As the first black president, Barack Obama's legacy will always include issues of race. At his farewell speech he acknowledged this: "After my election, there was talk of a post-racial America. Such a vision, however well-intended, was never realistic. Race remains a potent and often divisive force in our society.” His presidency reveals the longstanding myth that American history has always been on a steady, progressive path towards embracing equality for all.
This Friday, the United States will inaugurate its 45th president, Donald Trump. The tensions and divisions that were unearthed by the 2016 presidential campaign will not be put to rest once President Barack Obama transitions power to this new administration. Instead, they will require active, thoughtful, and responsible participation of citizens to work through together; our responsibilities as citizens do not end at the voting booth. This inauguration is an appropriate time to reflect and renew our engagement as committed participants in a healthy democracy. As we take stock in our own role in this, how do we also help students make sense of these divisions and assess the strength of democracy and civil society?
The 2016 presidential campaign will go down as one of the most divisive in US history. Read what it was like for high school senior, Lilly Hackworth, to vote for the first time during such a contentious race and how she used Facing History and Ourselves to help her navigate such a turbulent political climate.
Before the US presidential election, Eric Liu wrote in a recent article in the Atlantic, “Whatever the outcome on Election Day, more than 40 percent of American voters will feel despondent, disgusted, and betrayed.” As we face this reality together, we have a chance to learn from the pivotal dilemmas and choices of our nation’s past as we pick up the pieces from the exhausting 2016 election cycle. We can look to the aftermath of the Civil War—another period of deep division within the US—to better understand how we got to this current divisive moment filled with vitriolic rhetoric.
This was a particularly difficult election for the United States. It exposed deep divisions and it was a year of ugly rhetoric and angry, sometimes violent, exchanges among people. Racism, misogyny, sexual assault, xenophobia, antisemitism, and just plain cruelty headlined news stories and became trending topics across social media. Many Americans could not wait for November 9th to arrive just so it would be over and they could move on. But “moving on” isn’t going to help Americans to address the tensions and issues raised by the long campaign season and the election itself. The election was a mirror held up to Americans, exposing deep damage and it created more at the same time.
Each year at the Brookwood School in Manchester, a small coastal town in Massachusetts, we bring our seventh graders to a summer camp in Maine to kick off the school year. It’s a unique opportunity to build our class community and center ourselves for the challenges ahead. Our theme for the year is “responsibility,” one that is incredibly timely during this year’s heated presidential election. As we teachers encourage students to take responsibility for themselves and to care for others, it’s worth taking stock of our professional responsibilities during this electoral season. What is our role?
One hundred and fifty years ago, two massacres in 1866 – one in Memphis and one in New Orleans – galvanized national opposition to the Reconstruction policies that President Andrew Johnson enacted. These policies offered almost no protection to newly freed slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War.
How can confronting challenging historical moments like these become a step toward truth and reconciliation around issues of race that we face today? First, we need to understand the history behind them.
George Washington would have been 284 years old today. Facing History’s recent book, Washington’s Rebuke to Bigotry, on his 1790 letter to the Hebrew Congregation in Newport, Rhode Island, looks at the United States’ first president’s views on religious freedom, and is a powerful resource for exploring these essential civic lessons within U.S. history.
About two years ago, when I began reading draft chapters of Facing History’s new publication on the Reconstruction era in American history, I got to thinking back to how I learned about this period in high school in 1959 and in college, and also how I taught it to my students while teaching high school several years later in 1965.
In both my high school class as student, and later my high school classes as a teacher, I used the same textbook, David Saville Muzzey’s 1937 A History of Our Country, which for decades was the most widely used high school text on American history. Curious about what I learned and how I taught it, I dug out my well-worn copy and looked at how Muzzey wrote about Reconstruction.