For the past three years, Dr. Sybil Hampton has been featured as a guest speaker for Facing History and Ourselves’ online course, “Choices in Little Rock.” Her experience as one of the first African American students to graduate from Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas in 1962 makes her a witness to history. She shares her reflections on why she chooses to participate in Facing History’s online professional development courses.
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What keeps you coming back to Facing History’s online courses?
I know I will not live forever. I can touch the future by supporting teachers who develop young people through the study of history and through the experiences in classrooms where respect, civility and justice are valued. Their students will hopefully become citizens committed to insuring that the promises of democracy are realized for all Americans. Some of their students will become foot soldiers in the struggle for economic, racial and social justice.
The most important people in my life have been teachers! My mother was a teacher. My school teachers, college and university professors all made it possible for me to dream a world, to try, fail and get going again and again.
You have been involved in our online courses since April 2013. How have you seen conversations with educators evolve?
Initially, in the role as a “witness to history,” teachers were very interested in learning more about the context and realities confronted during my three years at Little Rock Central High School.
As time went on, questions were asked more about my opinions or suggestions for improvements in race relations and education. The most fascinating questions were about impacting students today who appear apathetic, not empathetic, and who seem uninspired to be change agents, unlike during the Civil Rights era.
In my most recent webinars, some of the questions shifted more toward the teacher’s responsibilities as an educator. Questions like, “What did I do with my anger?” or, “How can white teachers be allies?” and, “How did you deal with the isolation and what advice do you have for students today who feel isolated?”
What do you think is the greatest value for educators when attending an online Facing History course?
Many teachers I have encountered express profound concerns about providing leadership for the study and discussion of events in history such as the Holocaust, slavery, the struggle for Civil Rights in the 1950s and ‘60s, and the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II. Being able to study and discuss with your peers and mentors is an invaluable experience that rarely takes place during the formal preparation to become a teacher.
Then, there is the opportunity to speak frankly with a witness to history like me. It enables the teachers to “feel” the impact as well as learn and discuss. My story, as well as others, has the potential to break down emotional barriers and make it possible for those who live outside the “turbulence” to understand that their lens is necessary but it is not the only one.
Why should educators participate in Facing History’s online courses?
There are few places that teach about injustice as a way to prevent future injustice the way that Facing History does. Teachers are not always prepared to enable their students to critically approach these difficult and threatening subjects because they can barely bring themselves to seriously engage these topics. Facing History is an incredible human and professional development enterprise that gives teachers the opportunity to stretch, broaden their horizons and encourages them to become lifelong learners and to serve as coaches and mentors for their students.