Valerie Simmons was born in London, England in 1921. She has been writing poetry since she was six years old. At the beginning of WWII she worked in a first aid post dealing with Blitz casualties. When the Battle of Britain ended she joined the Women’s Air Force (WAF) where she was an admin officer throughout England and in Egypt. After the war she earned a BA from London University and went on to get her teaching qualifications. She has taught and worked in libraries.
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.
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
In 2013, Waterdown District High School teacher Robert Flosman applied for and won a Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grant to create a Museum of History in his classroom as a way to engage students deeply and differently in the study of history. In November 2014, he wrote a post for this blog describing his museum. One year later, Rob has more to tell us about the museum Facing History and Ourselves’ grant made possible.
Earlier in May, Facing History and Ourselves announced the 2015 winners of our annual Margot Stern Strom Innovation Grants. Facing History selected nine projects, all of which focus on collaborative learning, and were selected from a pool of international applications for their potential to inspire students to make a difference.
Remembrance is an act of humanity and it is about humanity. At Facing History and Ourselves, we often ask ourselves, How do we help students (and ourselves) to remember more than names, dates, and battles? How do we help students to connect to the humanity: the people behind the names, the lives, ideas, and cultures lost, and the legacies that extend beyond the signing of a treaty that signals the end of war?
Memorializing the Armenian genocide.
I have always been fascinated by the creation of – and purpose behind – memorials and monuments. I can appreciate the level of thought and detail that goes into each and every design.
Six years ago, Prime Minister Stephen Harper made a public apology on behalf of all Canadians for the residential schools the government of Canada created in the 19th century that plagued the fabric of Canadian history for generations to come. Between 1880 and 1996, more than 150,000 First Nations, Inuit, and Métis children were forced into Indian residential schools and thousands did not survive. Those that did survive suffered a loss of language, culture, family, and self. Many suffered abuse at the hands of those who were supposed to care for them.
This week, our office director Leora, along with several other Facing History staff and board members, are traveling in Poland as part of a learning trip. Over the course of nine days, they are exploring questions about history, memory, and legacy that are at the core of our work. With the help of Polish and Jewish scholars, witnesses to history, community activists, politicians and journalists, as well as organizations that have worked with Facing History throughout the past 25 years, they will be challenged to think in new ways as we confront the past and struggle with questions about the present and future. On Monday, Leora and the group visited the Treblinka extermination camp. Read her thoughts here:
I wear a pendant around my neck. It’s about the size of a quarter and it has the silhouette of a solitary candle carved out of the middle. Written around the candle are the words Remember and Never Again. It’s a simple, yet powerful design. A student, noticing this, asked me why I often wore it and what it meant. Instead of answering the question directly, I turned it back to her. I told her that a friend of mine had bought it for me at the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington D.C. and I asked her why we study the Holocaust. Why do we need to remember?
Later this week, South Africa will celebrate 20 years of democracy – on April 27, 1994, citizens of the country voted alongside one another in the first post-apartheid elections. The case study of South Africa is an important one to introduce students to ideas about global citizenship, while teaching about the formation and strategies of the anti-apartheid movement. Check out the five resources below to help plan a lesson that explore issues of human rights and this important moment in South African history in your classroom: