Boston Globe, MA
July 13 2008
Honors for making history as she taught it
By Andreae Downs
Globe Correspondent / July 13, 2008
The experiment started 32 years ago, when an adventurous eighth-grade
teacher decided to challenge herself and her students.
With the nurturing support of dozens of Brookline officials,
residents, students, teachers, and parents, her idea evolved into
Facing History and Ourselves, now an international program with 160
staff members and a $2 million budget.
Margot Stern Strom asked tough questions and created a program that
listens to young people and encourages them contribute to critical
debates about history and moral choices. It teaches educators how to
use critical periods of history, such as the Holocaust, Armenian
genocide, US slavery, and segregation, to help students develop moral
In recognition of her extraordinary achievement, the Brookline Rotary
Club last month honored Strom, who began the process with two Runkle
School classes totaling 42 teenagers six years after she was hired in
Now in more than 120 countries, with more than 25,000 trained
educators reaching about 1.8 million students annually, Facing History
and Ourselves retains its Brookline roots, with an office in the
former high school building of St. Mary’s School, not far from Strom’s
Strom describes her program as a mix of elements: It is an incubator
of good teaching, a book publisher, a place where adults reflect on
and discuss their teaching, and a way of connecting people within
schools, within communities, and across time.
A slim dynamo at 66, Strom was brought back to the beginning a couple
of weeks before the awards presentation when her first Facing History
class held a reunion here.
Strom recalls those 1976-77 sessions in Room 207 well, as she’s drawn
on them ever since.
Journals kept by her and her students became the backbone of her
resource book on teaching the Holocaust.
What surprised her was how much the roughly 40 former students
recalled of Strom’s classes 31 years later.
Now in their early 40s, they recalled what Strom wore, where she stood
in the classroom, what they asked each other.
"Something transformational happened, and not just with these kids but
with me," Strom recalled. "That class was like a petri dish."
The legacy of that pioneering class is its replication in classrooms
A compulsive chronicler, Strom had former Runkle principal and current
Facing History administrator Marty Sleeper interview the reunited
One former student, Matthew Shakespeare, said his peers felt they were
being taken seriously.
"Margot had us reason through things as adults or almost as adults,"
he said in his interview with Sleeper. "She really had us engage with
each other, and I think previously, in earlier grades, it was the
teacher interacting with the student."
That model, Strom said, is what the program has since championed.
"Education should be dynamic," she said.
Strom said she’s working to convince the US Department of Education
that she has a model to teach tolerance and is gathering the data to
back it up.
With the receipt of her Public Service Award, presented by Ronny
Sydney, a former state representative, Brookline Rotary’s new
president, and a former colleague of Strom’s at the Runkle School, she
joined a distinguished list of Rotary honorees that includes Michael
Dukakis, the former governor, and Dr. Sydney Farber, whose name is on
the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute.
Also on that list, and present at the June 19 ceremony, was Robert
Sperber, the then-school district superintendent who made the growth
of Strom’s experiment possible.
"He supported this concept of Brookline as a Lighthouse School
System," Strom recalled in an interview in her office after the awards
presentation. She was referring to Sperber’s push to take good ideas
and enact them across Brookline, and eventually across the country.
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress