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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

“Facing History” Seeks New Approach

Last Wednesday, Margot Stern Strom, executive director of Facing History and Ourselves, delivered a lecture in the Chancellor’s Conference Room as part of the Bernard A. Stotsky Lecture Series, hosted by the John W. McCormack Institute of Public Affairs. The lecture, Echoes and Legacies of the Holocaust, touched upon a different approach to teaching history to middle, high school and college students with Facing History and Ourselves, a nonprofit educational program. Since 1976, Facing History has sought to examine racism, prejudice, and anti-semitism (Strom emphasized the lower-case “s”), as a basis for teaching “responsible participation in democratic societies.” Strom, former educator of social studies and language arts in the 1970s, started at her current position in 1980.

Echoes and legacies is a phrase coined by Strom while visiting Israel’s first museum in Haifa in 2000, where she realized that history carries echoes and legacies into the present and, in effect, can help make sense of the future. As an educator and lecturer, Strom was inspired to devise an approach to teaching history after attending a conference on the Holocaust. By applying concepts drawn from history, moral justice, literature, theater and art, students learn to “walk in someone else’s shoes, a stranger’s shoes,” Strom explained. Facing History teaches “real history, not hypothetical dilemmas,” Strom clarified.

In addition, Facing History emerged at a time of “denial of the Holocaust”, according to Strom. The essence of the program is to enable students to learn about how events in history linger in their own lives. Strom explains how historical events are relevant to in light of “The potential for all of us to do good and evil” as seen with the events of the Holocaust. Since the Holocaust is often a “neglected history” in school systems today, Facing History feeds curiosity by answering questions students may have.

Following the lecture, Strom presented a short slide show in which students of Facing History gave speeches explaining Holocaust artwork. One piece of artwork illustrated many faces at first glance, but the student pointed out the artwork conveyed many different meanings. After the student was urged to look deeper into the artwork, it was noticed that the faces shown eerily lacked pupils in their eyes. The last slide show viewing was an interview with Hollywood celebrity Matt Damon, former Facing History student. Damon commented, “History is human, we are a part of history.” A question-and-answer session followed the slide show.

Strom’s lecture was welcomed by Director of the McCormack Institute Edmund Beard and introduced by history department’s Paul Bookbinder. The Bernard A. Stotsky Fund was established in 1990 in memory of George and Bess Stotsky, who brought 200 hundred people out of Europe before the Holocaust. Their son, Dr. Bernard A Stotsky retired from UMass in 1990 and is currently a professor emeritus at the university. Facing History may eventually become part of UMass’s curriculum. For more information, visit the website at www.facinghistory.org.