On May 25, 2020, a black Minnesota man, George Floyd, was killed after a white police officer suffocated him while a group of officers looked on. Floyd, like so many black people who have come before him, was stopped by the police while driving and would not make it home that night. Given the innate limitations of virtual instruction, we are currently examining what it would mean to create space for brave and supportive processing of events like this one in virtual classrooms. But even as we thoughtfully expand the tools we offer to meet this moment, we believe that learning, reflection, and action must begin immediately in our personal lives. Pausing to apprehend the gravity of Floyd’s death, the historical and contemporary political contexts in which it occurred, and the tools for self-care and resistance that are available to us is paramount.
During a recent conversation with the Facing History community, acclaimed actor George Takei spoke about his experience surviving Japanese American incarceration and the lessons he subsequently learned from his father about the importance of relentless civic engagement. Takei is the author of the graphic memoir They Called Us Enemy (2019) in which he integrates his childhood experience of incarceration with perspectives gleaned from older survivors to offer readers of all ages an accessible window into his family’s experience.
As the coronavirus pandemic ravages communities across the country, particular communities are being attacked by an equally pernicious force. Its manifestations include the protesters in Michigan who recently stormed the state capital donning swastikas, nooses, and Confederate flags as they demanded an end to lockdowns. Or the parallel protest in Illinois where a woman held a sign displaying a German phrase famously emblazoned on Nazi concentration camps. And for many months, Asian Americans continue to be the victims of increased harassment and hate crimes in cities around the country. As medical leaders race to halt the spread of the pandemic, it is clear that we are not only battling a viral assailant. We are witnessing the lethal effects of a political establishment that permits and even perpetuates violence, as well as small but mighty groups of upstanders calling for change. For this dimension of the crisis, cultivating a culture of upstanding is the antidote we most dearly need, and it starts in the classroom.
Guest writer Thomas Simpson offers a review of historian Eric Foner's towering new book, The Second Founding: How the Civil War and Reconstruction Remade the Constitution. Thomas holds a master's degree in History from Georgetown University and is a core member of Facing History's Marketing and Communications team.
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?
Language can be alienating. Words with strong associations often force us to take positions of opposition, rather than seek understanding. This has happened recently, when detention centers along the U.S.–Mexico border were termed “concentration camps.” The response was foreseeable: the term has become so strongly associated with Nazi deportations and killing centers that any other use of these words can feel insulting. Used in a contemporary context, the words themselves have the power to cause pain, seeming to diminish the suffering of those who experienced or survived the Holocaust.
Summer is a time for relaxation. However, many of us also seek books and stories that will immerse us in the experiences of others, or will help us stay engaged in making a better world. Here are six picks that will teach, challenge, and inspire us.
The recent 65th anniversary of Brown v. Board of Education—the landmark 1954 U.S. Supreme Court decision that overturned the policy of state-sanctioned segregation in public schools—raised a number of vexing questions for those concerned with educational equity today. As a decades-old quagmire of competing interests sustains school segregation in many parts of the country, this anniversary reminds us that we must have all hands on deck in the continuing fight for educational equity.
Travel 230 miles north of Los Angeles to Owens Valley at the foot of the Sierra Nevada Mountain range and you will find a white concrete obelisk with black Japanese writing rising out of the desert. Only a few simple gravestones stand in the background a few feet away. Today, the obelisk is one of the few remaining structures from the Manzanar War Relocation Center—an American concentration camp where Japanese Americans were held during World War II.
In our present political climate, discussion of immigration is both essential and inevitable. But how can we confront these polarizing issues in the classroom in ways that deepen empathy, deliver vital historical context, and promote critical thinking? Check out these three rich resources designed for educators who are interested in addressing immigration in the classroom: