A one-of-a-kind collaboration between the College of Education and Facing History and Ourselves, an educational and professional development organization, is giving teachers new and effective resources for preparing students from an early age to become humane and informed citizens.
The resources (including methodologies, workshops, classroom activities, publications, and teaching tools) link critical events in history to issues people face every day, thereby providing opportunities for young students to recognize the importance of civic participation and of courage in the face of injustice.
“When people first hear about Facing History, they think it’s about teaching history — and they’re right — but that’s only the tip of the iceberg,” says Jim Wolfinger, associate dean for curriculum and programs, College of Education.
“Facing History’s pedagogy is about learning from both the good and the bad of the past, about constructing a safe classroom environment, and about teaching children how to be ‘upstanders’ or those who stand up against prejudice or persecution. We’re bringing into the teaching of history a conversation about what it means to be human. How did an event like the Holocaust come to be? How does a society reach that point? How could it have been prevented?”
“Teachers need to help students acknowledge the roles of ‘upstander,’ bystander, perpetrator, and victim,” adds Sally Julian, associate dean for development, College of Education.
“Students face bullies on the playground every day — they get the ‘upstander’ concept right away. Are you using your power against others? When you see another person get injured, do you take action or just look the other way? Facing History argues that teachers should know how to address sensitive issues and that they should go beyond the ‘three Rs’ and touch the social and emotional aspects of their students’ lives. Best practices in education speak to the need for teachers to develop a safe and inclusive learning community for students. It’s not easy, but it’s important.”
The collaboration has many facets.
First, Facing History is being incorporated in the curricula for elementary and secondary teacher education. DePaul’s pre-service teachers will become sensitized to questions of identity. Wolfinger explains the implications:
“We want our own students to ask questions: ‘Who am I as a teacher? Who are the kids in my class, not just as students but as people with complex and varied backgrounds? What can I do, as a teacher, to create the kind of classroom where every kid can learn? How does one equip children to act when they see an injustice?’ Part of the Facing History pedagogy is asking teachers to think deeply and critically about the job they do.”
“The goal is to graduate teachers who are prepared to help young students become people who will say ‘Wow, that’s not right’ when they see injustice,” says Julian.
Second, the two organizations will sponsor professional development workshops for elementary and secondary teachers. Last summer’s inaugural workshop showed participants how to use the strife-filled desegregation of Little Rock Central High School in 1957 as a case study to discuss race, difference, and inclusion. The guest speaker was civil rights pioneer Carlotta Walls LaNier, the youngest of the Little Rock Nine. “We want to reach as many teachers and principals as we can, giving them access to Facing History’s resources to augment their professional practice,” says Hilary Conklin, assistant professor, College of Education.
Third, the program coordinators will host an occasional Friday Forum for College of Education faculty to explore ways that Facing History principles and resources could enhance a wide range of courses and programs.
“I would love to see the ideas of Facing History become embedded in our practice, a natural fit throughout the college,” says Conklin. “We’re going to keep moving forward and generating new ideas as we go.”
The collaboration is made possible through a generous gift from DePaul alumnus and trustee Jack Greenberg and his wife, Donna. “Jack’s gift is transformative,” says Dean Paul Zionts. “By the time the collaboration is fully implemented, more than 2,000 DePaul education graduates will be carrying these values and approaches into classrooms across the city and around the country. As their students learn to think critically about social justice, the impact in our communities will be huge.”
Conklin agrees: “DePaul has an explicit mission to use education to bring about social justice. This collaboration is one more way we are living our Vincentian ideals.”