The Solution

History Smiths

I recently gave a talk before a local Rotary Club chapter about how businesses can support history in ways that will benefit them. I cited such examples as historic preservation projects, historical community events, and after school projects.

One of the audience members, who happens to own a cultural tour company, raised the subject of Americans’ dearth of knowledge about American history. She quoted David McCullough, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author, who speaks eloquently, regularly, and passionately on the sorry state of history education in our schools. “What is the answer?” my friend asked.

It seems to me that until we can completely overhaul how education is taught in our public schools, as McCullough recommends – essentially, a national referendum — the answer IS David McCullough and others like him. How many people have learned about episodes in American history because of his engagingly written books, his talks, and episodes of the PBS series American Experience? Millions!

And his work is just one example.

The public history solution

In colleges and universities across the country, Public History Institutes are springing up to train people to “do” public history – meaning, to teach history outside of the classroom in places like National Park Service sites, museums, historic houses, and for tour companies. These programs will expand and professionalize the good work that is already taking place.

And more people need to take more advantage of these sorts of offerings! Whatever kind of history education is or is not going on inside American classrooms, we can all use some supplemental education by visiting historic sites and hearing the stories.

In the case of my friend in the Rotary audience, SHE is the answer, in my opinion, along with David McCullough, if she is enabled to “do her thing.”

My friend used to lead a walking tour of historic sites for her town’s elementary school at no charge. For two hours, this knowledgeable, engaging woman entertained fifth-graders with their town history. Recently, the school seems unable to bother. (And please don’t tell me about funding challenges; there is always a way when there is the will.)

What a waste for all of those kids! Her tour should be a rite of passage!

How YOU can be part of the solution

My story is a perfect example of a business opportunity.

A local business could easily and at very low cost sponsor my friend’s walking tour — pay for her time, for handouts, ball caps with your logo, whatever — and “win big” in the minds of every parent directly or indirectly involved by providing this opportunity for their children to learn local history.

Kids connect with history when they are out of the classroom — when it’s made fun and relevant by talented public history educators. In these situations, kids make an emotional connection that just doesn’t come from a book. Trust me on this!

Imagine dozens of fifth graders, brimming with enthusiasm, rushing home to tell their parents about their walking tour and what they learned – thanks to you. Imagine the media coverage! Imagine your internal PR! Your outreach to customers!

This is just one example, but you get the point. The tour guide has a role to play here, and so does the school – but so does your business!

In this way, BUSINESSES are the answer too.