As a middle school teacher I was often asked why I was giving up a week of my summer to attend the Facing History and Ourselves’ Holocaust and Human Behaviour seminar. “You don’t teach that time period,” being the most frequent comment. They were right. But there was something about Facing History and how they approached teaching that piqued my interest and so I went.
The first thing I did after the seminar? I let out a big sigh of relief. What I was doing and wanted to do more of in the classroom was OK. It is OK to talk about the big issues and not because they are part of my curriculum but because they are important. It is OK to tell students about horrible events in history and in the present, and not only when they get to high school, but when they are in grade 7 and they are figuring out the kind of person they want to be. It is OK for the conversation to get messy because history, and life for that matter, is messy and it is important for students to see that mistakes are made, but they don’t have to be repeated.
So I started my school year back teaching grade 7 Language and Social Studies. My first read aloud of the year was “Shattered” by Eric Walters.
This year I slowed it down. We talked more about Rwanda, about how genocide happens and how it destroys more than the people in it. The students were appalled. They went home and told their parents, they went on line and did their own research, they wanted to talk. The students took the conversation to places I had not anticipated. They talked a great deal about Belgium and Germany and how it was unfair that they got to make decisions for a group of people they did not even know.
“Wow.” I thought, “I can’t wait until we get to talk about the deportation of the Acadians or Canada’s treatment of Aboriginals.”
When my vice principal walked into my room when I was reading the most graphic part of the book I did not get that urge to apologize or explain what I was doing, I simply kept reading. You know what? She stayed and listened, and never questioned me.
It was a fantastic start to the year. I learned a great deal about my students and I know they learned a great deal about how people can treat each other, hopefully guiding them to make better decisions with their every day interactions. I cannot wait to see where our conversations go next.
"No one can say, with the image of the blue and green Earth floating in their heads, that others don't count as much as "we" do, that others don't hold the same status as we do, are not as significant as us, are ultimately just not as human as us.” - Romeo Dallaire
Guest Blog written by Amy Smith. Amy teaches Grade 7 Language and Social Studies at Thomas Street Middle School in the Peel District School Board. This is her first year as a Facing History and Ourselves Teacher.