This year, Harlan Institute had the honor of participating in National History Day by judging the senior division of the competition. High school students from all 50 states competed in various categories– paper, exhibit, documentary, website, performance – and shared high-level research projects with their audience, judges, and peers.
The middle school and high school students who competed on June 12 – June 16 at the University of Maryland were the state level winners, representing over half a million students nationwide who created individual or group projects this year. While topics ranged from the triumph of the Polish Solidarity movement to the legacy of Native American boarding schools, each project was tied in to this year’s theme of Debate & Diplomacy in History.
The “debate” aspect of the theme inspired many students to explore influential decisions by the Supreme Court and the controversy that surrounded them. Student projects discussed the impact of Brown v. Board of Education, the famous case that declared “separate but equal” schooling for black and white students was unconstitutional, and criticized the holding in Boy Scouts of America v. Dale, where the Court held that 1st Amendment freedom of association allowed for the Boy Scouts organization to exclude a homosexual scoutmaster. Other students engaged with constitutional law in other ways, for example, by exploring the tension between personal privacy and national security and how it relates to the Constitution.
In the wake of sobering reports about students performing poorly on nationwide American history tests and their failing grades on civics exams, the students who showed their work at National History Day provided a refreshing counterpoint. They displayed both an eagerness to engage with history and the ability to conduct impressive research and analysis. Congratulations to all the participants for their hard work and to the finalists and winners for their exceptional presentations.