On September 15, the National Humanities Alliance produced a virtual briefing that discussed NEH funding for diverse histories and civics in K–12 education. Since 2018, NHA has worked with over 20 NEH-funded professional development programs for K-12 educators to survey their impacts. Cecily Hill, director of community initiatives, was joined in discussion by four of the project directors we’ve worked with: Alice Nash, Rolando Herts, Stacey Greer, and Ray Locker. The event was a fruitful opportunity for congressional staff and others to hear about the data we’ve collected on these programs over the past 3 years that attest to their tremendous value, and to hear directly from project directors about how these programs offer crucial professional development to our nation’s educators, illuminate diverse histories, and support civic education in our nation’s classrooms.
NEH-funded professional development programs for K-12 educators are offered every summer and take a number of themes and forms. Landmarks of American History and Culture programs offer teachers a week-long exploration of an American landmark or landscape, emphasizing place-based learning. Summer institutes for K-12 educators offer educators 1-to-3 week-long deep dives into a particular subject area. Participants come from a full range of schools in the United States, as well as Department of Defense schools abroad. These competitive programs are offered for free and participants receive a stipend to offset the cost of travel.
The programs represented at the briefing covered a range of topics—teaching Native American histories, the history and culture of the Mississippi Delta, the Transcontinental Railroad’s role in transforming California and the nation, and the history and legacy of Japanese American internment. Each project director introduced their program, and reflected on how they all contribute to teaching more diverse histories and support a call for renewed investment and emphasis on civic education. Alice Nash, for example, project co-director for “Teaching Native American Histories,” emphasized that their participants are often impacted by learning how tribal communities link rights and responsibilities as interconnected concepts, and carry this forward in the ways they approach history and civics education.
For many K–12 educators who attend the programs, the benefits extend beyond their short time at the program. Rolando Herts, project director for “The Most Southern Place on Earth: Music, History, and Culture of the Mississippi Delta,” recounted the many participants who went on to pursue their PhDs using what they learned at the workshop as their starting point, or brought their students to experience the Delta’s cultural treasures. And, programs have a ripple effect of benefits beyond the participating educators. Eighty-six percent of respondents surveyed a year following program attendance indicated that they had shared resources from the program with other teachers in their school.
Last, the project directors reflected on the importance of NEH funding. NEH support covers the high labor requirements to produce such immersive programs, affords educators respect for their time and resources, and bestows a sense of legitimacy on K–12 professional development programming so that humanities institutions and universities are encouraged and supported to produce them.