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.
I've been thinking about courage recently.
There is so much going on in the world that is challenging, disheartening, and complex. Sometimes we think of courage in big acts:
- Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. leading enormous, history-changing non-violent movements
- the heroism of a firefighter entering a burning building
- the choice to go in to the heart of a conflict, bringing the stories of others to the world through reporting or physically saving others' lives
I think that courage also comes on a daily and individual level just in making the commitment to stay engaged with the world, to learn about difficult moments and to be willing to question what we have grown up believing, assuming, or simply not knowing.
We need the courage to create ourselves daily. To be bodacious enough to create ourselves daily.
Dr. Maya Angelou spoke these words in a piece about her Uncle Willie. Returning to Little Rock, Arkansas, she had met individuals whose lives were forever changed by the kindness and confidence shown them by her uncle. One was soon to be the first Black mayor of Little Rock. Another had entered the state legislature.
I look back at Uncle Willie: crippled, black, poor, unexposed to the worlds of great ideas, who left for our generation and generations to come a legacy so rich.
In honor of her passing, I find myself thinking about her words and how each of us can choose to create ourselves daily. How will you be bodacious?
You can hear Dr. Maya Angelou sharing the story about Uncle Willie in the video, Facing Evil, and find a written form of the story in the article "Legacies" within Holocaust and Human Behavior. Hear more from Dr. Maya Angelou by clicking here.
Topics: Judgement and Legacy
Last month we lost the civil rights legend Franklin McCain. His passing makes me wonder, "How can we honor the memory of someone who took such a courageous stand? What is a fitting tribute to someone who impacted the lives of so many?" More than 50 years ago, McCain and three others who became known as the "Greensboro Four" initiated the sit-in movement that led to the desegregation of lunch counters across the South.
In the first week of December, I went to see a block panel of the AIDS Memorial Quilt displayed in the lobby of West Hollywood City Hall. It had been a long time since I'd seen any portion of the quilt and I wanted to pay tribute to this powerful memorial and be reminded of the important stories the quilt holds. There's something to be said for seeing the quilt in person. Up close, you can appreciate the details- the colors, textures, stitching, and fabrics interwoven to create a permanent acknowledgement of a life cut short. At the same time, to see the largeness of a single block panel is to get an inkling of the enormity and the scope of the tragedy that this quilt documents.
We know, when we go into teaching, that the consequences of our work may not be entirely appreciated in the moment, that we are "planting seeds" as a teacher of mine told me when I was becoming a teacher. Yes, there are some days when we leave the classroom KNOWING that we made a difference. We saw the light bulb go on. We heard or watched as a student responded in a new way. But honestly, we do not always know the students who will be truly moved by our work or who will come back years later to tell us how the seed we planted eventually blossomed.
On the heels of the second annual high school summit for Facing History’s LA Partnership Schools Network, “Every Voice Matters,” I have been thinking a lot about the power of listening and truly understanding someone else's story. Never was the transformative power of listening more palpable than after my experience speaking with a Vietnam Veteran a few weeks ago.
When I crossed the last day of September off my calendar, I felt a bit giddy. Yes, it's nice to get that first month of school over and finally feel firmly established within the academic year, but there's another reason for my upbeat mood. For me, the start of October marks the beginning of the "holiday season"- the quick succession of celebratory events which will culminate in the start of a new calendar year.
Recently I attended the Facing History seminar "Choices in Little Rock" which uses a case study of the 1957 desegregation of Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas to explore topics such as federal and states rights, the American Constitution system, and the Brown v. Board decision and its legacies. The seminar also examines issues of race, human behavior, and the power of individual choice. At the end of the week our group had the opportunity to hear from one of the Little Rock Nine, Dr. Terrence Roberts. When he spoke to us about his experiences and his journey since that fateful school year, I couldn't help but be inspired. As a history teacher, yearly classroom screenings of Eyes on the Prize had me well acquainted with the grainy black and white images of the violent mobs outside Little Rock Central High School. Also clear in my memory is the image of nine dignified high school students and their refusal to let hate and bigotry obstruct access to the education that was rightfully theirs. The footage still moves me of course, but perhaps because I've seen it repeatedly, that moment and the people in it, seem frozen in time. But hearing from Dr. Roberts gave me a much needed shift in perspective. Yes, things have changed. It is also just as true that certain problems still remain. And the question I must ask myself about both is what to do about it.