Yes, the "I Hate History" students are out there. They may never have had the History Day choice and they think there is nothing interesting about the past. The key is getting students to think creatively about choosing a topic for Connecticut History Day. I have been coaching History Day students for some time, and have been known to say, “You can study the history of anything, even Tiddlywinks.” Although no student has ever taken me up on the offer to study the history of Tiddlywinks, I found myself locating the game and following the trail to the history of games, toys, patents and eventually to the Presidents. This one trail lead to other ideas and it was fascinating.
Have you ever heard how the teddy bear became associated with President Theodore Roosevelt? This might be just a random story and not NHD worthy, but presidential libraries are packed with a ton of conflicts and compromises to explore.
Have you ever heard about the Pulitzer Prize winning cartoonist Clifford Berryman, who was known to draw Teddy political cartoons? Joseph Pulitzer himself is a story worth a look, full of conflicts and compromises.
This year, I approached the Conflict and Compromise theme from a personal perspective. History is my story and your story. History is my grandparents’ stories and encompasses Irish immigration on to the Great Depression. Students need to know that they are living history right now. They will never forget the tragedies that have shaken the world this fall from hurricanes to horrific mass shootings. Nor will they forget the contagious conflict that started with Colin Kaepernick kneeling for the National Anthem. Take any one of these events and trace them back a few decades.
Just these few events got me thinking about my own history. I lived through the Cold War and thought the assassination of Martin Luther King was the worst event of my life and then Robert Kennedy was killed. My history is your history too. I lived through the eruption of Mt. St. Helen’s and recall vividly the 9/11 tragedy. Talk about conflict and compromise? What about the Hartford Circus Fire? Connecticut students are finding this story full of real action. Disasters are huge conflicts and demand compromise of those involved.
Compromise might come in the form of a famous court case. Often a court must decide who is right or wrong in a serious conflict. From the Dred Scott Decision to Roe v Wade, these are a good start to finding topics of interest and tracing them back in time.
History Day gives students the chance to explore a topic of their own choice. Our role as a teacher is to open their minds to the myriad of possibilities. So give it a try. What story could you share with students that you lived through.
Connecticut History Day teacher