Thursday, November 17, 2016

FIGHT AUTODIDACTICISM!!


Fight Autodidacticism!!

It is important to consider what might happen if educators, consultants, EduPundits, etc., find out that our secondary students are capable, if not prevented, of reading complete History books on their own, and not only that, they can, if not advised against it in time, write long serious History research papers (average 8,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography) on their own as well.

At first, this might seem a fine way for high school students to learn History and to improve their academic expository writing abilities. But this simplistic early impression fails to take into account the potential harm to all our educational efforts. Only think! They are choosing their own topics to study! They are writing based on their own research in History, and not waiting for our ELA prompts!

What real damage this could cause to the Social Studies and Literacy empires in American education! In fact, it now appears there is a quarterly journal* in existence which publishes such exemplary History research papers by students (from 41 countries since 1987), and this journal could, if we don’t act to prevent it, actually appear in secondary classrooms and even in the homes of students, to allow them to read the exemplary work of their peers!

Our defenses are wide and strong enough to stop this sort of thing from happening, except in a few isolated cases. We can refuse to allow such exemplary student writing in History into our classrooms. We can say it is not really Social Studies. We can say it is not really our Curriculum. We can say it is not really teacher-directed. We can say it is not really personal writing, creative writing or the five-paragraph essay.

If colleges are asking for 500-word personal essays from their applicants, why would we want students to be distracted, even as Seniors, by 8,000-word History research papers by their peers? The risk exists that reading such work could tempt some of our students to try their hand as Autodidacts! And it need not be pointed out what, if that practice became widespread, this could do to the foundations of the entire educational enterprise in this country. Beware! And Defend!

One Benjamin Franklin is enough!!

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*tcr.org

Thursday, November 3, 2016

AN OLD STORY (1995)

[NOW it's SEL for ALL—WHF]

In large part, this is because instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined—loaded with educationist jargon like “holistic learning,” “whole-child development,” and “interpersonal competencies.”

“A Semantic Hijacking”
Charles J. Sykes, Dumbing Down Our Kids
New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1995, pp. 245-247

         Ironically, “outcomes” were first raised to prominence by leaders of the conservative educational reform movement of the 1980s. Championed by Chester E. Finn, Jr. among others, reformers argued that the obsession with inputs (dollars spent, books bought, staff hired) focused on the wrong end of the educational pipeline. Reformers insisted that schools could be made more effective and accountable by shifting emphasis to outcomes (what children actually learned). Finn’s emphasis on outcomes was designed explicitly to make schools more accountable by creating specific and verifiable educational objectives in subjects like math, science, history, geography, and English. In retrospect, the intellectual debate over accountability was won by the conservatives. Indeed, conservatives were so successful in advancing their case that the term “outcomes” has become a virtually irresistible tool for academic reform.

        The irony is that, in practice, the educational philosophies known as Outcome Based Education have little if anything in common with those original goals. To the contrary, OBE—with its hostility to competition, traditional measures of progress, and to academic disciplines in general—can more accurately be described as part of a counterreformation, a reaction against those attempts to make schools more accountable and effective. The OBE being sold to schools represents, in effect, a semantic hijacking.

        “The conservative education reform of the 1980s wanted to focus on outcomes (i.e. knowledge gained) instead of inputs (i.e. dollars spent),” notes former Education Secretary William Bennett. “The aim was to ensure greater accountability. What the education establishment has done is to appropriate the term but change the intent.” [emphasis added] Central to this semantic hijacking is OBE’s shift of outcomes from cognitive knowledge to goals centering on values, beliefs, attitudes, and feelings. As an example of a rigorous cognitive outcome (the sort the original reformers had in mind), Bennett cites the Advanced Placement Examinations, which give students credit for courses based on their knowledge and proficiency in a subject area, rather than on their accumulated “seat-time” in a classroom.

        In contrast, OBE programs are less interested in whether students know the origins of the Civil War or the author of The Tempest than whether students have met such outcomes as “establishing priorities to balance multiple life roles” (a goal in Pennsylvania) or “positive self-concept” (a goal in Kentucky). Where the original reformers aimed at accountability, OBE makes it difficult if not impossible to objectively measure and compare educational progress. In large part, this is because instead of clearly stated, verifiable outcomes, OBE goals are often diffuse, fuzzy, and ill-defined—loaded with educationist jargon like “holistic learning,” “whole-child development,” and “interpersonal competencies.”

