As we observe Martin Luther King Jr. Day in the midst of our present climate of hate, we are inevitably asked to consider how far we have come in realizing the visions of justice and equality that King articulated a half century ago. Though King has been memorialized in many places around the country and world, how we represent his legacy remains contested and points to divisions in our thinking about what it actually means to promote racial justice. Cultural artifacts like monuments present rich opportunities to examine the narratives we choose to uphold and sideline in the public sphere, and the forthcoming Boston-based memorial to the Kings is no exception.
Since 2010, January 11th has marked National Human Trafficking Awareness Day—and is part of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month which runs throughout January in the United States. In a recent interview, I spoke with Danny Papa—a New Jersey-based educator who inspired his middle school students to take leading roles in the movement to end human trafficking from the schoolhouse to the state house. In addition to serving as a K-12 Supervisor for Jefferson Township Public Schools, Papa serves as President of the Board of Trustees and Education Committee Chair for the NJ Coalition Against Human Trafficking.
As the nation reacts to the wave of antisemitic attacks that have occurred in cities including New York City, Los Angeles, and Chicago in recent weeks, educators are faced with unique challenges. By creating safe spaces for reflection and questioning, by offering context and lessons from history, and by sharing examples of compassion and resistance, teachers can play a vital role in responding to acts of hate.
Auteur filmmaker Terrence Malick’s latest work, A Hidden Life, is based on the true story of Austrian peasant farmer Franz Jägerstätter—a conscientious objector who refused to swear loyalty to Adolf Hitler when called to active duty during World War II. As Jägerstätter’s refusal alienates him from his community and puts his life in jeopardy, the film offers an artful look at some of the moral choices made during this period, and an affecting meditation on what it means to have agency when we are subject to power structures greater than ourselves. And notably for educators, the film provokes a type of reflection central to best practices in adolescent education on WWII and the Holocaust.
As people living on American soil await a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on the fate of DACA—the immigration policy that has permitted some 700,000 undocumented youth to remain in the U.S. after being brought here as children—one figurehead of the undocumented movement is urging young immigrants to be fearless in building their lives here, with or without the right papers. Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Jose Antonio Vargas presents a challenging call to action, yet he speaks from experience. Since putting his life and livelihood on the line by announcing his undocumented status in a pathbreaking 2011 essay, Vargas has inspired undocumented immigrants around the U.S. to find their voices, and helped U.S. citizens broaden their thinking about immigration and belonging.
The news cycles of the last few years have captured countless instances of racist violence perpetrated by white people against black people—a continuation of a long history of antiblack violence in the United States. And amid this legacy of violence, a number of black figures have done the unimaginable: they have publicly expressed forgiveness to avowedly racist white people who murdered their relatives and community members.
Taika Waititi’s new film, Jojo Rabbit, has polarized both critics and audiences—and for good reason. Dubbed an “anti-hate satire,” the film tells the story of Johannes “Jojo” Betzler—a ten-year old German boy striving to find social belonging and direction as he comes of age during World War II. In the absence of his father who has gone off to war, Jojo relies heavily on the guidance of an imaginary friend who takes the form of Adolf Hiter—portrayed here by director Waititi, a Maori man of Jewish descent.
As public presidential impeachment hearings begin in the US House of Representatives, American middle and high school educators face a number of unique challenges. One might ask: How can I address such a polarizing issue in my classroom when my students’ political ideologies are all over the map? How can I ensure that thoughtful discourse prevails over name-calling and hostility, even when emotions are running high? And how can I make this a meaningful opportunity for civic learning?
This National Hispanic Heritage Month, we find an opportunity to explore histories, contributions, and experiences of Hispanic and Latinx people in our communities and classrooms that are often left out of the news and history books. One such story is that of Dolores Huerta—a Chicana activist whose contributions rival those of the most renowned civil rights leaders in U.S. history, but whose legacy is significantly less known. Awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2012 and nine honorary doctorates, Huerta is a living legend in the labor movement and has been a tireless advocate for social justice for over 50 years.
Banned Books Week is here once again—and it invites us to reflect upon the narratives that we choose to amplify within our communities and those we choose to silence. One text that continues to provoke these questions for American educators is Harper Lee’s 1960 novel, To Kill a Mockingbird.
In 2018, PBS identified Lee’s novel as the “most-loved” book in the United States in the Great American Read—an eight-part television series that celebrated popular texts based on a national survey that examined “how and why writers create their fictional worlds, how we as readers are affected by these stories, and what [the] 100 different books have to say about our diverse nation and our shared human experience.”