I had the good fortune to listen in on a conference call today about the importance of history education. I didn't know what to expect, but renowned historical documentary maker Ken Burns was on the call, so I figured it couldn't hurt to hear what they had to say. Add to this a recent death in the family and a particularly good historical novel I'm reading, and I'm feeling rather inspired about history. And not that boring kind, but the one that starts at home. I am physically itching to research family history, holding myself back with straps and super glue to stay off of Ancestry.com.

Burns called history, "The great pageant of everything that has come before this moment." How can that possibly be boring? But our education system has made it so. And in doing so, has made history seem irrelevant and easy to cut from core curriculum. Many hours were stolen from history curriculum to make room for math and science under the constraints of No Child Left Behind. We're suffering for it, not only in a general demise of collective intelligence, but specifically in the critical thinking skills that are essential to survival in most commercial industries. In other words, business needs a workforce equipped with at least a basic understanding of how to look at historical events with an eye for solving the problems of today.

Support the Reauthorization of National History Day

National History Day, which is not a day at all but a year-long initiative to get students involved in deep, hands-on learning, has nothing to do with memorizing dates and recalling timelines by rote. It's about digging into source documents and pulling out the stories and lessons from the past.

National History Day motivates students to discover history by:

  • Cultivating interest: students research a topic of their choice
  • Developing research skills: students act as historians discovering how to uncover primary sources, build historical context and form historical interpretations
  • Becoming experts on their research topic: presenting their research to teachers, students, and historians
  • Achieving success

- The shy student gains confidence when speaking about a topic he/she has researched

- The apathetic student gains passion by choosing a topic of personal interest

- The high-achieving student increases his/her ability to articulate their learning through presentation

History Starts Right Where You Are

To me, the big concept of "history" is so overwhelming, I'm tempted not to bother with any of it. However, studying the past need not be comprehensive to be valuable. Help children start where they are, with a current interest, and dive into the history of it.

It has never been easier to research your family tree. Sites like Ancestry.com make it possible to locate family histories others have compiled without even leaving home.

On the call today, Burns said, "History arms you for a battle against ignorance." We've got to equip our kids to win this war. The National History Day program is up for re-authorization for elementary and secondary education. Please write or call your elected representatives. Encourage them to support this program with your tax dollars.

Meanwhile, we'll be doing our best to bring you relevant content to help you get your kids interested in all things historical!

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