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Facing History and Ourselves hosted a conference for partnership schools in our international Innovative Schools Network October 19-21, 2013 in Washington DC. Rather than just tell you about the conference, though, we wanted some of the teachers who attended to share their thoughts directly. We heard from:
I informed my class: “Tomorrow, we are going to read an article called ‘Save the Darfur Puppy’” and my girls responded with a collective squeal of concern about the potentially small, cuddly, imperiled doggy they expected to discover. (I teach at an all-girl school.) I had not anticipated that the title alone would prove Nicolas Kristof’s point. In this 2007 New York Times article, he writes that people are much more likely to pay attention to the story of suffering of an abandoned dog than they are to news of millions of suffering people—human beings—displaced by war or genocide.
At Facing History, we spend a lot of time thinking about the questions, actions, and choices people worldwide made in the aftermath of violent events throughout history – events ranging from the Armenian Genocide to the Holocaust to the American civil rights movement. This exploration of historical events allows us to both investigate the complexity of the events as well as reflect upon connections to ourselves and today with a grounding of historical understanding.
For the past 15 years, I have taught Facing History at Crossroads School in Santa Monica. In my class, students use primary source readings, memoirs, and texts that explore pivotal moments in world history – moments of mass violence and genocide, moments of crimes against humanity, and moments when civil rights have been disregarded. I teach Facing History because I believe that through the study of historical instances of racism, of intolerance, of antisemitism, and of hatred, my students can increase their ability to be compassionate, tolerant, loving, and productive members of their own communities today. In studying how past violence and prejudices came to be, I see my students better able to understand and question the roots of the violence and prejudice they see and read about in the news. So when the story broke recently about celebrity chef Paula Deen’s use of the “n word,” I immediately turned to what I’ve learned by teaching a Facing History class to better understand the events.
Monday morning, as marathon runners and spectators filled the streets of Boston, I had the privilege of introducing Arn Chorn Pond, a survivor of the Cambodian genocide, to the 9th-grade students at Gertz Ressler High School near downtown Los Angeles. The juxtaposition of Arn’s visit and the violence that would break out in Boston later that day became a focus of thought for me as the week unfolded, as it did for many others in the L.A. office of Facing History, which is headquartered in Brookline, just next to Boston. As teachers and students in Boston prepare to return to school Monday, I hope you’ll join me in offering thoughts, teaching strategies, and your own experiences from a difficult week. Whether we were in Boston or California, acts of violence affect all of us in a global community and raise important questions of how our communities heal and move forward in the wake of trauma.
Identity is a key concept in a Facing History classroom and I believe one of the most exciting to discuss because it encourages students to think of their own identity, which can be very complicated: the way society perceives a person versus how they see themselves. This is a versatile concept that can be connected to any moment, and current events such as the recent change concerning women in the armed forces, are a perfect way to do that.
When I was 12, I was stuck at home the entire summer with my leg in a brace, recovering from knee surgery. My Dad, never one to miss an opportunity, decided this would be the perfect time to give me a crash course in cinema. A film buff, my Dad had waited all twelve whole years of my life to show me the films that shaped, inspired and entertained him and now, because I couldn't outrun him, he was going to pass those films on to me.