Middle Schoolers Facing History
Facing History and Ourselves is an international organization founded in 1976 which aims to empower education professionals, students and the greater community to recognize and confront societal injustice. The Middle School Humanities program has recently adopted the C3 Framework as the backbone of the social studies curriculum. C3 stands for College, Career and Civic Life. Facing History can help our students develop their skills as citizens: "Through rigorous historical analysis combined with the study of human behavior, Facing History’s approach heightens students’ understanding of racism, religious intolerance, and prejudice; increases students’ ability to relate history to their own lives; and promotes greater understanding of their roles and responsibilities in a democracy." The Mission Statement is as follows:
Facing History and Ourselves
uses lessons of history
to challenge teachers and their students
to stand up to bigotry and hate.
Grade Seven Humanities at ISKL has been using Facing History resources for many years, particularly in a unit titled ‘We and They’ in which students study racial, religious and cultural bigotry and prejudices which have resulted in horrendous outcomes such as the Holocaust. The question has always been: “How can we become upstanders to acts of injustice as members of our community?”
Thanks to a grant from the Inspiration Fund, we were able to bring in Mr. Dylan Wray, a Facing History consultant based in South Africa with 17 years of experience working with schools and community groups. In our Middle School assembly, Mr. Wray presented inspirational stories of ordinary people who have done extraordinary things. Greta Thunberg and others from around the world have been recognized as agents of change who have become upstanders for a particular cause. Mr. Wray referenced the mission of Facing History by making the point that these individuals are making a conscious choice to “make history” with their actions.
Following the presentation, each Middle School grade level participated in a workshop in which issues of community, national and global concerns were identified and addressed. Students were asked to not only list and name these concerns but to identify those who would be the victims, the bystanders, the perpetrators, and the upstanders in these scenarios.
Students were finally asked to prepare a small group collaborative ‘commitment’ to address a cause that they care about. The issues of interest to students ranged from climate change to the plight of refugees, to bullying in school. When asked about the commitments made, Ola H. (Grade 7) stated that she believed that being kind to others and being careful not to spread rumors can be the basis for eliminating bullying in any form. Tejas O. and Max P. (both Grade 8) stated concerns about racism and religious discrimination and vowed to heighten awareness through social media and being upstanders to instances that they may encounter. Assessing the impact of the sessions, which challenged students to identify their concerns and then justify their choices to others said, “This was also good in the sense that everyone could contribute. The task was accessible to all, even if at a very simple level.”
By bringing in Facing History, it has been the hope that more awareness of the power of each of us to be change-makers is possible. We believe that the ISKL core values of Honesty, Respect, Responsibility, and Kindness easily apply to each of us being an upstander for causes dear to us.
Jay Peters is a Grade 7 Humanities teacher at ISKL. He has worked very closely with the curriculum of Facing History for many years and believes in the power of the lessons of history as they relate to issues of today.