The Facing History approach is a synthesis of compelling content and rigorous inquiry, not a specific sequence of lessons. Each Facing History class—whether history, civics, humanities, or literature; unit or elective—is built around our core methodology, which integrates the study of history and literature with ethical decision-making and innovative teaching strategies.
This approach enables middle and high school teachers to promote students’ historical understanding, critical thinking, empathy, and social–emotional learning, and facilitate transformative dialogue in their classrooms. As students explore the complexities of history and human behavior, they reflect on the choices they confront today and consider how they can make a difference.
Find out more about how Facing History goes beyond the classroom curriculum to transform entire schools into communities of respect, empathy, and academic engagement.
Although the specific content, readings, and activities may vary, every Facing History and Ourselves course is built around a core of common elements. This structure, which Facing History calls its “scope and sequence,” organizes the inquiry and shapes the journey that students and teachers will take together in the classroom. This journey of discovery about oneself and others is a key component of our pedagogy.
- A Facing History course begins with an exploration of individual and group behavior. Who are we? How is our identity formed? How do we acquire membership in a group? Who belongs? Who doesn’t and why? During this phase, students probe themes of identity, individuality, conformity, stereotyping, group loyalty, and responsibilities to those beyond one’s immediate circle.
- Students then apply the concepts related to individual and group behavior to study history or a piece of literature and its historical context. In the case of Holocaust and Human Behavior, for example, students examine the choices Germans made in the 1920s and 1930s. As students come to understand the way those choices undermined democracy and ultimately led to the Holocaust, students are stimulated to think about and discuss issues that are both timely and timeless. They see how individual choices can help shape a period of history and define an age. They come to understand the fragility of democracy and the importance of civic participation in protecting and preserving the freedoms we cherish. They also discover that history is not inevitable; individuals truly can make a difference.
- As students move from thought to judgment, they discuss questions of good and evil, guilt and responsibility, prevention and punishment. How do students understand and judge the actions and inactions of the people whose lives and choices they have studied? In the unit, Choices in Little Rock, this discussion includes the civic choices made by national and state political leaders, members of the media, students, and community members who were involved in the efforts to desegregate Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas, in 1957. How has the world judged these historical actors, and do students feel that justice has been served?
- The journey then returns to themes developed earlier in the course, as students explore the ways we remember the past, and how those memories shape the present. What needs to be remembered and why? In the case of The Reconstruction Era and the Fragility of Democracy, students explore the legacy of Reconstruction as revealed by its historiography to help them understand what is at stake when we study history. What are the ongoing consequences and legacies? What lessons do students take away? How should what they have learned, thought, and felt influence their own future decisions and actions?
- The unit ends with stories of individuals who have made a difference in their community and nation, delving into the choices of those who have had an impact in large and small ways. For example, in Teaching Mockingbird, students view or read the TED Talk, “We Need to Talk About an Injustice,” by lawyer Bryan Stevenson, founder of the Equal Justice Initiative. This exploration of civic involvement leads to a new understanding of self in relation to society, often leading to a student-initiated action or project. And often, of course, the important choices are made long after the course has ended.
Before I was a “watcher,” now I am a “doer.”
—8th grade Facing History and Ourselves student
To Facing History, pedagogy is not a set of teaching techniques that can be used to get across particular ideas or encourage effective practice of specified skills. It is an active process of engaging young people with challenging content through a process that builds the knowledge, skills, and dispositions of deep civic learning.
Facing History created the Pedagogical Triangle for Historical and Civic Understanding to serve as a touchstone for balanced program and lesson planning. The arrows between intellectual rigor, emotional engagement, and ethical reflection are bidirectional, as these processes strengthen each other. At the center is the students’ civic agency, their belief that they can play a positive role in their peer groups, schools, communities, and larger world.
Explore Our Core Resources
Facing History has produced a wide range of educational resources, from individual readings, lessons, and videos, to full units and semester- and year-long elective courses. These resources can be explored through our Topics or by searching our collection by topic, classroom subject, and resource type.
The resources below provide the foundation for a complete Facing History unit by encompassing the full scope and sequence and Facing History’s unique interdisciplinary approach, grounded in scholarship, history, literature, and human behavior.