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Facing History and Ourselves

Ages 12-19

Rating: Level 3


Facing History and Ourselves (FHAO) is a classroom intervention aimed at creating a more humane and informed citizenry in an increasingly diverse society. It is a professional development program for educators that helps them foster the healthy moral development and psychological functioning of their junior and senior high school students (grades 7–12). The program trains teachers how to engage diverse students in discussions about the historical development and legacies of collective violence and intergroup conflict, as a means of fostering critical thinking and moral, responsible, and civic decision-making.

FHAO is based on the philosophy that learning how to understand and assess the events of the past can play a key role in the cognitive and moral development of teenagers. Developed as a means of overcoming the prevailing idea that human rights abuses and similar historical events are too difficult for students in junior and senior high to understand, the program seeks to make students comprehend these events and draw connections between history and their own lives.

The objectives for students are to expand their knowledge of history, improve their critical thinking skills, encourage thinking about their roles in and responsibilities to society and community, and increase their awareness of issues of racism, antisemitism, social justice, and democratic participation. For teachers, the program fosters professional development, collegial relationships, and the enhancement of teaching skills.

At FHAO workshops and institutes, teachers receive in-depth training, individualized follow-up support, and other classroom resources. Training includes techniques to facilitate open discussions of sensitive subject matter in the classroom and the development of individualized curricula for each trainee. Each curriculum includes readings from an FHAO text, films, FHAO study guides, guest speakers, and literature readings on subject matter such as the Holocaust, eugenics, and the Armenian genocide. Student courses typically last a semester and are attached to a social studies, history, English, art, or interdisciplinary curriculum. FHAO staff recommend that teachers, school administrators, and school librarians form teams to implement the curriculum.


This study used a pretest–posttest comparison group design. Participants included the eighth grade classes of four experienced FHAO teachers and five non-FHAO teachers. FHAO teachers were selected based on their attendance at an FHAO institute, 3 or more years’ experience teaching an FHAO curriculum, and recommendation from FHAO staff. Non-FHAO teachers were chosen because they both taught in the same communities as the FHAO teachers.

Fourteen intervention group classes and eight comparison group classes participated in the study. The total sample included 409 students (246 intervention, 163 comparison). Gender distribution in both groups was similar (52 percent female, 48 percent male). Based on self-reported ethnicity, 62 percent were white, 6 percent African-American, 3.5 percent Hispanic, and 23 percent mixed or other ancestry, with 5.5 percent not reporting. Of the total sample, 346 students completed both pretests and posttests, but there were no significant differences between students with complete data and incomplete data. One measure, the Defining Issues Test, was given to a subsample (n=211; 100 intervention, 111 comparison) of students only.

Pretests were administered in at the beginning of the school year and posttests toward the end. Measures included the GSID (Group for the Study of Interpersonal Development) Relationship Questionnaire, to assess social competence through measures of relationship maturity (perspective-taking, interpersonal understanding, negotiation, and personal meaning); the Multigroup Ethnic Identity Measure, to assess self-concept and ethnic identity; selections from the National Learning Through Service Survey, to assess civic attitudes and participation; the Modern Racism Scale, to assess racial attitudes; and the Defining Issues Test, to assess moral reasoning.


The evaluation results show significant impacts on intervention group students relative to comparison group students, including increased engagement with issues, decreased fighting behavior, decreased racist attitudes, increased interest in other ethnic groups, and increased relationship maturity (interpersonal understanding, negotiation, and personal meaning). Though the evaluation lacked a follow-up study at 1 or 2 years, there was a positive finding of a strong trend in the reduction in self-reported fighting and positive effects related to risk and protective factors; this trend bolstered both the efficacy of the program and the validity of the underlying theoretical base.

Risk Factors


  • Anti-social behavior and alienation/Delinquent beliefs/General delinquency involvement/Drug dealing
  • Early onset of aggression and/or violence
  • Lack of guilt and empathy

Protective Factors


  • Healthy / Conventional beliefs and clear standards
  • Social competencies and problem-solving skills


  • Department of Education


Schultz, Lynn H., Dennis J. Barr, and Robert L. Selman. 2001. “The Value of a Developmental Approach to Evaluating Character Development Programs: An Outcome Study of Facing History and Ourselves.” Journal of Moral Education 30(1):4–27.


Terry Tollefson
Facing History and Ourselves, National Office
16 Hurd Road
Brookline, MA 02445
Phone: (617) 232-1595
Fax: (617) 232-0281
Web site: