Facing History and Ourselves
FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES
FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES , Holocaust education program begun in 1976 just as consciousness of the Holocaust was moving beyond the survivor community, when two Brookline, Massachusetts, teachers integrated a unit on the Holocaust and Human Behavior into their 8th grade social studies course. Throughout the next decade, it expanded its outreach, first in Massachusetts with support from that state's Department of Education, and then across the country as one of the model programs designated by the National Diffusion Network of the Office of Education.
In 1990, Facing History opened its first regional office in Chicago, to be followed by offices in six other regions and one in Europe. The organization has now evolved into a program of teacher training, resource preparation, and ongoing research and development that now reaches more than 21,000 educators and over 1.6 million students in 90 countries around the world.
Faithful to its name, there are two dimensions to Facing History and Ourselves, the historical material and the individual student – the self. Facing History's intellectual and pedagogic framework was built upon a synthesis of history and ethics for effective history education. It included a language and a vocabulary for studying difficult and complicated history. It conveyed an understanding that such history did not have to happen but instead was the culmination of a series of ongoing choices (or lack of choosing) and decisions at every level of society. It further engaged students with a sense of the connection of that history to their present and future worlds. The model was interdisciplinary, and built upon the methods of the humanities – inquiry, analysis, interpretation, and judgment. Facing History engaged students in confronting, as distinct from simply studying, the past. Its pedagogy insisted on going beyond the simple answer and response to grapple with complexity and uncertainty in order to come to informed choice which recognized an ethical imperative while rejecting helpless relativism.
From the beginning the core case study of Facing History and Ourselves has been an in-depth study of the failure of democracy in Germany and the events leading to the Holocaust. Studying the unique and universal lessons of the Holocaust helps students to think morally about their own behavior and to reflect on the moral nature of the decisions they have made. By examining the circumstances of this piece of history, students explore fundamental issues of citizenship, responsibility, and decision-making in a democracy.
In Facing History classrooms, middle and high school students learn to think about individual decision-making and to exercise the faculty of making judgments. By illuminating common themes of justice, law, and morality in the past and present, Facing History offers students a framework and a vocabulary for examining the meaning and responsibility of citizenship and the tools to recognize bigotry and indifference in their own worlds. Through a rigorous examination of the steps and events that led to the Holocaust, along with other case studies of collective violence and genocide, Facing History teaches one of the most significant and necessary lessons for adolescents to understand: prevention of collective violence is possible. The mass violence and genocide in the past were not inevitable but rather were shaped by choices made by individuals and groups – choices that at the time may have seemed ordinary and unimportant, but taken together, led to extraordinary, unimaginable consequences.
Facing History encourages adolescents to draw connections among events in the past, choices in the present, and the possibilities of the future. It began with the study of the Holocaust and the Armenian Genocide but it gradually expanded its concerns. The Facing History program offers teachers and students vocabulary, concepts, and materials to confront the mass violations of human rights and human dignity in recent history, whether they be in the breakdown of democracy in Germany in the 1920s and 1930s, or in South Africa, or the Armenian Genocide, or the more recent genocides in Rwanda, Bosnia, or the Sudan.
Students learn to recognize universal themes of prejudice, discrimination, and de-humanization, as well as courage, caring, responsible participation, and steps that can be taken toward prevention.
The Facing History framework is also built upon the notion that democracies are fragile enterprises and can only remain vital through the active, thoughtful, and responsible participation of its citizens. Education for democratic citizenship means encouraging students to recognize that participation can make a difference and is integral to the ethical choices and decisions that we all face. Very often, those decisions are influenced by labeling and stereotyping, and by how we define group identities and who belongs and who does not. Facing History courses embody a sequence of study which begins with identity – first individual identity and then group identities with their definitions of membership. From there the study examines the failure of democracy and the steps leading to the Holocaust – the most documented case of 20th century indifference, de-humanization, hatred, racism, and antisemitism. It goes on to explore difficult questions of judgment, memory, and legacy, and the necessity for responsible participation to prevent injustice. The program ends with a section called "Choosing to Participate" with examples of individuals who have taken small steps to build just and inclusive communities and whose stories illuminate the courage and compassion that is needed to protect democracy today and in generations to come.
Facing History is often described as a journey, back and forth between past, present, and future. Its language and vocabulary are tools for entry into history – terms like perpetrator, victim, defender, bystander, rescuer, collaborator, and opportunist. Students learn that terms like identity, membership, legacy, denial, memory, and judgment can help them understand complicated history, but that an authentic use of that language needs to be rooted in the constellation of individual and group choices, decisions, and behaviors that Facing History has called "Ourselves."
