This Organization Designs Resources to Help Educators Teach Difficult Parts of History in Sensitive, Constructive Ways

Facing History and Ourselves students visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
Facing History and Ourselves students visit the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama.
Facing History and Ourselves

When the world found itself on the brink of a pandemic earlier this year, there was an upswing in interest in stories from the 1918 flu pandemic; everyone wanted to see what its curve looked like, and find out how well people complied with mask mandates and other preventative measures. A similar pattern has emerged in the wake of the ongoing protests against police brutality. We’ve looked to the civil rights protests from the 1960s—and voices like Martin Luther King Jr. and James Baldwin—to reveal how today’s racist systems evolved from earlier ones, and show us what we still need to change.

For many educators, especially history and language arts teachers, drawing these connections between the past and present is an integral part of their jobs. Not only does it keep students engaged and interested in sometimes centuries-old events, but it also helps them understand what values they themselves should emulate.

Facing History and Ourselves is an organization that provides middle and high school educators with the resources necessary to do this work, from lesson plans to teaching strategies and everything in between. It was founded in 1976 by Margot Stern Strom, a Massachusetts history teacher who felt that grade school students needed to learn about the bigotry that led to the Holocaust so they’d know to fight it in their own lives. As the operation grew, she and her colleagues began branching out into other parts of history, too.

In short, its mission is to frame tough topics in sensitive ways that extol humanitarianism and condemn bigotry, while letting students examine the finer differences for themselves. In one unit, for example, students explore how the Allies carried out justice after the Holocaust without having any international law to guide their process. They’ll learn about Nazis who claimed they were simply following orders; and they’ll talk about how justice is possible when crimes have occurred in massive numbers. In a unit on student activism, a lesson on the 1963 Chicago Public Schools Boycott segues into a discussion about how students advocated for gun control after surviving the 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida. Then, students will use what they’ve learned to come up with a plan for effecting change on an issue they care about.

Naming just two examples fails to capture the breadth of Facing History’s repository of resources. There are entire sections on global immigration, race in U.S. history, justice and human rights, genocide and mass violence, and more. And while students may have heard about some of the events already, Facing History focuses on highlighting pieces that are often overlooked—like the Catholic nuns who participated in the 1965 voting rights marches in Selma, Alabama. With an understanding of what’s already happened, the next generation of leaders will have a clearer idea of how to break destructive cycles.

A Facing History lesson in action.Facing History and Ourselves

“History is with us whether we look at it or not,” Facing History president and CEO Roger Brooks tells Mental Floss. “A perfect example is the vote—a crucial element for maintaining just and democratic societies. At the moment, there is a broad conversation on the right to vote and barriers to voting; and the vote has loomed large in our history. There is a great deal to learn about the impact of civic engagement from past historical battles over the right to vote and the hard-won victories like the Voting Rights Act of 1965. If we don’t look at the lessons of history, we contribute to the continuation of systemic racism.”

When COVID-19 began its rapid spread, the Facing History team realized educators would soon be looking for assistance in navigating at-home learning. According to Brooks, they added a slate of new resources for teachers and parents—book club guides, activities to help kids manage anxiety, etc.—within a week of school closures. They wanted to ensure that these new virtual classrooms would still be places where students could process the public health crisis.

“We know that in times of societal stress or upheaval, bias tends to rise,” Brooks explains. “At the beginning of the pandemic, we witnessed the horrible uptick in virulent (and sometimes violent) racism targeting Asians and Asian Americans. It was critical for our Asian and Asian American students to know that the classroom was a safe space for them, a brave space for conversation to examine the racism that seeks to diminish their humanity.”

With a community of more than 100,000 educators that reaches from Colombia to France and beyond, Facing History is teaching millions of students around the world how to be “upstanders,” or people who won’t hesitate to act if they witness hate, bigotry, or violence. And that’s really the point of the whole endeavor—to transform history from static facts and stories into something that students can use as a roadmap for ethics and civic engagement. Facing History program director Laura Tavares tells Mental Floss that each unit ends with the same question for students: “How does this history educate me about my responsibilities today?”

Educators can create an account to access Facing History’s collection of free resources, and there are also a number of professional development webinars and courses that they can register for online. (Many of these are also free, and Facing History can help educators find grants and other funding for those that aren’t.) If you’d like to donate to the organization, you can do so here.

10 of the Best Indoor and Outdoor Heaters on Amazon

Mr. Heater/Amazon
Mr. Heater/Amazon

With the colder months just around the corner, you might want to start thinking about investing in an indoor or outdoor heater. Indoor heaters not only provide a boost of heat for drafty spaces, but they can also be a money-saver, allowing you to actively control the heat based on the rooms you’re using. Outdoor heaters, meanwhile, can help you take advantage of cold-weather activities like camping or tailgating without having to call it quits because your extremities have gone numb. Check out this list of some of Amazon’s highest-rated indoor and outdoor heaters so you can spend less time shivering this winter and more time enjoying what the season has to offer.

Indoor Heaters

1. Lasko Ceramic Portable Heater; $20

Lasko/Amazon

This 1500-watt heater from Lasko may only be nine inches tall, but it can heat up to 300 square feet of space. With 11 temperature settings and three quiet settings—for high heat, low heat, and fan only—it’s a dynamic powerhouse that’ll keep you toasty all season long.

