Overcoming Bad History

Margot Stern was born in Chicago in 1942. When her family moved to Memphis when she was five, her experience in the Jim Crow South became a crucible moment in her life. Both of her parents engaged their three children in intellectual development and this became her calling also.

Margo studied at the University of Illinois. She met her future husband, Jerry Strom while waiting in line to register for classes. She began her teaching career in Illinois but encountered a conspiracy of silence that denied students a true understanding of the complex history of how society had evolved. Nothing was taught about the Holocaust. In the South, the lessons of the Civil War were often ignored. Margo called these distortions Bad History.

Margot wanted to break the conspiracy of silence as she began teaching in Brookline, Massachusetts. She and a fellow teacher developed a curriculum project called Facing History & Ourselves. The concept was to offer a curriculum to challenge teachers and students to stand up to bigotry and hatred.

The curriculum was tested in Margot’s classroom to start. Efforts to receive federal funding were thwarted by right-wing groups. The curriculum was finally funded in 1989 after persistent Congressional support.

Since the curriculum was funded, it has been adopted by teachers in every state and over 100 countries. The website https://www.facinghistory.org/  has now broadened access to the curriculum.

A unique feature of the curriculum is that it has moved history from one of telling to one of self-discovery. Students learn to think deeply about our society and the choices we make that affect that society. Students are no longer bystanders. They have become voices against the conspiracy of silence.

Just imagine what it will take to sustain Margot Strom’s efforts against the conspiracy of silence. When she died in 2023, those who want to return to silence about uncomfortable history have been growing in influence in our political system. Will we neglect the lessons we need to learn from history?

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“Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana (Philosopher)

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