This guest blog is part of a series, “A Network of Innovation: Ideas, Questions, and Wisdom from our LA Partner Schools.” Much like his Valor Academy colleague Ben Katcher, who published a prior post on teaching The Nanjing Atrocities, first-year history teacher Elijah Falk has developed a powerful unit that challenges students to make contemporary connections to historical injustices and grapple with the ways in which pivotal events in history have been distorted. His unit on The Reconstruction Era exemplifies how accurate portrayals of and deep engagement with history can illuminate the importance of choices students make in their everyday lives.
This guest blog is part of a series, “A Network of Innovation: Ideas, Questions, and Wisdom from our LA Partner Schools.” Probably the most important and consistent focus of our collaboration with our partner schools, developing and maintaining a strong school culture and community has been tricky under the conditions of the pandemic. In this honest reflection, New LA Middle School principal Gabrielle Brayton wrestles with how easily educators take for granted that students see community as an inherent value. She asks, in this moment where many have contracted their Universe of Obligation, how can educators make the case that students should care and look out for each other?
This guest blog is part of a series, “A Network of Innovation: Ideas, Questions, and Wisdom from our LA Partner Schools.” Each of our partner schools has at least one unit-length Facing History case study that every student experiences on their path to graduation. At Valor Academy High School, there are numerous Facing History units. Ben Katcher’s unit on the Nanjing Atrocities has long stood out to us because while this is a particular event that is often unknown and untaught, it nevertheless touches on so many critical universal themes that students find relevant and compelling. We invited Ben to share about his approach.
“If you hold your hand closed, nothing good can come in. The open hand is blessed, for it gives in abundance, even as it receives.” (Biddy Mason)
Bridget “Biddy” Mason lived her entire life with her hands always open to give. In return she received many blessings.
Biddy was born enslaved on August 15, 1818 in Macon County, Georgia. Although she was forbidden to learn how to read or write, she was able to learn skills that served her well throughout her life: How to tend to livestock, use herbs and roots to make medicine, nursing skills, and midwifery. When she was eighteen years old she was given as a wedding gift to Robert and Rebecca Smith. The Smiths, who were devout Mormons, decided to leave Logtown, Mississippi for a settlement in Salt Lake City, Utah. On March 10, 1848, Biddy, who had just given birth to her third daughter, had to walk behind the 300 covered wagons. During this long journey, Biddy tended to the sheep while carrying her infant daughter Harriet in her arms. Daughters Ellen and Ann walked beside her. She also cared for anyone who go sick along the way. The Smith household lived in Utah for three years. When the Mormon church leaders decided to establish a new post in San Bernardino, California, Robert Smith decided to move his family again. They arrived in San Bernardino in 1851.
“This is bigger than COVID, Ms. B.”
That’s what the 9th graders I teach told me when the protests after George Floyd’s murder began in LA -- and that some would be joining them. Kids who, only days before, had been so anxious about this pandemic that they had been disinfecting their family members’ shoes after any trip into the outside world.
Special Guest post, with permission from Aine Greaney
I watched the woman cross at the traffic lights and start walking up my side of the street. She disappeared among strolling tourists, but then, there she was again. My hackles rose in recognition, and I recalled something Maya Angelou once said: “I've learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” Eight years after my first and only encounter with that woman, I remembered in an instant how she made me feel.
April 4 was the 50th anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. The impact that Dr. King made spanned not just the South nor just the U.S. but influenced and continues to influence people around the world to raise their voices, pick up their pens, and speak of justice for all. Dr. King built on the momentum of Gandhi and made nonviolent protest an essential pillar of any civil rights movement. We see this influence even 50 years later in the life and assassination of Hrant Dink.
Who am I?
Does it really matter?
That goes from…
And we can go on and on and on.”
This project was the brainchild of 7 educators across five content areas. What better way to end the school year than with a Civil Rights Spoken Word Showcase?
Malia Warner has taught at Beverly Hills High School for 11 years, and is a member of the Los Angeles Teacher Leadership Team for Facing History and Ourselves. In 2015, she participated in our "powering up" project with her United States History class. She describes her experience.
As we prepare for our summer seminars at Facing History, we start seeing connections to our work everywhere, even Star Wars. It turns out we aren't the only one! We are pleased to share the following excerpt from the soon-to-be-released, The World According to Star Wars, from the chapter, Rebels, by Cass R. Sunstein.
Star Wars isn’t a political tract, but it has a political message. After all, it opposes an Empire to a Republic, and a First Order to a Resistance, and its heroes are rebels, who want to return peace and justice to the galaxy.
That’s one reason for the universal appeal of the saga. Whatever your political convictions, and wherever you live, you’re likely to see an Emperor of some kind, and you’re likely to have some sympathy for the rebels or the Resistance. Your teacher or your boss might seem like an Emperor. Maybe your nation’s leader reminds you of Palpatine; maybe the opposing party is the Resistance….