Learning and Unlearning

Posted by Liz Vogel on March 30, 2022

I first joined Facing History and Ourselves in 2001 because it felt like the kind of education I craved but never had. We didn’t talk about things that mattered when I was in school. And while my single mother sacrificed much to prioritize my education, there wasn’t much space for self-reflection at home. One year I won the Black History Month essay contest hosted by our local AME Church, but we never spoke about how deeply segregated our tiny New Jersey shore town was, or why I never socialized with my Black friends outside of school.

I’ve now spent nearly half my life and almost my entire professional career at Facing History. I often say I’ve grown up at Facing History. Working here has offered me the opportunity to study and make meaning of history in a way that I didn’t learn in school. This includes engaging with rich and sometimes painful local histories in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay Area, including the historic case of Deborah Johnson and Zandra Rólon in the fight for LGBTQ rights, and visiting Angel Island Immigration Station. Over the last two decades, I’ve also had the chance to travel with Facing History, from a civil rights study tour of Selma and Montgomery, Alabama, to trips to Poland, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, taking in history and its present day legacies with all of my senses.

As happens in a Facing History classroom, my growth over the last two decades was always about more than the history lessons. These experiences gave me a framework for making sense of myself, my experience and the world around me. Facing History has been the constant through every personal milestone and major world event over the last 20+ years! That includes unlearning some family patterns around trauma and silence, and choosing to cultivate a relationship with my father and other relatives. In my journey to becoming a parent in a multi-racial blended family, Facing History has taught me to listen first, ask better questions, and lean into conversations about race, gender and sexual identity, whiteness, intersectionality, and more. I cannot imagine navigating the heightened violence, bigotry, terror, division and injustice in the world these recent years without the tools and lessons Facing History provides.

Facing History has also challenged me. Time and again I’ve been invited to check my biases and assumptions, consider “the other,” pause, hold space for ideas and perspectives different from my own, sit with discomfort, increase my capacity to hold multiple truths at once, engage head AND heart, and especially to de-center myself as white person as an ongoing practice in anti-racist equity work.

For a long time, I told a story about my own life that focused on individual achievement, as I overcame obstacles to become the first woman in my family to attend college and pursue the career of my dreams. I’ve always known that I benefited greatly from not only my family’s sacrifices, but also from caring and generous adults along the way. Through Facing History, I’ve developed a more nuanced version of that story; one that acknowledges structural racism, white privilege and white supremacist culture as forces impacting my life and the world. Owning this reality, I am able to be a better ally and co-conspirator in pursuit of justice and the safer, more compassionate world we all strive towards.

I am deeply grateful for this learning community and my many teachers and fellow learners. From scholars and living witnesses to history to my brilliant staff colleagues, Facing History educators and school leaders, our students, their families, our board members, donors and community members, these relationships have sustained me and helped make me the person I am today. These relationships are what have made Facing History more than a job but instead my home. I will carry with me all that you have taught me. Thank you.

Welcome to Learn+Teach+Share

This blog helps Southern California teachers connect directly with each other, share ideas, and learn about new resources and opportunities for those interested in or already implementing Facing History.

Learn More:  

Subscribe to Email Updates

Recent Posts

Posts by Topic

see all