Then-future First and Facing History Board Member Michelle Obama at the Chicago office's 2007 fundraising dinner. This year's dinner takes place tonight.
Facing History and Ourselves’ fundraising dinner for the Chicago office is tonight, and I’ll be there.
My wife Dunreith is the associate program director and has, in my opinion, done amazing work in getting Facing History materials, themes and resources throughout the Chicago Public Schools. She has concentrated on, and been extremely effective in, schools on the city’s South and West Sides.
Dunreith and I met 12 summers ago at a Facing History follow up seminar, so the organization is at least indirectly responsible for my being a husband and father!
The organization, though, has been part of my life for 30 years, when I first took a Facing History class as part of my time at Exploration Summer Program at Wellesley College.
For those who do not know, Facing History is an international professional development organization that has students think about their choices, and the moral consequences of their choices, by reflecting on themselves, the past and the connection between the two. Through examining the Holocaust and other examples of mass violence, students are encouraged to think about how to be active participants in society today.
Facing History’s scope and sequence calls for students to learn first about themselves and then to think about the groups to which they belong. From that thematic base, they move back in time and place to the historical periods they are studying.
While the focus initially was on Germany and Europe in the 1920s, 30s and 40s, the eras now include looking at Rwanda, Northern Ireland, and South Africa, to name just a few. During the study of the past, students are making connections between their own lives and the materials they are reading, hearing and seeing. They are also considering universal questions of human behavior and issues of rescue, resistance, perpetrators and bystanders.
The scope and sequence then calls for students to think about how communities and nations come together after mass violence, deal with memory and legacy and then, as mentioned above, encourages students to think about how to apply what they have learned by contributing to our democratic society.
Through Facing History I’ve had the opportunity to meet many remarkable people like Holocaust survivor and author Ava Kadishshon Schieber, witness to the liberation of Buchenwald concentration camp and former educator Leon Bass, Cambodian genocide survivor Arn Chorn-Pond, South Boston native, author and activist Michael Patrick MacDonald, and Dutch survivor, psychiatrist and philanthropist Ries Vanderpol, to name just a few.
Here are five, but by no means all, of my favorite Facing History resources:
The Lunch Date-This Academy Award-winning film by Adam Davidson explores issues of race and stereotypes through an encounter at a New York train station between a white woman on a shopping expedition and a possibly homeless black man.
Talking to Strangers: Anxieties of Citizenship since Brown v. Board of Education. This book by the MacArthur Award-winning scholar Danielle Allen blends an analysis of the infamous picture of Hazel Bryant screaming at Elizabeth Eckford on the first day of school in 1957 in Little Rock, Arkansas with classical definitions of citizenship and heavy doses of Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man and German philosopher Jurgen Habermas.
Strong at the Broken Places-This documentary film by Margaret Lazarus interweaves the sustaining and healing from trauma of four survivors. In addition to Michael Patrick MacDonald and Arn Chorn-Pond, the film also features Marcia Gordon, who survived rape, homelessness, prostitution and a relative’s death by fire, and former U.S. Sen Max Cleland, who lost both arms and a leg in Vietnam. Be warned tough: this is a tear-jerker!
Between Vengeance and Forgiveness: Facing History After Genocide and Mass Violence. Harvard Law School ProfessorMartha Minow, who dedicates the book to Facing History founder Margot Stern Strom, looks here at the moral necessity but inevitable insufficiency of ways to come together after mass violence. Specifically, she concentrates on trials, reparations and truth commissions (She has a favorable impression of the latter, especially as implemented in South Africa.).
Steve Cohen-No list of Facing History classics would be complete with Cohen, who entertained and educated thousands of teachers during his time with Facing History with his inimitable style of teaching that could best be described as an early Robin Williams teaching history.
Do you know about Facing History?
How have you connected with the organization?
What resources have I left out from the list?
What are some of your favorite books, videos and speakers that connect to the different parts of the scope and sequence?