ALBA’s on the Road Again: Record Number of Teacher Workshops

July 1, 2018
Peter Carroll with two teachers in Plymouth, Mass. Photo Sebastiaan Faber.

Peter Carroll with two teachers in Plymouth, Mass. Photo Sebastiaan Faber.

Ten years after launching ALBA’s Teach-the-Teachers professional development program, the number of school districts we partner with continues to multiply. At the same time, the content of our resources has deepened and expanded as secondary school teachers and their students around the country increasingly see connections between historical questions and current events.

Since February 2018, ALBA’s teaching faculty has presented one-, two- and three-day Teaching Institutes in Pittsburgh PA, Plymouth MA, New York City, and Seattle WA, reaching more than two hundred teachers. Several more institutes are in the works for after the summer in New York, New Jersey, and Ohio, among other locations.

Although most of our workshops still begin with the origins of the Spanish Civil War and the role of the American volunteers who joined the International Brigades, increasingly the syllabus has stretched into larger world-historical questions. These include global fascism, the impact of World War II and the Holocaust on civilians, the judgments at Nuremburg, the consolidation of international human-rights law, and the difficult ethical questions that nations and citizens face today.

Increasingly, the syllabus has stretched into larger world-historical questions.

The basis of ALBA’s workshops—and of the lessons that participants create—are always primary sources, many of which come from the rich Abraham Lincoln Brigade Archives housed at NYU’s Tamiment Library. These documents are not only compelling and accessible, but often prove unexpectedly timely. The word “fascism” has been, for the past couple of years, among the most frequently looked-up words in online dictionaries. But rather than resort to textbook definitions, in our workshops we look at primary documents in which Lincoln volunteers, or politicians such as Henry Wallace, defined fascism as they saw it rise around them. The documents also explain what antifascist activists did to raise awareness about fascism’s dangers—or stop it in its tracks. 

All these sources invite comparisons with other struggles in recent times. How and why, we ask the teachers, did anti-fascism give way to anti-communism during the Cold War? How did anti-communism affect the lives of those who began fighting fascism years before the United States joined World War II, such as the African Americans who had fought in Spain?

In the end, the workshops always circle back to what we call the essential questions: Why should we care about events that happen far away, or that happened a long time ago? How do we decide who is on the right side of an armed conflict? When do we stand up for what we believe in? What are our obligations in the face of injustice? How do we resolve competing loyalties? When is it right, or necessary, for a powerful country like the United States to intervene in a conflict going on elsewhere? How do images and texts shape our view of the world—and how can we use them to shape others’ views? How can we understand people and events of the past in their context? When—and how—is it appropriate to judge people and events in the past? When do historical analogies apply? And what does fascism look like today?