A visit with a Memphis Facing History Elective Teacher
Facing History and Ourselves just completed an amazing third year of offering a high school semester elective course in both Memphis and Shelby County Schools. There are 20 schools offering the elective-literally quadrupling over the last three years. The course allows teachers to go more deeply into a study of Holocaust and Human Behavior without being limited by the demands of high stakes test requirements. We're grateful to The Plough Foundation for providing the financial support for the elective and to our partners in both school districts who saw this as a valuable addition to the elective course offering.
Hardy Thames has been teaching the Facing History elective at Central High School for three years. He is a gifted teacher that helps Facing History and Ourselves to spill into the hallways and the community at-large. Hardy and his students model civic engagement as they have organized fundraisers for Sudan and found other ways to really become "upstanders". Memphis Senior Program Associate Steve Becton asked Hardy to respond to a few questions regarding his experiences.
What are your students greatest takeaways after finishing the Facing History and Ourselves Elective Course?
It is a class that grooms citizens for life in a democracy by learning history in a way that instructs us how to build for a better future. It may seem ironic, but my students gain hope and a deeper sense of the value of life after studying horrific histories such as the Holocaust. My students see their potential to stand by and let evil triumph-and by so seeing this-they determine that they will be counted as those who will stand up for the common good and who truly believe that all human beings should be equally free and valued.
Facing History promotes reflection on
what being an American citizen means. I have seen it help students root
through the layers of history, class, race, and personal narratives
that determine whether they feel like a "we" or a "they" in American
society. Facing History's lessons are designed so that students will
use them for a lifetime. This is the type of education I want to put my
How has the Facing History and Ourselves approach impacted you as a classroom teacher?
Facing History has been the single most important resource in my teaching career. As I continue to learn to teach from history and not merely about it, I see amazing results in my classroom.
Students leave saying things like, "While growing up, I didn't have many places in which I could be myself and feel comfortable, but somehow when I stepped into your classroom, there awakened a thirst for something better, not only for myself but for others."
This is not an atypical response. Facing History puts an incredible amount of thought and energy into its resources and seminars. It is no accident that students leave the class transformed.
How does this course help students to connect to current events both locally and in other parts of the world?
History teaches us that, in the end, injustice doesn't pay. The better we are at insuring "justice for all" the better the chance that our country will thrive. I see such a hurting, divided people in Memphis. We live in our separate worlds as though we were continents apart. Facing History is a powerful antidote against our insularity and isolation. If I sound overly enthusiastic, know that I became a Facing History enthusiast when I realized that by using the Holocaust as bedrock, teachers can approach topics such as the Sudanese genocide today or the eugenics movement in American history, with a purpose.