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Confronting History Should Make Us Uncomfortable

Of all the efforts on the part of state legislatures to regulate the teaching of history, the most baffling is the attempt to ensure that our students do not experience feelings of discomfort. It assumes that teachers have the power to manipulate the emotions of their students. More to the point, it raises the question of what, if anything, is wrong with such an emotional response when studying history.

In fact, I would suggest that a good history class should bring out a wide range of emotional responses in our students.

This has been driven home for me time and time again in the classroom and on class trips to historic sites across the country. My experience working with students at a Jewish Day School, in particular, is worth spending some time exploring.

For four straight years I co-led a civil rights-themed tour that in different iterations included stops in Atlanta, Tuskegee, Montgomery, Selma, Birmingham, Jackson, and Memphis. It’s an intense 5-days that, in addition to stops at key historic sites, includes interviews with individuals who participated in the Freedom Rides, the march from Selma to Montgomery, and lawyers who worked to bring legalized segregation to an end.

We also spend a good deal of time at the end of each day reflecting on the significance or meaning of this history for us as Jews.

This last point takes center stage when visiting Montgomery. One of the challenges we face organizing this trip is ensuring that students have access to Kosher food. Thankfully, there is a very welcoming synagogue in Montgomery that is more than happy to host and provide us with a hot meal. We follow up the meal with a meeting with the rabbi.

Keeping with the theme of our trip, the focus of this session is the role of Jewish residents of the city during the civil rights movement.  I think our students expect to hear how the Jewish community rallied alongside Montgomery’s Black community to help achieve the goal of civil rights. They are quickly dispelled of this assumption.

Read entire article at Civil War Memory