Facing History and their mission means a lot to me. And when I share my experiences of being part of the Facing History community it is highly personal, and even sometimes emotional for me. Especially today, at a moment where our democracy seems particularly fragile and our social and cultural divisions can feel nearly impossible to bridge, Facing History gives me hope and I want to share a little bit about why this incredible organization’s work has deep meaning to me.
I have lived in the same small city in California for 50 years, since my parents moved us here when I was three-years-old. My dad Fred still lives in the home in which I grew up. He has a PhD in education administration and taught high school history, government, and social science for many years. He was a highly respected and sought after teacher and he credits his ability to engage his students and help them connect with challenging material in large part to Facing History.
In his words, “Facing History not only provided me with materials that far exceeded that of any available text books in quality and relevance, they also provided workshops for me that gave specific examples in how to teach the material and how to have productive conversations with my students about it. For example, the Tulsa race massacre wasn’t mentioned anywhere in any of our textbooks, so it was incredibly helpful to have Facing History share a lesson plan on how to effectively teach and talk about it.”
My oldest son is a senior in high school and he has given me permission to share a snippet from one of his college essays:
“Black Lives Matter signs are prevalent in my town, yet I don’t feel that my experiences as a young Black man matter here. I am one of less than 2% Blacks and while I acknowledge that I am privileged to live in this low-crime community with strong public schools, I often feel like I’m living an invalidating form of gaslighting. The overt racist experiences, such as being called the N-word at school and being told by a classmate to go back to my plantation, never haunt me as much as the friends who stand by silently or tell me not to be so sensitive. Having to explain and defend my feelings is exhausting and lonely. Yet, not talking about them at all is the worst. It can be stressful being the only Black student in the class and feeling everyone’s eyes on me on the rare occasion that topics of historical or current racism come up. Additionally, it’s hard to reconcile that these conversations are always about events taking place long ago or far away, when I feel the effects right here and now.”
Knowing what he was going through and not being able to insulate him from these experiences culminated in many restless nights.
What many of you are most likely not aware of is the fact that Black high school students in my town are seven times more likely to be suspended than white and Asian students, and this disparity is far too common in many places. In the four years before the pandemic only about 40% of Black students in my town graduated college-ready, versus almost 90% of whites and Asians. As much as we pride ourselves on being liberal and progressive and philanthropic in this community, we have blinders on at times to some of the problems that exist right here at home. The fact that most Blacks here feel invalidated, devalued, and don’t thrive is just one example. We need more conversations and engagement to help remove the blinders in order to make a positive difference, and the most effective place to start is with our young people in the classroom.
This is where Facing History comes in. They equip teachers to engage their students in a way that enables respectful engagement, ethical reflection, and inspired discussions that can be emotional, but allow the absorption of different perspectives. The lessons enable teachers to help students feel safe, engaged, and courageous because that’s what’s needed to move the needle in so many urgent areas. We have another son just beginning high school, and with the help of Facing History I am hopeful that he is left feeling less exhausted and lonely in his experiences when he is a senior about to graduate. I hope, with the help of Facing History, that he gets to experience history and social studies teachers like his grandpa.
As a dear friend at Facing History often says, “the future is now and the urgency to support teachers and students has never been more palpable.” So, I want to invite you to join me in engaging with Facing History and being part of a global community of people working together to shape a more equitable and just future.