Teaching with Hope

Wendy Ewbank
One reason I am grateful to teach at SGS is that I’m able to teach both WHAT and HOW kids should learn about the past, the present, and their role in the future. Among our stated beliefs as a school: “It is fundamental to understand and address issues of difference and oppression.” In 7th Grade Social Studies and 8th Grade Global Studies we often explore policies, people and events that have been oppressive, in order to better understand the roots of many systemic inequalities that exist today. Only by being honest about the past with students can they gain the depth of understanding needed to make informed decisions in the future. This would definitely earn hysterical responses about “critical race theory” being taught in some places!
In these classes students strengthen their abilities to empathize, think critically and act with agency. What does this look like in a classroom? Contextualizing historical accounts, understanding multiple perspectives, discerning fact from fiction, articulating evidence based conclusions and viewing ourselves as historical actors.  We challenge dominant narratives by uncovering instances of resistance and resilience to horrific circumstances. This helps cultivate both knowledge and hope. 
For example, in 7th grade when learning about 400 years of slavery and Native American genocide, we will learn about rebellions led by the enslaved, about how languages and customs were preserved against all odds, about alliances that made escape possible. In 8th grade when learning about the Holocaust we’ll learn the stories of rescuers and partisans. And when we study European colonization of Africa, we’ll look at how present-day media representation and capitalism perpetuate a colonial narrative, and how individuals and organizations are resisting this. 
As James Baldwin wrote, “History is not a procession of illustrious people. It's about what happens to a people. Millions of anonymous people is what history is about.” Such an approach engages each learner differently. Every student brings a set of experiences, ancestry and personality that cause them to be differently impacted by what we learn. I try to anticipate content that might be difficult to read or watch, and invite students to choose alternative activities when they need to. I welcome feedback from adults at home, be it content expertise, questions or ideas for speakers. I’m grateful for suggestions I’ve received in the past (which have made me a better teacher) and for guest appearances in town meetings and on panels.
In conclusion, my goal is to instill in SGS students what our founding ideals are, as well as how we have fallen short.  As Barbara Jordan wrote, (first Southern African-American woman elected to the U.S. House) “What the people want is simple. They want an America as good as its promise.” That’s what we’re aiming for!
Located in the Central District, Seattle Girls' School is an independent school for girls and gender nonconforming students in grades 5-8. Our mission is to inspire and develop courageous leaders who think independently, work collaboratively, learn joyfully, and champion change.