Each summer, the National Endowment for the Humanities offers seminar and institute programs for K–12 teachers, providing educators from across the country with the chance to engage deeply in humanities subject matter and establish peer networks. These one- to four-week programs are hosted by universities, state historical societies, and other cultural institutions and cover a variety of subjects.
In all of the programs, teachers are given a stipend to travel to a common location. They attend expert lectures, literary readings, and theatrical performances and they explore museums and cultural heritage sites, often with behind-the-scenes access. For example, participants in Voices From the Misty Mountains interact with Appalachian writers and attend workshops held by the Contemporary American Theatre Festival—they return home with abundant resources that will help them more accurately teach the Appalachian history and culture as well as the potential to engage their students in theater.
Meanwhile, participants in The Most Southern Place on Earth explore the Mississippi Delta’s rich history through visits to heritage sites and museums, and by eating southern food and listening to the blues, played by local performers. On the same day that Emmett Till’s murder case was reopened this past summer, these teachers were attending a panel led by Till’s cousin, Wheeler Parker, who was one of the last people to see him alive. The panel offered teachers an unprecedented opportunity to examine the legacy of Till’s murder and the Civil Rights Era with a true witness to history, someone intimately concerned in these past and present events.
By offering teachers rich, innovative experiences like these, NEH summer institutes and seminars are a critical mode for moving the some of the best, rigorous humanities ideas and practices out of the university and into the K–12 classroom. Most importantly, the reach of these programs is broad. 11,760 teachers attended NEH summer seminars and institutes from 2012–2017 alone. They represent about 4,680 cities and communities located in every state, as well as Department of Defense schools located internationally. Of course, each teacher reaches many, many students over the course of their careers.
Through programs like Delta State University’s Most Southern Place on Earth and Shepherd University’s Voices From the Misty Mountains, teachers explore the history and culture of American regions. Programs like Virginia Tech’s Flu! The 1918 Spanish Influenza in U.S. and World History and the University of Kentucky’s Addiction in American History offer humanities takes on public health crises. In other programs, teachers examine historical movements like women’s suffrage and the Civil Rights Era; they read John Steinbeck in California and engage with William Shakespeare’s plays at the Folger Shakespeare Library; they explore religion in the United States, the history of whaling; they consider the history and politics of punishment and its influence on American law. They are a vital shot in the arm for teachers who are too often overworked and underappreciated, and for whom access to this kind of professional development might otherwise be inaccessible.
Thumbnail image: Teachers visit the Fannie Lou Hammer Memorial Garden. Image courtesy of the Delta Center for Culture and Learning at Delta State University.