Josh Otlin: Promoting Ethical Thinking about Race and History
What could you do with $3,000 for your classroom? Facing History educators, apply today for the Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grants. Help your students become active, caring citizens of the world. The deadline for applications is March 15. How could a Facing History grant impact your teaching? Read on to find out.
“It kinda rocked my world.” That is how Josh Otlin, assistant principal at Hudson High School in Massachusetts, described his first encounter with Facing History.
“I was teaching in a new school. We were in the second week of school and then all of a sudden I found myself in our cafeteria watching the twin towers go down on TV screens,” Otlin said, referring to the events of September 11, 2001. “And then a few weeks later, I found Facing History.” He was 23 at the time, in his second year of teaching, and had a full schedule along with a Facing History civics course. His district enrolled him in Facing History and Ourselves: Holocaust and Human Behavior, a teacher workshop at Facing History’s headquarters in Brookline.
He returned to school charged with ideas and resources, but unsure of how to work the material into some of his classes. “One thing I struggled with as an AP teacher was the tension between preparing the kids for the [Advanced Placement] test and giving the kids the kind of education that Facing History taught me to provide them with,” Otlin said. “I was interested in trying to find a way to integrate the Facing History curricular resources, particularly the eugenics book, into my AP classes.”
In 2007, he applied for a Margot Stern Strom teaching award from Facing History and used the funds to purchase a set of Facing History’s resource Race and Membership in American History: The Eugenics Movement for his classroom. He teamed with Facing History program associates to integrate the content into his AP-level courses. He drew from Facing History resources, using them as the basis for analytical essay assignments, and brought his students through Choosing to Participate, the organization’s traveling multimedia exhibit, when it stopped at the Boston Public Library.
“We were using history and literature as an opportunity to engage the kids in ethical reflection – both when considering the choices of historical figures, and in their own decision making,” he said. The opportunity to integrate Facing History materials in a more meaningful way throughout his courses boosted Otlin’s drive and motivation. “For me as a teacher, [getting the award] was hugely affirming and encouraging to hear that an organization that I just hold in the highest esteem felt that my work was worthwhile – worth investing in, essentially,” he said.
In 2009, Otlin left the classroom to become Hudson’s assistant principal. In his new role, he continues to champion the Facing History style of learning. “I went into education because I think schools have the ability to transform our society by helping kids become responsible citizens. But those aren’t always the conversations we have in schools,” he said. “Facing History has helped me keep that front and center in my mind.”
Apply today for the Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grants.
Facing History's Julia Rappaport wrote this article. For questions or tips on what Facing History is doing in your community, email her at Julia_Rappaport@facing.org.