Facing History and Ourselves

November 07, 2014
By Educator Innovator

Facing History and Ourselves, the latest Educator Innovator partner, believes that the lifeblood of democracy is the ability of every rising generation to be active, responsible decision-makers.

We believe that inspired teachers and innovative methods are the key to this work. We work with educators around the world and throughout their careers to improve their effectiveness in the classroom, as well as their students’ academic performance, historical understanding, and civic learning. In fact, we’ve already led two webinars with Educator Innovator:

· I Write To Know What I Think
· What Happens When Young People Take Action: A Webinar on the Freedom Riders

“Powerful learning occurs when youth, driven by their own interests, are supported in being creators and not just consumers of knowledge.” We agree. And, it brings to mind a young group of “makers” we worked with several years ago.

Facing History began its work with one teacher at a time: providing resources, coaching, and developing pedagogy that would engage and amplify student voices. A few years ago, the Los Angeles region began working with five schools in a pilot program to see what the impact would be on school culture if instead of just working with one or two teachers, we sought to embed the ideas of Facing History in multiple grade levels and across the curriculum. That Spring, we offered a special opportunity for students from the five schools to come together to make things using digital media. We partnered with MetaFour Productionsto help on the digital side of things since we were still pretty new to it.

After a few smaller projects, they launched into a digital creation of an animated, non-verbal video. The brainstorming commenced. What should they make? There were students from three different schools. What they had in common was that all had taken Facing History classes. Not getting to consensus, the adults finally left the room, leaving the students to talk about it further by themselves.

The adults returned to an active conversation among the students putting their story line together. They had quickly come to the consensus that the concept of “universe of obligation” was so central to their understanding of Facing History, that is what they wanted to represent. Here is their video.

I love this because “universe of obligation” IS central – and it is often a difficult concept for adults as well as students. Their video makes it simple! “Universe of obligation” is the term Sociologist Helen Fein gives to the circle of individuals and groups “toward whom obligations are owed, to whom rules apply, and whose injuries call for [amends].” (Click here for a PDF lesson.)

I also love this video because the “star” is a student who has autism. None of the other students knew him before starting this project together, but they not only accepted him being there with them, they put him front and center. While many students receiving special services are viewed as “different” or “other,” and are excluded from student projects or even regular student interaction, not in this group. In the very way they did this project, the students illustrated the concept of “universe of obligation.”

Digital advancements allow our students to participate in democracy in an entirely new way, to build connections across wide distances and backgrounds, and to shape our world with the choices they make on a daily basis. I look forward to next steps as a new partner!

To learn more about Facing History and Ourselves, please visit our website.

By Mary Hendra
Interested in collaborating? Us too! Contact Mary Hendra at Facing History.