Margot Stern Strom remembers the day the light came on. She was in grade school in her hometown of Memphis, Tennessee, when she noticed a sign across the street, on a drinking fountain. It read, “No Coloreds.” A second sign, “Coloreds Only” was posted in front of the zoo every Thursday.
The irony didn’t escape Margot, who happened to be in civics class at the time. What kind of society was this that practiced such blatant racism?
Fast forward to the 1970s, where Margot, a young teacher, was teaching 8th-grade social studies in Brookline, Massachusetts, She and a colleague decided to develop a classroom course on tolerance and human behavior, that would look at the ideas and events that led to the Holocaust. From that single course, first taught in 1976, Strom built and grew Facing History and Ourselves , an international educational and professional development organization that today reaches three million students each year.
The mission of Facing History and Ourselves is to engage students of diverse backgrounds in an examination of racism, prejudice, and anti-Semitism in order to promote the development of a more humane and informed citizenry.
Through rigorous investigation of the events that led to the Holocaust and other recent examples of genocide and mass violence, students learn to choose knowledge over misinformation, compassion over prejudice or bullying, and participation over indifference or resignation. It’s active—rather than passive—learning.
Facing History supports an international network of more than 90,000 educators, working with teachers one-on-one and providing high-quality materials and professional development programs.
A recent study by “Teachers College Record” found that teachers who participated in a Facing History seminar, and received coaching and support, were more effective in creating engaging classrooms, as well as promoting academic skills and civic learning.
Under Margot’s leadership, Facing History is currently at work in 150 countries, including South Africa, Northern Ireland, Israel, and China.
That’s an impressive success story for Margot, who recently announced that she is transitioning from the role of Executive Director to a new role as President Emerita and Senior Scholar. A search is underway for a new Executive Director to lead the organization she that she envisioned and has led for the past 38 years.
This is an exciting time for Facing History,” says Margot. “It is also a time for me to express my gratitude and deeply-felt appreciation for the opportunity to work in an organization where I could practice, teach, and learn what it means to develop and sustain the pursuit of a democratic community and culture.”