Here are Emily’s reflections on this year’s project and how the staff worked together to make it successful—
The Field School history department loves the underdogs of history. We appreciate the historical figures that did not hog the spotlight, or the ones who worked hard, but never seemed to get credit for their assistance. We revel in discussions about the best supporting actors, the collaborators, the wingmen, the sidekicks. This year the department decided to explore the idea of the historical “sidekick” in more depth through our annual History March Madness tournament.
The “History Madness” idea began three years ago when teacher Ryan Reese proposed an NCAA bracket-style tournament for historical figures. Students would vote each day in their history classes on match-ups between various historical figures. During the first year, the department decided on a particular theme to guide the voting—students were asked to determine which historical figures most exemplified the mission of the school. Students throughout all grade levels debated the match-ups in their classes and placed their votes daily. The week culminated in a debate to determine the champion. Two groups of students from all grade-levels represented the final two competitors in the debate.
This year, after weeks of brainstorming and debating, the department settled on the idea of “historical sidekicks” as our focusing theme. Yet we decided that we would need to further define what we meant—these were not just your run-of-the-mill sidekicks. We wanted to highlight the deeper role of the sidekick—students would debate which historical figure, who is often viewed as a “sidekick,” actually was essential to the success of the endeavor. In other words, which sidekick was most essential to the cause? This, we thought, would make an engaging topic for debate. And it turned out that we did exactly what we were hoping to do—we sparked discussion! Students had to consider these historical figures in context. They were not voting on whether they liked a historical figure like Robert F. Kennedy, but they were voting on the extent to which he was essential to the success of John F. Kennedy’s presidential platform as his attorney general. Or they considered how figures such as Che Guevara or Sacajawea were essential to the endeavors of Fidel Castro or Lewis and Clark. Much like the study of history in general, the answers weren’t so black or white. Inevitably students encountered gray area—and if there’s one thing to know about Field history teachers, it’s that we love the gray area.
Additionally, the department made a major change this year by hosting a Quizbowl in lieu of the debate. In order to engage all students in as many of the history classes as possible, we held a day-long historical trivia competition. For each class period, as many of the history classes as possible entered the competition. Each class worked as a team to answer a series of questions based on the historical figures in the brackets. Then the winners of each period—first through sixth—competed in a final round last week. The excitement was palpable—two senior classes, two junior classes, and two sophomore classes competed in four rounds of more difficult questions based on the brackets. The winning team, one of teacher Will Magioncalda’s 11th grade classes, took the entire tournament after scoring a perfect round in the final round about U.S. Presidents.
Overall, it was an energetic history-filled week. Students were buzzing about the seeds of the historical figures as soon as we put up the massive bracket in the hub. And the buzzing continued throughout the week. There was even a powerful underground movement to write-in Tenzing Norgay’s name after he was ousted in the Elite 8 round among many of the classes. Although not all of the students knew about each of the historical figures, they were able to use their own “sidekicks”—their smartphones or laptops—to query the historical figures and conduct their own research. Everyone was able to get into the best kind of madness—History Madness!
—Emily Kleinman, History Department Chair