The Best History Education Program your School Should (or already does) Have for Students

The NHD national tournament is a festival of historical thought and reminds us what is good about education. Click here to see the White House Awards Ceremony for NHD.

Happy Independence Day everyone.   Celebrating the liberal ideas, and imaginings of the 18th century,  western mind can be done in a variety of ways.  I have decided to do so, at least in part, with this blog entry about my  recent experience with National History Day (NHD). I was invited to be a judge at the 2012 NHD national finals held at University of Maryland College Park.  Unable to judge because of work constraints, I opted for a visit to see NHD in person.  Prior to this, I had heard of the program, but never participated or was affiliated with a school that had embraced NHD. It is clear to me now that I, the departments I worked in, and the schools in general, had missed partaking in an opportunity that is second to none.   In turn, students had been deprived of an experience that elevates their education.I want to be clear as a firework finale in a clear night sky: If  your school does not participate in this program, change that now!

Whether you are a teacher, parent, student, administrator, consultant, etc.  insist that NHD become part of your school’s academics and culture.  In order to help you with that, I have included some evidence/arguments below. A first step could be to review the National History Day website and/or contact Deputy Director Ms. Kim Fortney at  Good luck, and let me know if it works out.


In 2011,  documentarian Ken Burns, former CEO of Lockheed Martin Norman Augustine, and journalist Cokie Roberts, united around the merits of NHD,  urged the Obama administration and Congress to have a greater focus on history education. Augustine made the case for history education’s  impact beyond memorizing dates and people writing:

“Far more than simply conveying the story of a country or civilization, an education in history can create critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information and articulate their findings. These are skills needed across a broad

Exhibit on China. These trifolds display thesis, evidence, and conclusions.

range of subjects and disciplines. In fact, students who are exposed to more modern methods of history education—where critical thinking and research are emphasized—tend to perform better in math and science… In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers—but the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.

The same year, President Obama awarded the prestigious National Humanities Medal to NHD in recognition for “a program that inspires in American students a passion for history. Each year more than half a million children from across the country compete in this event, conducting research and producing websites, papers, performances, and documentaries to tell the human story.” The National Humanities Medal honors achievements in history, literature, education and cultural policy. The awarding of this honor to NHD marked the first time a K-12 education program received the distinction.

The move towards 21st century education and the CCSS has refocused American education. Under these models of teaching and learning, the most compelling evidence to involve your school in NHD are the recent research findings of the program’s educational impact on students.  NHD, with the support of the US Department if Education,  “commissioned an independent research organization, Rockman et al, to develop and implement a research plan to explore the impact of the program.”   The full report, which speaks directly to CCSS and 21st century education, is available at the NHD website or by clicking here.   A summary of the key findings are listed below:

  • NHD students outperform their non-NHD peers on state standardized tests, not only in social studies, but in reading, science and math as well.
  • NHD students are better writers, who write with a purpose and real voice, and marshal solid evidence to support their point of view.
  • NHD students are critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information.
  • NHD students learn 21st century skills. They learn how to collaborate with team members, talk to experts, manage their time and persevere.
  • NHD has a positive impact among students whose interests in academic subjects may wane in high school.

How I learned to avoid the textbook and love NHD.

So, what did I see at the National Tournament? Out of the five options students have to demonstrate their research (exhibit, performance, paper, documentary, and website)  I saw numerous exhibits and performances.  More significantly,  I witnessed what educators  dream of having in their schools: academic rigor, engaged students, involved parents, professional respect, applied knowledge, confidence, creativity,enthusiasm… the positives go on and on. My observations corroborate with anecdotal evidence from teachers, parents, and students I had spoken with in the past.  Also, it was reinforced by multiple teachers, administrators, and students present at the tournament that NHD improves writing, research, and student confidence.

Photos of some exhibits are included in this blog and I had time to watch and film two presentations as well.  Check them out here:

Individual performance:  The Impact of Martin Luther

Group Performance: The Whiskey Rebellion

Congratulations to the 2012NHD winners! Their enthusiasm for their work was matched by the outcome itself. Future NHD themes, subject to change, are – 2013: Turning Points in History: People, Ideas, Events., 2014 Geography in History: Impact, Influence, Change, and 2015: Rights and Responsibilities in History.  The NHD website notes that “National History Day is a program that can be integrated into any social studies or history classroom, as it helps teachers expand and enrich the existing curriculum.NHD is an outstanding example of outcome-based or performance-based learning.” Are you ready to bring your school into the mix and provide your students (or

Tear down that wall of educational malaise!

child) with one of the best educational opportunities available?  If so,  you would greatly contribute to their independence and endow in our youth the skills to succeed in life; that among these are critical and creative thinking, synthesizing information, and the ability to communicate valid ideas.

I wish you good luck and am happy to help you anyway I can.  All the best.






2 thoughts on “The Best History Education Program your School Should (or already does) Have for Students

  1. Ohmygosh…Am I impressed or what? Thanks for tuning us in on this very fine organization which allows students to be creative and learn about history at the same time, with a competitive spirit, too! As I read about the list of winners, I was so happy to see a student, Chad Nowlan (spelling?) from Holyoke Catholic High School on that list. He won for individual performance and, small world, HCH is your alma mater. Go Holyoke Catholic!

  2. As I have learned more about NHD, I have been similarly impressed. Thanks for the pictures and rationale for this excellent program.

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