I knew my students were connecting what we were learning in Jewish History to their own lives, when during an end-of-unit discussion, one of my seventh-grade students spontaneously shared, “I realize now that I’ve been excluding someone at school. I’m going to stop.” For a seventh-grader to make that statement at all, and even more so, publicly, felt momentous. In a middle-school setting in which in-groups and out-groups are unfortunately all too common, I admired my student for acknowledging fault in front of her peers and publicly declaring that she would change. Whether such reflection occurs internally or overtly, this is the ultimate purpose of my history class – for students to see how lessons from history might directly impact their choices today.
Over the years I've had the opportunity to develop a friendship with Hava Ben-Zvi, a survivor of the Holocaust, who has spoken to many of our Facing History classes. Hava is one of my heroes, not just for her story of survival and resilience as a young girl hiding from the Nazis in Poland. She is my hero because even though her education was interrupted during the war, she went on to immigrate to Israel, and then the U.S. where she became an educator, and a librarian. She wrote a memoir of her experience, Eva's Journey, and in her 80s she published, Portraits in Literature: The Jews of Poland, an Anthology, which was a finalist for the National Jewish Book Award.
This weekend, we had the immense privilege of hosting students, parents, teachers, and administrators from fifteen schools in Facing History's Los Angeles Partnership Schools Network for our second annual high school summit, "Every Voice Matters." The wordle above is what they shared of their "takeaways" from the day.
We put this day on for our partnership schools, but I always leave the day as energized as they do!
Imagine if you will...
- Parents having their voices heard, solicited, and valued as a school thinks about its entire community,
- Administrators participating as learners side-by-side with their students and faculty,
- Teachers having "given up their Saturday" to connect with other teachers, guide their students' efforts, and reflect on their own role in shaping classroom and school culture.
- Every school with students who are thinking about how to bring this back to their own campuses, stepping up to lead change in their school's culture--all this and waking up early on a Saturday to spend the day with their teachers and parents!
We had partnered with POV and StoryCorps for a special screening of "Listening is an Act of Love." The first-ever animated special from StoryCorps celebrates the transformative power of listening. Listening Is an Act of Love features six stories from 10 years of the innovative oral history project. Each story reflects universal themes of identity, family, choices and positive participation, and is a wonderful springboard to our daylong summit's exploration of ways each of us has a voice and can contribute to making our school campuses and communities more civil and compassionate. "Listening is an Act of Love" will premiere as part of the POV series on most PBS stations November 28, 2013. Click here for more information.
Listening is an act of love. One of our participants commented on the huge need we have for people to know us. Another asked, "what happens when people see and hear a different story?" Stories have the power to create a new norm, to reshape our identities and aspirations. I treasure the stories I heard even in this one day, and look forward to the storytelling and listening sure to take place at our schools!
If you'd like to listen to another's story, StoryCorps will be at the California African American Museum October 23rd to November 16th. Once open, reservations will be taken online (click here).
If you were at this summit day, we invite you to share your thoughts from the day!
At Facing History in Los Angeles, we're getting ready to bring 20-25 high schools* together to explore building stronger communities, so we're thinking a lot about this idea. Since its inception, Facing History and Ourselves has valued and taught how to create safe and reflective classrooms. As the educational partner for the film "Bully" over the past year and a half, we've worked with many schools who want to confront bullying school-wide. Last year, we brought together 25 schools to view the film and come together as school cohorts and student/parent/faculty stakeholders to more deeply explore this issue. But, preventing bullying is just a baseline. Don't we all want more than just a lack of bullying?
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.
As an educator, I've always gotten a little antsy right about now with the anticipation and excitement of a new school year on the horizon. This August brought even more anticipation because my youngest child just started kindergarten. My older two girls are firmly in middle school with their successful navigation of elementary school behind them, but my youngest daughter is just beginning the journey. When I took her for that first day of school, I was surrounded by parents fretting about typical kindergarten concerns. Many gave parting words of advice: Eat all your lunch. Be nice. Listen to your teacher. You'll be okay, I promise! I can relate to all of that of course, but the one real anxiety I have, I don't voice in the kindergarten yard: I hope you aren't caught too off guard when kids ask, "What ARE you?"
Peter Parker’s transformation into Spiderman provides my favorite example of an expanding universe of obligation. Some of my students are so young that they haven’t seen the movie. It doesn’t matter, everyone likes a good story.
A snapshot from a Facing History seminar. During the summer, we lead educator seminars for three to five days at a time. This week, Stephanie Carrillo visited our seminar on "Identity, History, and Adolescent Choices in Literature" which provided a Facing History lens to explore "The Diary of Anne Frank," "The Giver ," and "Red Scarf Girl." She brings us this story.
“Peer pressure...is not only unpleasant, but can actually change your view of a problem." (from the book, Quiet, by Susan Cain.)
I’ll admit it. When I was first told about the school exchange between Sinai Akiba Academy middle school students and the middle school students from New Horizons, an Islamic-based school, I was dubious. I pictured a room full of children seated across each other, shifting in their seats uncomfortably as teachers dutifully explained how much the two faiths had in common. Eye rolls, brief head nods and snack time would follow, with students clustered in bunches, talking in hushed voices about the “other” kids standing a few feet away. A photo op, yes. A rich, meaningful experience that truly changed the way these children viewed each other, certainly not.