Students of Facing History

Posted by Ben Gross on July 13, 2015

As an educator I often wonder what students remember once they have left my classroom. It is my hope that when they leave they take with them critical thinking skills, the ability to engage in difficult conversations, and a deeper understanding of how we are all connected - in the past, present, and future. Through all of my various attempts to learn from my students what they are getting out of their Facing History and Ourselves class, I have found that the best way to find out what students are learning is to ask them.

Each year, at the end of our grade 11 elective Facing History and Ourselves course, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanity, we take the time to reflect on our learning and ourselves. This year a group of students from my classroom chose to participate in a reflective interview process in lieu of their final journal entry assignment, and agreed to share their reflections.

Below, as inspired by the popular blog Humans of New York and the Facing History project, Humans of the Woodlands, you'll have the chance to glimpse into the classroom learning and life of a few of my Facing History and Ourselves students.


Rayan Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

I learned a lot about myself in this course, which I didn’t expect because it’s a history course.


Fayaz 2 (1) Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

Especially after watching the Watchers of the Sky video last class, it makes me feel more like there are things you can do that are significant. There are things you can do that can impact the world.


Amanda Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

I feel like when I started the course I was a really angry person. Towards the end of the course I understood more about how great it is to be thankful and the importance of forgiveness. I feel like I’ve become a more forgiving and a more open person. I started the year really angry and I’m ending the year really happy. I didn’t think the course was going to change my perspective on things the way it did. But it did.


Tristan 1 (1) Photo credit: Vanessa Wong

The most challenging concept was being able to understand that [genocidal] monsters aren’t real. Everyone is human. That was really hard to grasp.


Picture1 Photo credit: Ben Gross

There was a full table with pictures. We picked one. Mine was the shoes of victims of the Holocaust [in Auschwitz]. Just looking at all these pieces of memory…the shoes for me – someone wore that shoe and we all have our own shoes and this idea that everything was taken away from them. And even though this had happened to them we are still doing everything that we can to remember.


DSC_0681 Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

I really like the Universe of Obligation. I really do. I’ve told my family about it over dinner.


Umar 4 (1) Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

I think the lessons that most impacted me were on justice and reconciliation. Mainly because there were so many questions. For example, what is true justice? Because our definition is quite unclear. Similarly, what is reconciliation? How can you atone for the actions that killed someone’s mother, father, sister, brother? How can you do something, anything, that can be equivalent to that much pain? It made me question what it is that we hold as just and fair in society.


Mehtab 3 (1) Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

“The necessity of an upstander, regardless of the situation. If you have the capacity to enact change, on any scale, in any way, you should do so. The necessity of that.”


Vanessa 1 Photo credit: Tristan Dyer

I really hope that I’ll be able to take what I learned - which was learning how to see things from other people’s point of view, and that everybody has their own story - I really hope I’ll be able to take that and share it with other people in my life.


What have you learned about history and yourself from your classroom?

Which of these students' learning resonates with you? Why?

Topics: Choosing to Participate, Identity, History, Holocaust Education, Memorial, We and They, Culturally Responsive and Relevant Pedagogy, legacy, Genocide and Crimes Against Humanities Course, Holocaust and Human Behaviour, Inside a Genocide Classroom, Social Justice, Personal history, reflection


This is where Canadian Facing History and Ourselves teachers and community members meet to share reflections, scholarship and teaching practices that will inspire, challenge and improve teaching and student learning. Our stories provide a window into diverse Facing History classrooms in Canada, and invite you into the discussion.

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