Throughout school I hated History. I dreaded going to class, doing the homework, and studying for my History exams. I complained that it was "boring" but what that really meant was that I found it challenging to process and understand what I was learning because I had difficulty imagining myself in the shoes of the people I was learning about -- people of different cultures from my own, who were from far-flung countries that I knew little about, and who lived in distant times in the past. Because I was a diligent student who cared deeply about succeeding academically, my difficulty with History was a big blow to my confidence. I developed a strong aversion toward it and avoided it as much as possible. Over the years, this weakness nagged at me. At some point, I decided to do something about it and began brushing up on my own through books, movies, travel, and other forms of learning. Today I am fascinated by History.
When I recently became acquainted with an organization called Facing History And Ourselves, I was immediately intrigued. Facing History is a non-profit international educational and professional development organization whose mission is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism and prejudice in order to help students make the connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives. I have had the opportunity to learn more about the organization by familiarizing myself with its pedagogical principles, observing a classroom lesson, attending a teacher training workshop, and interacting with instructors and program directors. For example, during the class I observed, I listened to students discussing a piece of art depicting the Holocaust and considering what the artist may have been thinking or feeling while creating it. During the teacher training workshop, I listened to a room full of educators debating Indian Residential Schools (schools that were set up to re-educate Native American children by stripping them of their Native American heritage in order to get them to assimilate European customs) and considering what activities and exercises they might use in the classroom to teach this lesson to their students. The workshop sparked debate about identity, morality, racism, and religious/cultural intolerance. I have also found the reading materials to be well-organized, manageable in size and thought-provoking.
I am amazed by how the program forces individuals to examine history through a critical lens -- considering difficult issues such as racism, discrimination, and genocide -- and asking important questions about what led to these events, how they could have been prevented, and what lessons can be derived for the future. Facing History emphasizes that the atrocities of the past didn't happen in an instant but, rather, in many cases they were the result of years of cultural and societal tensions.
What I find most impressive about the program is how it connects the past to the present. I think Facing History has the power to help young students understand what I could not -- that history is intertwined with and relevant to our daily lives because we have the ability to draw from the lessons of the past to positively influence the present and future.
For more about Facing History, you can visit https://www.facinghistory.org/.