Now Is the Time to Support History Education | Facing History & Ourselves
Facing History CEO Desmond Blackburn speaking at the 2023 South Bay Fundraiser

Now Is the Time to Support History Education

The study of history equips students with the tools to create a more inclusive and democratic future. 

Students today are coming of age amidst acts of terror, global wars, political polarization, economic inequality, climate change, increased occurrences of antisemitism, and all forms of hate. Adolescence, a time of self-exploration and growing awareness of the outside world, is exactly the right time to engage our youth in challenging conversations about identity and values. We cannot shield our children from the pain and violence in the world around them, so we must equip them with the tools to make sense of it. 

US history teachers have worked incredibly hard to bring dynamism to their classrooms and ignite a love of history in their students. While I am deeply concerned about the polarization that has arisen in school communities around the country, I feel hopeful when I think about the power that history teachers have to shape our next generation of leaders. 

A full understanding of history, and the human behavior exhibited in pivotal historical moments, can help us understand current events and the choices available to us. Yet, according to the National Assessment of Educational Progress, average history scores have dropped by five points since 2018, meaning only one in four students is proficient in US history and civics. 

During challenging times and moments of crisis, teachers have the power to nurture students’ critical thinking, sense of community, and connection at school. They have the opportunity to develop a generation that makes meaning from learning from the past, and we have a responsibility to support their efforts.  

At Facing History & Ourselves, we’ve had success engaging students in the practice of inquiry. Facing History’s new US History Curriculum Collection is a resource that asks students to think critically about what democracy and freedom mean to them. It shares compelling primary sources and other materials to facilitate student dialogue and reflection without leading them to conclusions. Our resources lift up the contributions, voices, and experiences of the myriad people from across our society who have contributed to shaping our history. By inviting students of all identities and backgrounds to place themselves in the context of a past that is complicated and not yet fully explored, we equip them with the tools to create a more inclusive and democratic future. 

When teachers help students see themselves in history, students feel invested and begin to understand their power. As teachers work to recognize students’ lived experiences and connect those experiences with our country’s history in a way that is authentic and meaningful, they need resources that engage with multiple historical perspectives and look beyond “single story” narratives to deepen students’ understanding of diverse groups of people. 

Most educators, parents, and community members want our students to understand the fullness of our history. I am proud to lead an organization that is committed to supporting teachers who are taking a comprehensive approach to history education by lifting up the contributions, voices, and experiences of people from across our society that have contributed to shaping our history. I see teachers in all 50 states and across the globe creating classrooms rooted in this approach. In addition to developing knowledge and critical thinking skills, these teachers are developing compassion, respect, and understanding. Isn’t that something we can all agree matters?

About the AuthorDesmond K. Blackburn, PhD is President and Chief Executive Officer at Facing History & Ourselves, a national nonprofit organization that works with school systems to use lessons of history to challenge teachers and their students to stand up to bigotry and hate. He has spent nearly 30 years as a career educator (teacher, principal, superintendent, adjunct professor, and author). To find out how Dr. Blackburn and the Facing History team can support you, contact him here.