As we pass Inauguration Day, Americans are sitting with a great many feelings. Some may be moving forward with a sense of disappointment and uncertainty while others are basking in the sense of possibility that new beginnings provide. Irrespective of where we lie on this continuum, the events of the last year have revealed to all of us that our democracy is highly fragile and continued civic engagement is required to strengthen its functioning. But in order to move forward, we must be prepared to look backward and plumb the lessons of the past.
As we approach Inauguration Day on Wednesday, January 20th, we lie at the crossroads of progress and regress; of inclusive representative democracy and mob rule. With so much fear and uncertainty in the air, it is easy to forget the fact that we approach a significant national milestone this week.
“Freedom is not won by a passive acceptance of suffering. Freedom is won by a struggle against suffering.
By this measure, Negroes have not yet paid the full price for freedom.
And whites have not yet faced the full cost of justice.”
―Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?
In the week since an extremist mob stormed the U.S. Capitol and staged a chaotic insurrection that shocked the nation, outrage, concern, and confusion have continued to make headlines. But amid the upheaval, students and teachers have continued to come together in classrooms and virtual learning spaces for daily lessons and instruction. Of course, this isn’t the first time in our history when teachers and students have had to grapple with conflict and fear. If anything, we must acknowledge and underscore that education is often a constant. That fact doesn’t make the events of last week any less serious or any easier to comprehend, but it does illustrate just how foundational our schools are to a functioning society. In the face of civil turmoil, it is critical that classrooms provide safe, responsive spaces for their students to explore the events, gain understanding, and ask questions about what happened and what might come next.
Pause. Take a breath.
In the past few years and, more urgently, in the past months and weeks, some Americans have used the language of division to describe the United States—a "divided society." We are and have been. Using these kinds of labels helps, I think, because they allow us to begin giving language to our problems and then open up possible solutions. We have many fractures. There's not one thing that divides us. In other countries, people speak more freely of identity-based conflicts—sectarian, racial, and ethnic. We, too, have identity-based conflicts—this is one legacy of our unredressed history of racial injustice, violence, and oppression. We are also divided by additional vectors of inequality and we are divided by partisanship.
As we delve deeper into the holiday season, many of us may find ourselves in the midst of contentious discussions. The events of 2020 have brought a host of challenging issues to the surface as we reach levels of political polarization not seen for decades. Irrespective of the many factors that got us here, one of the most important questions now is how do we have meaningful conversations in the midst of it? Especially in conversations with relatives and other loved ones—conversations in which establishing bonds of familiarity and shared history is often not required—what does it look like to reach across ideological chasms to engage in productive dialogue? Whether around the dinner table, in a place of worship, or over a virtual video chat, we need to hone these interpersonal skills if we are to move forward.
Amidst all of the ups and downs of 2020, we at Facing History have been proud to share a wide variety of new curricular resources, webinars, and blog posts with our educators and allies. Check out some of our top pieces of content from 2020 below:
During Universal Human Rights Month this December and every month, optimizing classroom activities to foster learning and caring about global human rights is a crucial task of modern educators. For all of the vital information that is available about histories of struggles for human rights and coverage of ongoing struggles, teaching this material demands parallel attention to deepening our capacities for empathy and perspective taking. Based on a bedrock of social-emotional learning (SEL) methodology, Facing History offers these 5 remote-friendly teaching strategies to aid thoughtful teaching in remote and mixed learning environments:
"Where, after all, do human rights begin? In small places close to home-so close and
so small that they cannot be seen on any map of the world." —Eleanor Roosevelt
Each December, we observe Universal Human Rights Month—an opportunity to reflect upon historical and ongoing struggles for human rights around the globe. Yet understandings of human rights are constantly evolving, raising new questions, and calling into question aspects of social life that some of us take for granted. In the following five books published within the last year, scholars, a biographer, and a memoirist reflect upon different dimensions of human rights, offering educators a number of areas for further exploration of this important subject. Below, the publisher of each title outlines what is to be found within each book: