As pictures of adorable kids returning from summer vacation and starting their first day of school begin to flood our social media feeds, we thought this might be a good moment to remind you all about the National Archives’ fantastic educational resource, DocsTeach, and to note that teachers can use this tool to help students of all ages understand the importance of access to agency records under the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA)!
DocsTeach is an online tool created by the National Archives’ Education and Public Programs division that offers teachers student activities using materials from the National Archives Catalog. Teachers can also use the tool to create their own activities to expand student understanding of a topic while also sharpening their document analysis techniques, improving their understanding of primary source documents in historical context, and more.
Last year we worked with our colleagues in the National Archives education department to leverage this tool to help teach the next generation about the FOIA. We developed an infographic explaining basic facts about the public’s rights under FOIA and what to expect during the process. The infographic uses plain language and graphics intended to help students easily understand the basic concepts of FOIA and where they can find more information about how to ask for copies of agency records. We then asked people with expertise about history and the contents of the National Archives Catalog from inside and outside of the government to let us know of any historical moments when the availability of an agency’s records helped the public to better understand the government’s actions.
Based on the feedback we received, the first activity using the infographic in DocsTeach explores the public’s response to the civil rights marches beginning in Selma, Alabama in 1965. The activity enriches student understanding of the civil rights marches in Selma, Alabama, using Federal Bureau of Investigation records released under FOIA.
If you have any other suggestions of records in the Catalog that will help students understand the role of records in improving understanding of the government’s actions, we encourage you to join the conversation on History Hub, the National Archives’ online community for researchers, citizen historians, archival professionals, and open government advocates.