Our curriculum is designed to challenge students to participate and interact with fellow students and the historical sites we visit. The experiential curriculum is built around three components: (1) Harvard Business School (HBS) history cases; (2) parliamentary debates; and (3) visits to the defining sites of American history.
Harvard Business School cases
The Academy uses the case method-based History of American Democracy curriculum developed by HBS Professor David Moss. This curriculum allows students to engage more deeply with the history they are studying as they explore sites and hear guest lectures by nationally recognized scholars. The cases provide an interdisciplinary, multidimensional and contextual examination of key historical events, permitting students to consider the multiple viewpoints of historical debates and to place themselves in the shoes of the decision makers.
Better Angels debates
The National History Academy has partnered with Better Angels to utilize a parliamentary debate program designed to encourage civil discourse across the red/blue divide. This formal style of parliamentary debate allows students to discuss difficult and often emotionally charged topics by allowing them to direct their thoughts to a neutral party, the “Chair.” Students will engage in a series of debates during the summer, including self-selecting the topics, organizing their positions, and ultimately, chairing their own debates. The debates allow the students to tackle challenging modern-day issues in contrast to the historical debates studied in the cases. Through these debates, students are better able to understand the context of historical figures as real people struggling with difficult issues, just as we are struggling with, and forming their own opinions about, modern issues in the debates.
Historic Site Visits
The classroom work is then undergirded by visits to many of the defining historic sites in the region, including Historic Jamestowne, Colonial Williamsburg, and Washington, DC; iconic National Parks such as Harpers Ferry, the C&O Canal, the Appalachian Trail, and the National Mall; the presidential homes and retreats of Washington, Jefferson, Madison, Monroe, Lincoln, and Eisenhower; numerous Revolutionary War, War of 1812 and Civil War battlefields, including Yorktown, Fort McHenry, Gettysburg, and Antietam, and sites related to the fight for Civil Rights, including places that tell the stories of Frederick Douglass, John Brown, W.E.B. Du Bois and Martin Luther King, Jr. The students have once-in-a-lifetime experiences, including seeing the Broadway hit Hamilton at the Kennedy Center, screening the movie Gettysburg in Gettysburg with the film’s director, Ron Maxwell, and participating in re-enactments of Patrick Henry’s “Give me liberty, or give me death” speech at St. John’s Church in Richmond, and a sit-in at the Woolworth’s lunch counter at the Smithsonian. The site visits truly “make history come alive.”
The combined impact of this experiential, collaborative and participatory learning improves critical and creative thinking skills while raising the self-esteem and self-confidence of our students.