This past week, the National History Day program announced that it lost one of its biggest benefactors. Though National History Day (NHD) doesn’t announce the benefactor’s name, it does reveal how much it’s going to hurt the program — a total net loss of $800,000, annually.
If you don’t know what the National History Day program is or does – don’t worry, you’re not alone; most whom I speak to are unaware of it. But that’s changing. Simply put, what the Science Fair does for science, National History Day does for Social Studies. Some of its impacts are, as follows:
what the Science Fair does for science, #NationalHistoryDay does for Social Studies. Click To Tweet
Nearly 600,000 students from all 50 states, 3 territories, 3 international regions, and China in grades 6-12 participated in the National History Day contest last year, and it’s a number that is growing. Once NHD selects the theme for the contest (last year it was “Taking A Stand”), students research topics to best fit the theme. Their topic selection is completely of their own accord, and the connection couldn’t be more profound or personal. Some of my favorite topics my students employed this year include Charles Long Brace’s Orphan Train, The Alamo from the Mexican perspective, and Sojourner Truth’s fight for freedom. It’s easy to see how NHD flips the narrative — indeed, students are teaching me.
Students learn more not just how to conduct proper research and writing, but teamwork, time management, organization, discipline, and the value of hard work. My 7th grade students will tell you this is the most difficult thing that they’ve ever done, but hardly any of them shy away from repeating their entry into the contest in 8th grade. Instead, they typically double down, learn from their mistakes, and improve their historical connections. Last year, 2 students from my school district joined the other 900 entries that make it to the National Contest, and it’s one of the proudest moments of my teaching career.
More than 20,000 educators are involved in the National History Day program. While a majority of these are social studies teachers, this is not solely representative of those involved. Increasing in number are gifted program teachers, as well as the new 2-Dimensional poster contest at the upper-elementary level.
More than 20,000 educators are involved in the #NationalHistoryDay program. Click To Tweet
However, any teacher can take part in the wide variety of professional development offered by NHD. There’s plenty to use on their website, from teaching the Civil War, to World War I, to offering lessons on primary sources and connections to Common Core.
What I’ve found to be most beneficial, however, are the sponsored trips. The newest addition is the Understanding Sacrifice promoted by the American Battlefields Association, whereby educators visit national battlefields and memorials across the globe. This summer, teachers will travel to San Francisco, Honolulu, and Manila (Philippines) to learn about those who gave their all protecting this country.
Last summer a student and I earned a fellowship in the Albert H. Small Sacrifice for Freedom Normandy Institute, and we joined me and 14 other student-teacher teams to investigate the personal contribution of a soldier buried in Normandy National Cemetery. It still is the most powerful thing I’ve ever experienced as a teacher, and it’s spurred the student I worked with to want to enter international politics.
For the Public
School’s focus today tends to be on “tested subjects” like mathematics, reading, and English Language Arts. After that, the STEM revolution seems to be overtaking schools, pushing advancements in science and technology because that’s where the jobs are. Third focus seems to be on increasing languages and adding the arts to STEM to make STEAM. Lagging in last place is social studies.
But there’s no more important time to study my field than now. Why?
Moving NHD Forward
In the past, NHD has had the benefit of cash infusion from those with money who love history. The list of donors is long, because the love of deep, resource-filled historical thought is valued by society. However, that top-down method of funding is nearing an end. But what’s replacing it can and should be better.
It’s time for grassroots investment in the things that are important to us, and the National History Day program is a defining example of that.
In her message to followers of the NHD program, Executive Director Cathy Gorn proclaimed that if those on the email list gave just $50, they’d be halfway to meeting their fundraising goal.
Join me in helping to provide that funding to one of the most worthwhile endeavors that students of history have, can, and will continue to do – the National History Day program. Donate to continue to fund NHD today.
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