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“My Experience at Facing History: Overcoming Our Separation from Others’ Suffering is Core to Changing Communities” by Alexa LeBeouf

When I first found Facing History and Ourselves, I had reached a point in my academic journey where the difficulties associated with advancing justice had become clear. I had started my search believing in a vision I soon learned was incomplete. While I may have had an intellectual understanding about the issues pertinent to my goals, I also needed to find a pragmatic solution that was rooted in the idealism that had pushed me forward in the first place.

From the very first time I went to a class with Michele Phillips, [associate program director in the Memphis office], read the [Facing History] curriculum, and witnessed teachers utilize the lessons, I knew that I was involved with an organization that had a vision, and an effective method, of promoting a more peaceful and just world.

Facing History sets itself apart by actively seeking to confront the ethical implications of human choices by teaching students in an interactive environment about how choices made in history can reveal better paths in the present. In this way, the organization is attempting to end the cyclical nature of violence by connecting students to the deeper issues of values and choices. Along with its concentration on the role of choices in human history, [Facing History] also bridges the gap between students and “others,” thereby creating the connection that will compel young adults to take action against wrongdoing in their own communities. In many of the classes I attended I witnessed the students “humanizing” complete strangers. For example, the Rwandan lesson plan connected Memphis area high school students with the lives of people living across the world in Africa. The students were able to draw parallels between their own lives and those of the people we were discussing.

The issues present in cases such as the Holocaust, the Civil Rights Movement, and [genocide in] Rwanda become less distant as students begin to draw parallels between history and their present reality. In other words, if we want a more compassionate and informed populace that understands the world and seeks to make the necessary social and political changes, then it must start at the foundation of thought and action: education.

Standing in front of a group of Memphis area high school students to discuss with them such difficult issues as genocide, I witnessed firsthand that young people are capable of hearing and learning from mistakes made in the past. One of the most thrilling aspects of the experience was observing students actively entering into debate about issues pertaining to their humanity, their community, and the world. The curriculum freed them to gauge their success in terms of who they are as human beings in relation to the rest of the world, as opposed to the dominant notion that success lies in grades, clothing, or income.

The Facing History curriculum encourages an empowerment of our youth that is unprecedented in the school system at large, for it pushes them to ask questions normally reserved for those entering into higher education within the humanities. The young adults I met during my time with [Facing History] have transformed my life, made me laugh, inspired me, and reaffirmed me. There was not a moment where they were not teaching me. They are a testament to the notion that humanity can progress, improve, and learn from one another.

Facing History’s curriculum connects with students from many various backgrounds by providing a lesson plan founded on the premise that every single human being can make a change toward creating a more just world. In fact, one of the things taught to the students was that, regardless of whether they become human rights workers, hairdressers, academics or policemen, they are all capable of deciphering, and acting upon, values based upon respect for their fellow human beings.

My belief in this form of education is not premised on the idea that human beings will eventually behave flawlessly in regards to one another. Yet, it is my belief that as imperfect beings we nonetheless have the opportunity to face our failings and prepare ourselves for the challenges that may arise as members of a society. While we may falter, the best chance we have is in coming together to seek a healthier and more just world.

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Eric Holder, Attorney General, Feb. 2009

Though race-related issues continue to occupy a significant portion of our political discussion, and though there remain many unresolved racial issues in this nation, we, average Americans, simply do not talk enough with each other about things racial… If we are to make progress in this area, we must feel comfortable enough with one another and tolerant enough of each other to have frank conversations about the racial matters that continue to divide us.

(interestingly the first part of this quote is everywhere, but the second part, about ‘frank conversations’ was hard to find)