If you worked at a moderately sized history museum between 2001 and 2011 you are probably familiar with the Teaching American History (TAH) grant program through the United States Department of Education. The point of the program was to raise student achievement by raising teacher knowledge in traditional American history. In 2004, I began working on TAH grants at the Ohio History Connection (formerly the Ohio Historical Society) and ultimately worked on five different projects. During the course of the TAH program OHC partnered on 22 grants total (24 if you count the two which brought us on to assist after they were awarded the grant.) That’s a lot of grants and a lot of money. Many of us at history museums and departments of history (at both universities and school districts) were like Scrooge McDuck, sliding around giant piles of sweet USDE money that was especially designated for American history. How Amazing! The problem is, like many good things, it came to an end.
We had been on a decade long bender and now we are all left with a massive hangover, the likes of which can’t be helped with three Advil and a bunch of Gatorade. Overall I’m a pretty positive person, but the TAH hangover seems to follow me wherever I go: conferences like AASLH, meetings at my state humanities council, state and national history and social studies conferences—someone always brings up TAH and laments its demise. It’s a common question amongst those of us who were in the TAH game for a long time. Is there anything else like TAH coming up? What are you doing now that TAH is over? Have you had to downsize with the end of TAH? I can’t believe TAH is gone. I get it. We got lots of money to do what we loved and to help spread that love to teachers on the front line of history education. But it’s gone and continuing to ask these same questions almost five years after the last grant was funded is no cure for a raging TAH hangover.
However there’s another side to this. There’s a whole bunch of people (me included) who got their professional public history start in TAH. And there’s another group of museum educators who had weathered the storm and were able to see the day when American history was bringing in some money. But we don’t look back on it fondly, we look back and feel slighted, or depressed, another example of history getting the short end of the educational stick. This attitude doesn’t honor the legacy of Senator Robert Byrd (who championed the program) or all those museum educators, history professors, district personnel, and teachers who rallied for history education. I think that we’ve mourned the loss and it’s time to move on. I look back on a decade’s worth of TAH and I don’t feel slighted, I feel honored that I was able to be a part of it. Honored that teachers trusted me enough to listen and engage during my presentations and felt safe enough in the environment we developed to do some of the ridiculous things I asked of them like singing, dancing, and acting— all in the name of history.
So my call to action is this: think about all the great moments in your TAH career and everything you learned. Being a good museum educator, I will model the activity.
- I learned about the importance of evaluation and how to actually do it. It wasn’t easy, I hadn’t heard of “quasi-experimental design” until I started, but I slowly learned to love the feedback, and enjoyed making the best experience possible for our participants. And also our evaluators are pretty awesome and we still work with them on other projects.
- I learned so much about history and the historical process from my colleagues, our teachers, and all the amazing professors. What’s not to love about that?
- I came into my own as a professional. Nothing is more terrifying than the first time getting up in front of thirty-five 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade teachers and leading them in an activity. I had no education background, and I hoped they couldn’t smell the fear. But it was fine. Sure, like everyone I had my missteps but you bounce back and learn and you do better the next time. I gained my confidence as a professional one Saturday at a time in those workshops.
- I learned how to write and use a logic model and how to write lots of grants. This is a skill I continue to use.
- I learned that good food will take care of any number of issues that occur in a workshop. I also learned no matter how healthy people say they want to be you must always have dessert.
- I got to hang out with amazing people in the Ohio K-20 educational world.
- I was able to visit historic sites and museums all across Ohio, many of which I had no idea existed. Some of my fondest TAH memories come from amazingly random field trip experiences, like eating pizza from a gas station in a Quaker Meeting house.
See, isn’t that better? Do you sense the fog lifting from your TAH hangover? If so open up the curtains let the sun come in and let’s reminisce about all the fun we had during those ten years.