On December 15, 1791, the first 10 amendments to the United States Constitution—known as the Bill of Rights—were ratified. Designed to spell out limits to the federal government’s power and to protect the individual liberties of Americans, these amendments include many of the hallmarks of the country’s democratic ideals: freedom of speech, the press, and religion; and the protection against being punished by the government without due process of law.
I have spent my whole life living in the south but often find conflict between my roots as a southerner and the complicated history of racism. As a teacher for 35 years, I’ve tried to use literature to develop empathy and understanding to combat bigotry and hatred. To Kill a Mockingbird has long been one of the novels I’ve used to attempt this.
I am always ready to learn something new so when I learned about Facing History’s workshop, “A New Approach to Teaching Mockingbird,” I was intrigued. It turns out I found deeper connections to the novel than I had ever anticipated—some that took me all the way back to my childhood in the south.
Cicada Scott, the winner of last year's Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, wrote an eloquent essay about life as a non-binary gender teen. In light of recent news about the rollback of federal protection for transgender students, Cicada's reflection on the power of understanding one's own identity is more timely than ever. Read our Q&A with Cicada and check out this year's prompt for the 2017 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest. Submissions are open until March 15. Students and teachers will have the chance to win more than $25,000 in scholarships and awards.
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?
To celebrate LGBTQ History Month this October, we are honoring voices like Sam Kiss'. His essay was a finalist in the 2016 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest, which asked students to draw upon themes from Harper Lee's classic, To Kill a Mockingbird. He shared his personal story about what it was like to come out to his family as a transgender boy.
As a high school English teacher, my goal is to produce globally aware students who see the larger context of the curricula we are studying. Texts, such as Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, are valuable lenses to educate my students about what it means to be humane, active participants in their classroom and the world. Before attending Facing History’s Teaching Mockingbird seminar, I thought about how to approach the novel in a way that would encourage my pupils to explore the complexity of human behavior and decision-making. But I was also looking to be inspired about how to most effectively end my semester-long unit on Race and Membership using the novel. Now, I have a plethora of strategies to discuss the dilemmas that develop when conscience comes into conflict with societal rules of behavior.
Cicada Scott, a senior from Manitou Springs, Colorado, received the $2,500 Benjamin B. Ferencz Upstander Award for the 2016 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest. To celebrate LGBT Pride Month in June, we go behind the scenes to learn more about what inspired Cicada to open up about being a non-binary gender teenager. Preferring pronouns like "them" and "they," Cicada describes non-binary as a "catchall category for people who are neither exclusively male or exclusively female."
After graduation, they plan to attend college at the University of Colorado, Boulder. They are looking into studying robotics but are still deciding the right major.
We couldn’t believe it ourselves: Over 4,000 students entered our 2016 Facing History Together Student Essay Contest!
Shireen Afzal is a senior at the Woburn Collegiate Institute in Toronto, Canada. She was one of two finalists in the 2015 Student Essay Contest. In this Q&A, she’ll share her thoughts on the contest, what motivated her, and give advice for students entering this year’s contest inspired by Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird.
Arvaughn Williams is one of two finalists from the Facing History 2015 Student Essay Contest. He entered his spoken word poem as a student at City Arts and Technology High School in San Francisco, California. Arvaughn shares his thoughts about what the contest did for him and his advice for students entering this year’s contest inspired by To Kill a Mockingbird. Stay tuned for another Q&A with Shireen Afzhal, our other finalist from last year, for more encouraging words about entering the 2016 Student Essay Contest.