issues of our time, including race, class, and gender. We've seen this many times in the last year, as Ferguson, Baltimore, Charleston, and other places with tragic violence have filled our news.
I’m not kidding! One of the first things I heard on the radio this morning was that it’s Twilight Zone Day, and I can’t help but think of a Twilight Zone episode often used in Facing History classrooms:
The Eye of the Beholder
What about you? Is there a Twilight Zone episode – old or new – which you love for its message, the question(s) it raises, or the way you can use it in the classroom?
This week I continue the conversation with my father. To read the first part of this conversation, click here.
Even though the book was based on stories from my Uncle, I knew my father had done a lot of research by reading and even travelling to eastern Europe, so I asked him to talk about the role of research in writing fiction.
Research was essential and extensive. I needed to know everything I could about the places where events unfold: Prague, Terezin, Auschwitz, the forests of Poland. Likewise with the tenor of life year by year, where the story begins in innocence on through the relentlessly accelerating horrors of Hitler’s occupation, displacement, war, and mass murder. I needed to know more about the partisans, who were of so many stripes in so many places. There was one group, for instance, the Army Ludowa, who fought the Nazis for reasons of Polish nationalism while being every bit as anti-Semitic and dangerous to Jews. I had to go to all those places and contemplate what it was like to be there at that time: to be evacuated to Terezin, to live there in fear of disease, starvation, and death; to face certain death at Auschwitz-Birkenau; but then to escape and be liberated enough to fight back.
By all accounts, my father is a brilliant writer with nine books under his belt. Despite this, I’ve somewhat avoided reading his books–finding it a little strange to discover our family revealed in print, even wrapped in the protective cloak of fiction. Despite his work’s critical acclaim, I have only read a handful of his books. When his most recent book, Five Bullets, was released, he mailed me a copy with the inscription: "Time to face a bit of history, world and family all at once." This book was not exactly fiction; it was based on my dad’s uncle's experience during the Holocaust.
From my childhood, I have vivid memories of my Great Uncle Martin and, his wife, my Aunt Flora. He was a wizened and stoic man who generously put us up in his Lincoln Center brownstone apartment when we visited New York. My strongest memory is of him getting in his oversized American car, a Cadillac or an Oldsmobile, and seeing the whole steering column come booming down to his level, enabling him to peer over the dashboard as he drove us into Manhattan from Long Island. When I was young, I had no idea that his wife and children had been murdered in Auschwitz. I had no idea that he had escaped the concentration camp and fought with partisans in the woods of Poland. It can be mind-blowing when we realize how much we don’t know.
Have you ever taken a "selfie"? We all get a good laugh these days about selfies - the candid taken with a celebrity or in a striked pose - but could taking selfies help students dive deeper into the complexity of their own and others' identities?
A few months ago I saw the short film, "Selfie" produced by Dove, and I still think about it. It examines the way taking and posting selfies on social media can change our definition of beauty and transform our sense of our own beauty. (Click here for an article on the film, or watch it below.)
I don't know about you, but when I was a teenager, the LAST thing I wanted was a picture of myself. I hated how I looked in pictures. My parents had a plethora of photos of the back of my head as a result of my quick reaction to a camera being raised around me.
- How many times, if ever, did a young woman in one of my classes put "beautiful" on her identity chart? (It was rare if ever!)
- Does our self-identification as beautiful or not impact our sense of belonging?
- If others' description of us as beautiful contributes to being accepted, can redefining "beauty" also expand group acceptance?
- The quick blame for almost unattainable standards of beauty often goes to corporations (Barbie, cosmetics, clothing, plastic surgery), but to what extent do mothers pass it on to their daughters, sisters to sisters, peers to peers, and so forth?
- After so many generations of female beauty being defined by professional photographers. magazines, and cosmetic companies, is it truly possible that the democratic nature of social media and self-taken, impromptu photographs can redefine our standards of beauty? If so, "choosing to participate" could be as simple as... taking a selfie?