Earlier in May two men were killed in Portland, Oregon for intervening when a man began screaming xenophobic insults at two young women on a train. I found myself admiring their bravery to act without hesitation but I also felt an overwhelming sense of worry for the students and teachers I work with at Facing History. We introduce them to the theme of “choosing to participate” and to the term, “upstander,” an individual who takes action in the face of injustice. But the deaths of the upstanders in Portland were a stark reminder that such acts can carry great risk. How then, as educators, do we reconcile both calling young people to be upstanders and also not wanting to recklessly expose them to violence?
Orlando. Brussels. Baghdad. Baton Rouge. St. Paul. Dallas. Nice. Istanbul. Baton Rouge, again. The last several weeks have been hard on humanity. I was on vacation from my work at Facing History, trying to stay unplugged for awhile, when the news about Dallas broke. I logged back on to social media, but just as quickly shut it off again. I was (am) overwhelmed, feeling small and fairly powerless to help heal the world and prevent such violence in the future. But, I also couldn't get away from the feeling that, at that moment, turning my back was the exact wrong thing to do. I kept coming back to some critical questions: Why is it important to stay checked in, even when I can and want to check out? In the face of overwhelming sorrow, terror, and anger, how do I remain hopeful? How can I continue to take care of myself - to put on my oxygen mask first - while at the same time not abandoning my responsibility as a human being to care for others within my universe of obligation? Below are a few strategies that may help keep us engaged and hopeful and, as the school year begins in the coming weeks, do the same for our students.
In a Facing History and Ourselves classroom, asking students to question and think critically is challenging every day, but especially when we read headlines about violence in communities close to home. During the week leading up to Thanksgiving, a video showing the 2014 murder of 17-year-old Laquan McDonald by Chicago police officer Jason Van Dyke was released on the same day that Mr. Van Dyke was charged with first-degree murder. Facing History offers essential questions to consider and strategies for helping students process the myriad thoughts, feelings, and opinions they are experiencing.
Sir Nicholas Winton, a British humanitarian who saved more than 650 children through the Kindertransport during World War II, died on July 1, 2015, at the age of 106. Winton always humbly insisted he wasn't a hero; yet his inspiring story illuminates how courage, initiative, and compassion drive people to make a difference.
Topics: Classrooms, Teaching Strategies, Antisemitism, Choosing to Participate, Students, Teaching, Holocaust, Upstanders, Genocide/Collective Violence, Teachers, Holocaust and Human Behavior, Decision-making, Holocaust Education