This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2017, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.
President Trump has called for the elimination of the National Endowment for the Humanities as a part of his federal budget plan. Although Congress must ratify Trump's proposed budget, the president's desire alarms those that value education and educators. Politicians who call for better funding for teachers and students should support the NEH and its programs. Citizens concerned about the training of expert teachers and the wellbeing of students should, too.
I recently spent a week participating in an NEH seminar hosted by the Tanner Humanities Center at the University of Utah entitled "Manifest Destiny Reconsidered: The Utah Experience." Over two weeks, more than 80 teachers from Utah and across the nation learned from experts at the University of Utah, Harvard University, BYU-Idaho and the LDS Church History Library. Topics included migration, anti-Indian violence, plural marriage and the transcontinental railroad. Before the seminar began, several Utah-based educators noted a lack of training for Utah studies courses as their desire to participate in the seminar. After their week of training, many reported feeling better prepared to teach these (required) classes.
One of the most memorable experiences was traveling to Bear River, Idaho, the site of a Native American massacre by the United States Army in 1863. Educators were able to hear from descendants of Native Americans who were murdered more than 150 years ago, who spoke with passion and insight that most never have the opportunity to hear. The NEH seminar presented a unique opportunity to learn how to teach about regrettable and tragic events from the views of all involved, not only white settlers. Today's students, who are much more attuned and interested in histories of non-Anglo settlers, are sure to benefit from their teachers having heard this message.
The value of NEH seminars goes far beyond the small funds granted to public institutions to host the seminars (A list of other projects the NEH has supported in Utah is available here). Teachers also had the opportunity to become students from pedagogical experts who taught them how to use architecture, comics, political cartoons and needlework to pique student interest.
These innovative learning techniques are affordable, and easy to replicate. Despite the simplicity of these teaching techniques, many participants informed their hosts that they would not have thought of teaching in these innovative ways without participation in the seminar.
These brief descriptions of the NEH seminar's contents reveal the ways in which the week's teachings will help educators and students work together in a pluralistic and multicultural society. For those that teach outside of Utah, they are now better prepared to teach more effectively about Native Americans, Mormon history, railroad history and environmental history. For those who teach in the Beehive State, they are now much better prepared to teach Utah Studies courses with cutting-edge information and innovative pedagogy.
In a day and age where civility and public discourse seem at an all-time low, the humanities provide answers for thinking through difficult questions and working together. Although some may decry the use of federal funds for the training of teachers from across the country, claiming it is the state's prerogative to determine funding for education.
From my experience, NEH funding has provided an opportunity for learning more about Utah history that are not provided by the state of Utah. I'm grateful that a minuscule portion of my federal taxes has helped educators in my beloved state. "We the people" must stand up for educators and students by supporting the NEH in Utah and across the nation.
Joseph Stuart is working toward a Ph.D. in history at the University of Utah.