A Harvard History Professor recently proclaimed that in British schools, "History has never been more popular outside schools today, yet, history has never been so unpopular inside schools." Could the same be said about U.S. classrooms? Not only are history test scores the lowest of the four major subjects across all students, but students are increasingly finding history boring and most of all, unrelated to their lives. Nowhere is this more prevalent than in urban schools, primarily made up of youth of color, in which history as a discipline is rarely seen as a so-called "solution" to the problem of low academic achievement in education discourse.
This is a problem -- because conversely, history can inspire and empower disengaged students. History can change lives by impacting students' dreams for college, promote educational success, and connect students with their community. Frankly, there does not have to be a disconnect between historical scholarship and youth in urban schools. With an eye toward re-charting the way in which history is conceived in the futures of young people, and out of discussions from Teachers College's Institute for Urban and Minority Education (IUME), Youth Historians was born. There is a dire need to re-think history pedagogy in urban schools, and we believe that students should be provided the opportunity to become historians themselves and engage with the historical process in meaningful and critical ways. Youth Historians builds off of great work by groups such as the Stanford History Education Group and prominant scholars in culturally relevant pedagogy and Youth Participatory Action Research (YPAR). Youth Historians is growing -- and ever changing -- and each "youth historian" student is already out there changing the world.
The YHH Story
The YHH Story
Developing a "Youth Historians" Model
Thanks to a Dean's Grant for Student Research at Teachers College, Columbia University graciously provided by the Office of the Provost and Dean, Youth Historians in Harlem hit the ground running. Beginning in the Fall of 2012 at Frederick Douglass Academy II in Harlem with a core group of high school students, these students--who volunteered to be a part of YHH--helped develop a Youth Historian model for the future. Seven students successfully completed the program, becoming "Youth Historians" who produced historical projects on a self-selected topic related to Harlem.
Thanks to these students (and the Office of the Provost at Teachers College), the Youth Historians model was created and will serve as a foundation for future years. Although the YHH curriculum was initially successsful in engaging students in history through the historical process, there is much to improve on; with a group of students ready to share their historical knowledge and a YHH model that is proven successful, the Youth Historians in Harlem project will expand, grow, and build on the successes of Year 1.