Buy it: Amazon

2. Alrocket Oscillating Space Heater; $25

Alrocket/Amazon

Alrocket’s oscillating space heater is an excellent addition to any desk or nightstand. Using energy-saving ceramic technology, this heater is made of fire-resistant material, and its special “tip-over” safety feature forces it to turn off if it falls over (making it a reliable choice for homes with kids or pets). It’s extremely quiet, too—at only 45 dB, it’s just a touch louder than a whisper. According to one reviewer, this an ideal option for a “very quiet but powerful” heater.

Buy it: Amazon

3. De’Longhi Oil-Filled Radiator Space Heather; $79

De’Longhi/Amazon

If you prefer a space heater with a more old-fashioned vibe, this radiator heater from De’Longhi gives you 2020 technology with a vintage feel. De’Longhi’s heater automatically turns itself on when the temperatures drops below 44°F, and it will also automatically turn itself off if it starts to overheat. Another smart safety feature? The oil system is permanently sealed, so you won’t have to worry about accidental spills.

Buy it: Amazon

4. Aikoper Ceramic Tower Heater; $70

Aikoper/Amazon

Whether your room needs a little extra warmth or its own heat source, Aikoper’s incredibly precise space heater has got you covered. With a range of 40-95°F, it adjusts by one-degree intervals, giving you the specific level of heat you want. It also has an option for running on an eight-hour timer, ensuring that it will only run when you need it.

Buy it: Amazon

5. Isiler Space Heater; $37

Isiler/Amazon

For a space heater that adds a fun pop of color to any room, check out this yellow unit from Isiler. Made from fire-resistant ceramic, Isiler’s heater can start warming up a space within seconds. It’s positioned on a triangular stand that creates an optimal angle for hot air to start circulating, rendering it so effective that, as one reviewer put it, “This heater needs to say ‘mighty’ in its description.”

Buy it: Amazon

Outdoor Heaters

6. Mr. Heater Portable Buddy; $104

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Make outdoor activities like camping and grilling last longer with Mr. Heater’s indoor/outdoor portable heater. This heater can connect to a propane tank or to a disposable cylinder, allowing you to keep it in one place or take it on the go. With such a versatile range of uses, this heater will—true to its name—become your best buddy when the temperature starts to drop.

Buy it: Amazon

7. Hiland Pyramid Patio Propane Heater; Various

Hiland/Amazon

The cold’s got nothing on this powerful outdoor heater. Hiland’s patio heater has a whopping 40,000 BTU output, which runs for eight to 10 hours on high heat. Simply open the heater’s bottom door to insert a propane tank, power it on, and sit back to let it warm up your backyard. The bright, contained flame from the propane doubles as an outdoor light.

Buy it: Amazon

8. Solo Stove Bonfire Pit; $345

Solo Stove/Amazon

This one is a slight cheat since it’s a bonfire pit and not a traditional outdoor heater, but the Solo Stove has a 4.7-star rating on Amazon for a reason. Everything about this portable fire pit is meticulously crafted to maximize airflow while it's lit, from its double-wall construction to its bottom air vents. These features all work together to help the logs burn more completely while emitting far less smoke than other pits. It’s the best choice for anyone who wants both warmth and ambiance on their patio.

Buy it: Amazon

9. Dr. Infrared Garage Shop Heater; $119

Dr. Infrared/Amazon

You’ll be able to use your garage or basement workshop all season long with this durable heater from Dr. Infrared. It’s unique in that it includes a built-in fan to keep warm air flowing—something that’s especially handy if you need to work without wearing gloves. The fan is overlaid with heat and finger-protectant grills, keeping you safe while it’s powered on.

Buy it: Amazon

10. Mr. Heater 540 Degree Tank Top; $86

Mr. Heater/Amazon

Mr. Heater’s clever propane tank top automatically connects to its fuel source, saving you from having to bring any extra attachments with you on the road. With three heat settings that can get up to 45,000 BTU, the top can rotate 360 degrees to give you the perfect angle of heat you need to stay cozy. According to a reviewer, for a no-fuss outdoor heater, “This baby is super easy to light, comes fully assembled … and man, does it put out the heat.”

Buy it: Amazon

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San Pedro, California Is Home to the Country’s Only Volunteer-Run Post Office

A vintage postcard of San Pedro, California.
A vintage postcard of San Pedro, California.
Boston Public Library Tichnor Brothers, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

There are more than 30,000 post offices in the United States, but only one of them is staffed entirely by volunteers. As Fast Company reports, the nonprofit-run Assistance League Post Office has been serving customers in San Pedro, California, since 1964.

The Assistance League Post Office is one of many contract postal units around the country. Contract postal units are run privately instead of publicly, usually by a business. The post office in San Pedro is unique in that it's operated by a nonprofit organization.

More than 50 years ago, the San Pedro chapter of the Assistance League opened the post office to service its growing community, which includes the Port of Los Angeles. The location only sold stamps for decades, then expanded into a full-service post office in 1990. In addition to running the local postal service, the Assistance League of San Pedro provides low-income residents with orthodontia care, glasses, sexual assault survivor kits, and new school clothes—all resources that revenue from the post office helps pay for.

To make its charitable mission possible, the post office relies on volunteers. Post office chairman Gayle Merrick runs a staff of 17 volunteers—all retired women between the ages of 65 and 87. Their backgrounds range from medicine to education, and they commit to giving three to four days of their time to the post office each month. Many people who volunteer at the Assistance League Post Office stick around for a while; the longest-serving volunteer worked there for a quarter of a century.

The San Pedro post office closed to the public in the spring due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and its customers and volunteers are still waiting for it to return. Merrick tells Fast Company that she hopes to reopen by October 1, in time to help process local mail-in ballots for the 2020 election.

[h/t Fast Company]