        Where original reformers emphasized schools that work, OBE is experimental. Despite the enthusiasm of educationists and policymakers for OBE, researchers from the University of Minnesota concluded that “research documenting its effects is fairly rare.” At the state level, it was difficult to find any documentation of whether OBE worked or not and the information that was available was largely subjective. Professor Jean King of the University of Minnesota’s College of Education describes support for the implementation of OBE as being “almost like a religion—that you believe in this and if you believe in it hard enough, it will be true.” And finally, where the original reformers saw an emphasis on outcomes as a way to return to educational basics, OBE has become, in Bennett’s words, “a Trojan Horse for social engineering, an elementary and secondary school version of the kind of ‘politically correct’ thinking that has infected our colleges and universities.”


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The Concord Review
tcr.org 

Thursday, October 20, 2016

ESCAPE FROM SAFETY

Escape from the Safe Spaces

High School students planning to go to college should know that they will face reading lists of nonfiction books and be asked to write research papers. The vast majority of American public high school students are not asked to read a single complete nonfiction book or to write a term paper before graduation. But they suspect that the safe spaces of fiction readings and personal writing will not prepare them well enough for college. In many cases their teachers have neither the inclination nor the time to help them with History research papers, and while some students, such as many of those published in The Concord Review since 1987, have set up Independent Study programs which let them write such papers, others may want to make use of the services we offer to serious secondary students of History:

One: The TCR Academic Coaching Service matches high school students working on a History research paper online with TCR Authors now at or recently graduated from Columbia, Harvard, MIT, Princeton, Stanford and Yale. Personal advice and guidance from a successful older peer (many are Emerson Prize winners) can be inspiring and productive for secondary students struggling with serious term papers. Contact Jessica@tcr.org (Manager of the TCR Academic Coaches).

Two: The TCR Summer Program offers a two-week course on the writing of serious History papers by secondary students, with two sessions in the United States and one in Korea in 2017. Contact: steven.lee@tcr.org (Manager of the TCR Summer Program). tcr.org/summer.

Three: The National Writing Board provides a unique independent assessment service for the History research papers of high school students. Our reports by two Senior Readers now average five pages. Inquire at tcr.org/nwb.

Four: The Concord Review can provide students with examples from the History research papers published by 1,200 high school students from 44 states and many other countries since 1987. This journal remains the only one in the world for the academic History research papers of secondary students. These papers have served many students as useful models of research and writing to inspire and guide them in their own reading, research and writing. Seek them at tcr.org/bookstore.



Will Fitzhugh, Founder
The Concord Review [1987]
National Writing Board
fitzhugh@tcr.org; tcr.org/subscribe

Wednesday, October 12, 2016

ASSESSING WRITING

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: 
About Assessing Writing
Michael F. Shaughnessy
Eastern New Mexico University
Portales, New Mexico


1) I understand that you have just finished a stint on the ACT/NAGB Steering Committee for the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Writing Assessment. What was that like? (And what does NAGB stand for?)

NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the NAEP, “America’s Report Card,” as they say. I was glad that Diane Ravitch recommended me for the Steering Committee for the new national writing assessment scheduled for 2011. I was very impressed with the intelligence and competence of Mary Crovo, representing NAEP, and Rosanne Cook, who is running the project for American College Testing. Many people on the Committee were from the National Council of Teachers of English and the College Composition world, which have little interest in having students read history books or write history research papers. In fact that world favors, or has favored in the past, personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which do a terrible job of preparing high school students for the nonfiction books and the academic term papers most will be asked to cope with in college.

2) Given the paucity of writing that goes on in the high schools of America, is it really fair to ask high school students to engage in a robust writing assessment?

It would not be fair to ask high school students to play in a football game if they hadn’t had an opportunity for lots of practice, and it is very hard to ask high school students to do the sort of academic expository writing they should be doing if they have never done it in all their years in school. But we need to start somewhere. Every high school student does not need to be able to play football, but they all need to be able to read nonfiction books and write serious term papers.


3) On the other hand, since so much of the college experience is writing, are high school teachers doing students a disservice by NOT requiring more writing?

High school teachers would make terrible football coaches and their teams would lose most if not all of their games, if the teacher/coaches did not have time to practice their teams. We take football seriously, and we take band seriously, so ample time and money are made available to produce the best teams and the best bands the high school can manage. We allow really no time for a high school teacher to work with students on heavy-duty term papers. We don’t make time for them, because we don’t think they are that important. Not as important as drama practice, yearbook, chorus, debate or a host of other activities. As a result our high school students are, once again, ill-prepared for college reading and writing. AP courses in history do not require, in most cases, that students read a complete nonfiction book, and most of them say they don’t have time to ask the student to write a research paper, because they “have to get students ready for the AP Exam.”


4) Most English teachers would cry “already overworked “or “dealing with under-prepared students” if we asked them to do more writing instruction. Is the answer smaller class sizes? Or fewer mainstreamed kids?

