Drawing upon the model of the Congressional Briefing series and some of the examples from the History and Policy Education Program, Corey M. Brooks, Associate Professor of History at York College of Pennsylvania, developed a new course, “Policy and History in York” for the Spring 2019 semester. His full reflections can be found here.
On a May night in downtown York, Pennsylvania, two blocks from city hall, I sat quietly as seven of my York College undergraduates expounded to politicians and community leaders on the histories of poverty in our community and of policy responses that had in years past attempted (and often failed) to meaningfully alleviate this deep-rooted problem. Speaking for 90 minutes on subtopics they had selected themselves and researched over the course of a semester, these students together unfolded several key facets of the history of poverty policy in York. The audience responded with rapt attention, as student research informed and energized attendees, including the city’s mayor, the city council president, the local constituent services director for the area’s U. S. Representative, and the CEO of York County’s official Community Action Agency. After concluding their prepared remarks, students handled difficult, thought-provoking audience questions with comfort and skill. Each student stood a little taller later that night as they mingled with local policymakers and college faculty. In the process, they celebrated their hard work—work that might tangibly contribute to a community in which they now felt increasingly invested.
The group had traveled quite a distance from our first class meeting in January. At the outset, the students had little idea where they would direct their energies and widely varying experiences with history research, policy analysis, and local community engagement. Guiding these students from that starting point to the final briefing event was perhaps the most demanding and most fulfilling teaching experience of my nine years at York College of Pennsylvania. In this new “Policy and History in York” course, modeled on the National History Center’s congressional briefings, I challenged students to conduct the research necessary to become experts on the local history of policies that concern our community. They then would have to work as a team to build and present a shared briefing for local decision makers.
I conceived of this course for two main reasons. The first was in response to the all too ubiquitous questioning, including (especially) in higher education itself, of the relevance of historical research. Here was a course in which students would show peers, faculty, and the broader community how historical research could be brought to bear to contextualize current challenges.Continue reading Policy and History in York, PA: College Students Brief Local Leaders