Social Studies and Education “Race and Membership” Weekend Workshop With Facing History and Ourselves ☆

On October 21 and 22, TC will host a two-day course, “Race and Membership,” facilitated by the international educational organization Facing History and Ourselves. “The partnership with Facing History and Ourselves and TC is an important one as it represents a joint activity with a group whose values resonate with ours: upholding social justice and addressing historical trauma with careful attention to pedagogy and curriculum,” explains Associate Professor of Social Studies and Education William Gaudelli. “We are happy to be continuing this long-standing partnership, now approaching 20 years.”  Typically, Facing History runs two courses throughout the academic year: a five day Holocaust and Human Behavior course in the summer and the two day Race and Membership course in the fall.

Facing History and Ourselves works with educators and young people in classrooms and communities around the world, helping them to find connections between the past and the moral choices that students and adults confront in the present and future.  Its content and pedagogy encourages students to ask questions,  learn to empathize, and think critically about the meaning of civic participation in democracy.

In her role as a Facing History Development Assistant, Social Studies and Education Ed.M. student Ali Hawkins liaisons with TC on a regular basis. Her passion for the organization is palpable as she describes how she landed her role (she began as an intern after taking a Facing History class at TC), the mentors she has found in the organization, and her belief in its mission and methodology.  “Where Facing History excels is helping  students learn how to apply the lessons of history to their own lives. Through the training and support of teachers, Facing History enables students to study abstract historical ideas that happened ‘over there’ in a way that connects historical questions, problems and dilemmas to individuals’ everyday experiences. It gives young people a sense of hope and an understanding that their decisions matter.”

Founded in 1976 in Brookline, MA by former eighth grade teachers Margot Stern Strom and Bill Parsons, Facing History and Ourselves  was formed to teach students about the ethical prescepts and civic responsibilities that underlie a healthy democracy. Its focal content was and continues to be the steps leading to the Holocaust as well as such other examples of collective violence as the civil rights struggle in America, the legacy of apartheid in South Africa, and the impact of race and eugenics in the United States.  Nearly 40 years later, the organization has trained 29,000 teachers at seminars and workshops, reaches two million students annually and has meaningful connections with educators across the globe.  Still steered by Strom (who Hawkins describes as “the coach for whom you want to play your best”), Facing History is a leader in teaching lessons that are both timeless and timely.

David Levy, Facing History Program Associate, will facilitate the upcoming “Race and Membership” class at TC. Like Hawkins, Levy also encountered Facing History in the classroom (at a school workshop–he taught high school and middle school for eight years) and was similarly captivated by its message and methods.  “It blew me away,” he declares, adding that it was the kind of teaching he himself strove for in the classroom.

What can TC students expect in the upcoming class, and any encounter with Facing History, for that matter?  “They are going to leave with an enormous amount of resources and teaching strategies they can use.  We model 15-20 different classroom activities that are modeled for adult learners but can easily be applied to young people,” Levy explains.  “The content is riveting, engaging, personal and complex.  As an adult learner, they’ll be deeply engaged,” he adds.

Designed as a pedagogical triangle, Facing History encompasses the three points of intellectual rigor, emotional engagement, and ethical reflection.  The approach and methodology, according to Levy, “…is centered in the idea of thinking about our own identity, who you are, how you make choices and what your motivates you to act or not act. Then we explore group identity, which is the crux of what we do:  We all have an unbelievable number of interactions and affiliations with different groups in our lives.  Some of those groups we choose, and other groups (like our race and gender) we have less of a choice. Helping students think about their own experiences with difference and membership can enable them to think deeply and critically about historical instances of inclusion and exclusion, equality and inequality.”

In-depth case studies of pivotal events in recent history are often employed, arming educators with an abundance of primary source documents.  In the “Race and Membership” class, IQ testing, the eugenics movement, Native American boarding schools, events leading up to Brown vs. Board of Education will be explored, with “a real focus on human behavior,” Levy explains. Facing History workshops also consider judgment and the decisions of others, as well as an exploration of legacy and memory, or “what’s the value of remembering things?”. Classes generally summarize with an offer to students to participate in change.  The session “should make students energized to make a difference” Levy feels.  “Our hope is that people are just naturally engaged and that we can get students to begin a journey of participation. Through this participation in communities and civil society, Facing History’s goal is that students will come away from their historical learning with a new sense of agency and a conviction that personal choices matter. It goes back to the issue of identity: they become a new person and view their surroundings through the lens of a new worldview.

Facing History offers its participants a unique component of support.  A class attendee is a “member for life” Levy jokes, but seriously emphasizes that after the seminar “it doesn’t end there.  Anyone who wants to continue the relationship can.”  A vast network of resources, including a sophisticated digital lending library and one-on-one help in the form of a pairing with a program associate are made available.  Levy says about half of all class attendees follow up afterwards, with many TC students delaying their first contact for a few years, or until they’ve landed at the school where they will ultimately teach.

What advice would Hawkins offer to those who are walking into the “Race and Membership” class, or any Facing History experience?  “Be prepared to be pushed in terms of both intellectual knowledge and emotional capabilities.” Levy concurs,   explaining that Facing History is designed to acknowledge that emotion is a part of learning, despite the fact that there’s often a hesitation in the classroom to have students engage emotionally.  “This is difficult, this is powerful,” he concludes.