By Aram Arkun
BROOKLINE, Mass. — Facing History and Ourselves is a unique international organization which has done yeoman’s work in promoting understanding of genocide, including the Armenian and Jewish cases, as well as human rights, by training educators since the end of the 1970s. It is at present in a period of transition. Its founding executive director, Margot Strom, is retiring from the leadership position, while still remaining involved with the organization. Roger Brooks, dean of the faculty and chief academic officer of Connecticut College, and holder of the Elie Wiesel Professorship in the Department of Religious Studies, will begin in December as president and chief executive officer.
Peter Balakian, Donald M. and Constance H. Rebar Professor of Humanities at Colgate University, has been involved with Facing History since the mid-1990s. He has been a member of its academic board for the last 15 years. He said that “Facing History has had an enormous impact on Armenian Genocide education in the US curriculum; its study guide on the Genocide has done a great deal to bring this history into the mainstream in a comparative context; this has been groundbreaking. Facing History is an innovative intellectual and cultural institution and has done much to advance the state of education in the US and now globally. It embodies the best of a progressive American educational tradition.”
Margot Strom explained how it all started as a course incorporating “the ideas and events that led to the Holocaust”: “We were at one of the eight schools in Brookline teaching social studies — the [John D.] Runkle school. At one point, roughly in 1976, I, Bill Parsons and others were invited by a very phenomenal director of social studies to a conference that he and the superintendent, [Dr. Robert] ‘Bob’ Sperber, had been involved in organizing on the history of the Holocaust. I had a master’s in history by then, and a very great interest in learning how to teach social studies and history through multiple disciplines. It was at that moment that I really got in interested in the scholarship and the scholars. I knew nothing much about the history of the Holocaust then. And I only remember hearing in graduate school a heated conversation between a professor talking about the Armenian Genocide and Turkey with a student.” A few years after the conference, probably by 1979, Strom knew that this was the field for her.