A day and more for history

A day and more for history

April 19th, 2012 in Opinion Times

Most area students and their parents and other residents are aware of the various contests and competitions designed to test knowledge in a variety of academic subjects. Spelling bees, like the regional one sponsored annually by The Chattanooga Times Free Press, are probably the best known, but the Geography Bee, MathCounts and foreign language and writing events have large followings, too. History has its day, as well, but the contest associated with the topic is not as well known to the public, though it should be.

Perhaps that's because of the nature of the History Day competition. There's none of the highly public drama of students spelling word after word in front of a crowd, or the face-to-face competition in the geography event. History Day competition is just as demanding, but it has a far less visible, far quieter profile.

Students who participate choose a topic related to an annual theme, then conduct primary and secondary research before producing a paper, an exhibit, a performance, a documentary or a web site based on that research. Their work is judged on the district level and winners advance to the state contest, held on Saturday in Nashville. Georgia's statewide competition is on April 28 in Macon. State winners advance to the National History Day competition, held at the University of Maryland in mid-June.

Despite its relatively low profile, there is widespread interest in the history event, which has senior (grades 9-12) and junior (grades 6-8) divisions. Winners in the Southeast Tennessee district competition, held on the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga campus on March 10, came from public, private and home schools from urban, suburban and rural locales. Clearly, the subject of history, viewed as dry and arcane by some, still engages many students. That's welcome at a time when public and academic attention, rightly or wrongly, seems to focus more on math, science and technology than on traditional liberal arts disciplines.

Bees, competitions and contests for elementary and secondary school students have long played a role in American education. Some question their utility and their value, but supporters correctly say that the events can provide a fun and exciting way for students to participate in the educational process.

That's especially true for those who enthusiastically take part in History Day events. Participation helps students develop critical thinking, organizational and presentation skills. All are valuable assets as they continue their pursuit of education and, later, as they embark on their professional lives.

Tennessee History Day on Saturday in Nashville and Georgia History Day in Macon next week can't replace regular classroom instruction in the topic. They are, however, useful adjuncts to the learning process in a subject that remains an integral part of the school curriculum.