After the school day, I work with a group of teens to engage in dialogue and make a podcast called This Teenage Life, found on podcast apps such as Apple Podcasts and Spotify. We meet virtually twice per week to talk about issues the teens care about, such as when they began seeing their parents as human beings, love in high school, queerness, and the importance of the Black Lives Matter movement. We record these conversations, edit them, compose music and web art, and create podcast episodes with conversation and activity guides for teachers and students who might want to engage in similar conversations. Throughout the pandemic, This Teenage Life has been a social and creative lifeline for us.
Across the United States, people are gearing up for Election Day on November 3, 2020 in the midst of continuing cultural, social, and political upheavals. As the nation continues to grapple with the enduring presence and lasting impact of the COVID-19 Pandemic, this election season looks different than those in the past. The debate over mail-in voting versus in-person voting continues and the emphasis on the need to keep everyone safe and healthy continues to hold public discourse.
In a recent interview, I spoke with educator Emily Haines—teacher and literacy coach at the Laboratory School of Finance and Technology in the South Bronx. A founding teacher at the Facing History School in Manhattan, Haines discusses her experience being an out lesbian, white, middle-class teacher over her 22-year career, as well as approaches she recommends to LGBTQ educators she coaches and how she deploys intersectional thinking to support members of her school community.
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.
During Genocide Awareness Month this April, we would like to draw educators' and parents' attention to Facing History’s rich array of teaching resources on genocide. But we also invite you to deepen your own learning with these 7 brand new titles written by scholars and memoirists grappling with the nature of genocide, its impacts on people around the world, and the acts of resistance and humanity that persist amid horrific circumstances. These books range in format from survivor testimony and multigenerational biography, to accounts of historical upstanders and scholarly analysis of how we represent and teach about genocide itself.
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.
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.
In a recent interview, I spoke with internationally recognized human rights activist and Rwandan genocide survivor Jacqueline Murekatete. Murekatete is the founder of the Genocide Survivors Foundation which is dedicated to preventing genocide and supporting survivors in need.
KS: For readers who are unfamiliar with the Rwandan genocide, what are some high-level details that you think are important for them to know and understand?
JM: I think that it’s very important for people to recognize that, like any genocide, the genocide in Rwanda did not happen overnight.
Earlier in May two men were killed in Portland, Oregon for intervening when a man began screaming xenophobic insults at two young women on a train. I found myself admiring their bravery to act without hesitation but I also felt an overwhelming sense of worry for the students and teachers I work with at Facing History. We introduce them to the theme of “choosing to participate” and to the term, “upstander,” an individual who takes action in the face of injustice. But the deaths of the upstanders in Portland were a stark reminder that such acts can carry great risk. How then, as educators, do we reconcile both calling young people to be upstanders and also not wanting to recklessly expose them to violence?
In February 1968, Thomas “T.O.” Jones led 1,300 black sanitation workers in a citywide strike against Memphis’ abusive treatment of its black employees. Facing History is honoring Jones and 13 other Memphians who chose to confront injustice and defy indifference through our Upstanders Mural. This commnity-driven public art display is located across the street from the National Civil Rights Museum and steps away from where Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated.
We spoke with Dory Lerner, Museum Educator at the National Civil Rights Museum and a Facing History volunteer, about the importance of the mural in the community and how the stories of these Upstanders can be blueprints for changemakers today.