Thursday, October 7, 2010

FACING HISTORY AND OURSELVES



Facing History and Ourselves is an organization that works with students and teachers to "link history to moral choices today." The website says their mission is "to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and antisemitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry. By studying the historical development of the Holocaust and other examples of genocide, students make the essential connection between history and the moral choices they confront in their own lives." Other  

I have a couple personal connections here. Facing History was founded in 1976 in my hometown of Brookline, Massachusetts, and in grade school I was taught using some of their materials. The video above is about Arn Chorn Pond, a college classmate of mine who lost much of his family in the Cambodian genocide, but managed to survive himself through a combination of smarts, luck, and the help of an American refugee aid worker who adopted him and brought him to the U.S. It was only when students at his new home in the U.S. learned Arn's rather background that they understood his feelings and position at school. Arn's story is rather extraordinary, but as he says in the video, everybody's got one. And that story, or history, makes one's actions more understandable. Facing History and Ourselves seems to suggest something similar: that a study of history -- not just personal, but social history -- cannot only help explain but also morally inform how we act, especially as citizens.  

As Facing History and Ourselves makes clear, it's not just the big choices we face that matter; not just heroic actions such as being a resistance fighter or protecting Jews during the Holocaust. It's also the many little decisions we make -- or don't make -- during any given day, that accumulate into assuming (or neglecting) our responsibilities as citizens, and the consequences thereof. That's what's so troubling, and energizing at the same time -- we're always facing questions about how to be a good citizen, if we allow ourselves to face them. That's illustrated in this video (for schoolkids) by writer Jesús Colón, about an incident on the subway in the 1950s.

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