I recently judged at Maryland History Day competition held on The Community College’s Baltimore County campus (Essex). The theme was “Diplomacy and Debate: Successes and Failures”, which was a challenging theme for many students. In fact, we were warned in our judges’ orientation that the subject seemed to be particularly difficult this year. This warning came down from the National History Day offices. Of course, this means that there were reports and discussions between either teachers and the History Day officials or parents and students with officials. The big problem appeared to be the word “diplomacy”, a word with which students struggled.
At the end of judging and asking groups repeatedly what their project had to do with the theme, I have come to one conclusion: none of the groups asked what it meant or looked the word up. They did not understand that part, so they ignored it. And, in ignoring the word they didn’t understand, these kids perpetuated their ignorance.
This is my second year judging and I gather that teacher involvement varies widely. Still, if I were teaching a junior high class and wanted to get my students involved, the whole class would have the assignment of explaining the theme and links would be made to the material we had already covered or current events. All the students would have to do that regardless of whether or not they chose to enter a project.
We model this irresponsible behavior for our students and our kids all the time. Something does not make sense so we just ignore it. Something does not make sense to our students or our kids and we do not insist on their participation in the process of learning and discovery–we let them be lazy. Even when we are responsible on this level, we do not necessarily share it with our students or kids to show them why being thorough matters.
Obviously, I am painting with a broad brush–and, no that is not fair–but, I don’t think I am out of line by identifying this as symptomatic of our society at large. Even students with projects that fell squarely within the prescribed theme failed to recognize just how relevant their project was! It is lazy. And, it is sad.