This quote from Margot, reflecting on Holocaust scholarship, provides insight into her idea of teaching history within an ethical framework. Equipping students with the confidence and empathy to create a better future starts with lessons of the past. This is the pedagogical foundation she laid which centered guiding students around identity reflection and their capacity to be changemakers.
The first Facing History courses were taught in Brookline in 1976 using draft lessons piloted in her classroom. These lessons became the seminal text, Holocaust and Human Behavior, which is still a key component of Facing History’s curricular offerings. Her mission also included bringing the stories of Holocaust survivors to classrooms. She learned from the generosity of survivors in sharing their experiences with students and from the grace with which they embraced other survivor testimonies, such as the accounts of genocide in Armenia, Rwanda, and Cambodia. Over the years, Facing History organized a special initiative that brought survivors of the Holocaust and other important historic events into hundreds of classrooms to share their crucial memories with thousands of students across the United States and around the globe.
Initially, Margot didn’t intend to create a global organization. At the time of Facing History’s founding there were very few nonprofits that addressed academic curriculum through a moral lens. But the momentum born of Margot’s passion, her skill as an educator, and the need that both teachers and students had for tools to grapple with the past and present traumas of this world naturally led to expansion of Facing History. Margot’s compelling vision and charisma attracted the interest and secured the commitment of leading educators, entrepreneurs, and philanthropists from Boston and beyond who provided her with the support, counsel, acumen, and resources that fueled Facing History’s growth.
One of these was former Harvard Law School Dean Martha Minow who became a long time friend. When Margot received the 2015 Massachusetts Governor’s Award in the Humanities, she said, “Margot Strom is a visionary. She had a unique idea and she has translated that idea into an organization that has an impact around the world.” She saw every room she was in as a classroom: a place to learn and teach. As an educator, Margot believed in her students—whether they were in middle school, high school, or if they were teachers themselves—and their capacity to think deeply about history, about the world we live in, and about how our choices shape society. She imbued in them the ability to act as moral philosophers, and apply the lessons they learned in class to the world around them. She saw in each student the potential for greatness and the possibility of a better tomorrow.