At Facing History, we believe that educators have both an opportunity and a duty to help students grasp the historical and contemporary significance of civic participation. But civic participation has always taken a wide array of forms. From voting and running for public office to civil disobedience and more violent forms of direct action, all of these visions of civic participation line our history and introducing them to students as they surfaced in different contexts can help students reflect upon their own values as civic actors in the present. One approach to this educational task is to consider the competing visions of civic participation that have been articulated and acted upon within the global Black community—a community whose circumstances have inspired, if not necessitated, the use of a wide array of political strategies to combat oppression. The approaches that Black leaders have embraced across space and time are numerous and have encompassed assimilationist and integrationist conceptions of social change, alongside contrasting approaches rooted in Black self-determination and nationalism.
Like many people of my generation who cut their teeth on the critical insights of bell hooks, news of her passing in December unleashed a wave of reflection for me about the ways she’s impacted me as a person and public scholar. Beyond the many moments of resonance I experienced while reading her writings over the years, her impact on me is most powerfully encapsulated in an experience I had in 2008 when I met her.
As a 12-year-old African American boy fresh off the influence of Malcolm X’s autobiography, I didn't always appreciate the ethical stock of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I remember watching a news report about his birthday and remarking, to the dismay of my mother that, "Martin Luther King was a sell-out."
Bringing current events into the classroom creates some very interesting challenges for teachers. The classroom is a community of diverse people with diverse stories, experiences, and points of view. The teacher is not just an instructor but also a member of the community with their own stories, experiences, and points of view. How do educators navigate their own personal feelings while creating safe space for students to share? How do educators walk the fine line between teaching and telling, between educating and indoctrinating? These are important questions educators must grapple with when charged with creating social and emotional safe spaces for discussing current events.