The Facing History journey further embraces a pedagogy that is rooted in the concerns and issues of adolescence: the overarching interest in individual and group identity; in acceptance or rejection, in conformity or non-conformity, in labeling, ostracism, loyalty, fairness, and peer group pressure. It speaks to the adolescent's newly discovered ideas of subjectivity, competing truths, and differing perspectives, along with the growing capacity to think hypothetically and the inclination to find personal meaning in newly introduced phenomena.
The elements of Facing History pedagogy have been demonstrated in hundreds of institutes and workshops and have characterized teaching and learning in thousands of classrooms. These institutes are given in both face-to-face and online environments, and include an online campus with modules and lesson plans to extend the program. Since the examination of difficult and complex issues of human behavior in critical moments in past and present requires careful thinking and reflection, Facing History teachers employ effective strategies to encourage students to listen, to take another's perspective, to understand differing points of view, and to undertake intellectual risks in their analysis and discussion. Meaningful intellectual growth is a process of confronting imbalance and dissonance as students grapple with new ideas and different perspectives that contradict unexamined premises, so these teachers carefully challenge generalizations and push for clear distinctions in language and explication. Building upon the increasing ability to think hypothetically and imagine options, Facing History teachers stretch the historical imagination by urging delineation of what might have been done, choices that could have been made, and alternative scenarios that could have come about.
Equally important, Facing History pedagogy embodies teaching the skills of in-depth historical thinking and understanding. These include knowledge of chronology, causality, and point of view; along with the ability to analyze evidence, take different perspectives, make distinctions and understand relationships. Facing History teachers make these skills explicit and provide opportunities for continual demonstration and practice. They further believe that all students are capable of attaining the high standards necessary to engage deeply in the resource materials of the program. Yet students learn differently, so it is essential to use multiple assessments in their classrooms to honor the complexity of their thinking.
Evaluation of Facing History has been a priority of the program since its inception. Researchers have studied the impact of the program in such areas as adolescent psychosocial and moral development and education, violence and violence prevention, historical understanding, citizenship education, empathy, self-concept and social interest, academic achievement, teacher professional development, and school climate. In a major study funded by the Carnegie Corporation of New York, Facing History classes were shown to be significantly successful in expanding adolescents' capacities for interpersonal understanding, and in enhancing the ability to reflect upon the personal meaning of issues of social justice.
As Facing History completes three decades of teaching about the Holocaust and other examples of collective violence and looks ahead to the 21st century, its impetus is to go beyond memory and legacy and ask how those perspectives can lead to prevention. Its content and pedagogy is helping students become more global and giving them tools and concepts to build bridges and relationships for global understanding and participation. Thus, the global outreach to educators has become critical. Through its website (www.facinghistory.org) Facing History has facilitated online forums for scholars and educators on such issues as the impact of religion on identity, the nature of transitional justice in societies which have undergone mass violence, and the role of education in creating a civil society. Through its power to engage teachers and students, Facing History can facilitate thoughtful and positive change in a school community and convey that while participation can make a difference in sustaining democracy. Such participation, including judgments of right and wrong, needs to be informed, as opposed to constrained by history.
Major Facing History Publications
Included are Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior (primary resource book); Crime Against Humanity and Civilization: The Genocide of the Armenians; I Promised I Would Tell (Holocaust Survivor Memoir); Elements of Time (companion guide to Facing History's videotape collection of Holocaust survivor testimonies); Facing History and Ourselves: Jews of Poland; Race and Membership in American History; The Eugenics Movement.
D. Barr, "Early Adolescents' Reflections on Social Justice: Facing History and Ourselves in Practice and Assessment," in: Intercultural Education (May 2005); M. Sleeper and M.S. Strom, "Facing History and Ourselves," in: M. Elias and H. Arnold (eds.), The Educator's Guide to Emotional Intelligence and Academic Learning: Social-Emotional Learning in the Classroom (2006); M. Sleeper, A. Strom, and M.S. Strom, "Goals of Universal Primary and Secondary Education," paper delivered at American Academy of Arts and Sciences workshop (Cambridge, 2004); M.S. Strom, M. Sleeper, and M. Johnson, "Facing History and Ourselves: A Synthesis of History and Ethics in Effective History Education," in: A. Garrod (ed.), Learning for Life Moral Education Theory and Practice (1992); T. Tollefson, "Facing History and Ourselves," paper delivered at Conference on Education and the Civic Purposes of Schools" (San Jose, Costa Rica, 2005).
[Martin Sleeper (2nd ed.)]