I have suggested the “Page Per Year Plan©,” which would ask first-graders to write a one-page paper about something other than themselves, and so on, with 8th graders writing an 8-page paper, 11th graders writing an 11-page paper, etc. This would provide English and History teachers with more students who were ready to do serious term papers, and the students would not all have to be started from scratch, like someone going out for football for the first time in their senior year in high school. In addition, if we are serious about term papers and book reports, English and History teachers should be given five class days each semester to supervise such work, and to assess it when it is handed in. We don’t do that now, so most teachers feel they are really too busy to assign these vital projects to their students.


5)  I have often seen “The American public wants more attention paid to writing” phrase. In spite of public outcry, educators or politicians don’t seem to respond. Are there just a lot of lone voices crying in the wilderness?

When there is a response, as from the National Commission on Writing in the Schools, the writing sought is almost inconceivably superficial, formulaic, sentimental, and bland. It is hard for anyone concerned about writing to understand how these and other groups concerned about “Adolescent Literacy” keep their standards so very low. Young Adult sections in bookstores and libraries are full of fiction which panders to teen interests. None of the great history books can find a place there, as teens are assumed to be interested in only little fictional stories which are basically about them and their friends. Dumbing Down doesn’t get much plainer than that.


6)  Doing a national assessment of writing must involve a lot of different opinions about writing. What were some of the fundamental issues discussed at this meeting?

The assessment planned was hobbled by the need to do the evaluation on two 25-minute samples which require no background knowledge, and could be written by students who had never spent a day in school. Nothing learned in school is required and the prompts are accordingly necessarily superficial. In addition, the claim is that “writing on demand” is somehow the standard to be met. Some claim that they are asked at work to produce something written in a short time (not 25 minutes I suppose), but even that writing is based on all the knowledge they have from their job and their schooling. For the most part any decent writing, whether at college or in the workplace, depends on time to gather knowledge, to write, to reflect, and to re-write at least at a basic level. Writing for a prompt in 25 minutes tells us basically nothing about students’ ability to acquire and understand knowledge or to organize their thoughts in a paper. A lot of work was done on this assessment, but I believe the constraints imposed requiring no knowledge and no time for thought or re-writing, make this assessment sadly uninformative about the real academic reading and writing skills of our students.

7) You recently published “Math and Reading: A Lament for High School History and Writing “ in Historically Speaking, November/December 2006, pp 36-37. What were the main point that you were trying to make in that article?

My basic concern is that if Edupundits don’t care about serious reading and writing, and Educators limit their students to fiction and to writing very short personal stories and the like, we cripple our children’s ability to read and write at the necessary level. There seems to be no awareness or desire for awareness of the absence of nonfiction books in our high schools and our (The Concord Review) study from 2002 found that the majority of high school teachers are no longer assigning 12-page term papers. Many of our high school graduates find that they need remedial writing courses when they get to college, and many also find the nonfiction books on their reading lists overwhelming, which is not surprising. If they had not played football in high school, they would not last long on a college football team. When it comes to reading and writing, we seem content to deprive our students of the practice they would need to manage college work when they get there. Many drop out as a result of this, in my view.


8) Good writing, like good piano or violin playing, probably takes time, effort, and energy. But what are the payoffs to good writing for high school students?

Reading is the path to knowledge in the liberal arts, not to slight the value of science labs and the like, and writing is the path to making knowledge one’s own.
If students have not practiced academic reading and academic writing they will literally be “out of mental shape” as they approach more difficult academic material. Some will adjust, but many too many will not, and we will lose them, at least for a while, from the opportunity for a higher education.


9) What question have I neglected to ask ?

Why have history, which might have helped us as we considered our plans in Iraq, and writing, which allows thinking to develop, been so neglected in our schools? There is a tremendous interest in the Arts, which are thought to be good for the soul, and for science, which is thought to be the key to economic success, but as one of the major foundations told me, "We are interested in Math, Minorities and Science" so we can't support history, writing, and the like. But Minorities also need to read and write, and so will our legislators, mayors, judges, lawyers, and all the citizens of our democracy no matter what their path in life. We need science and math, of course, but we also need, desperately, I believe, to do a better job of teaching reading and writing to a higher standard than we have allowed to prevail in our schools. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

BENEATH NOTICE


It is not that Chester Finn and others do not “support” student academic expository writing.

It is simply beneath their notice.

Colleges routinely complain about “book virgins” who arrive on campus never having read a book, and about poor writing skills (most have a year of remedial writing now), although the Director of the Harvard Writing Program (Expos) once said she thought HS students don’t have enough time to write about themselves (sic).

But neither Finn, nor Hess, nor Petrilli, nor Loveless, nor Hanushek, nor Peterson, etc., etc., knows, for example, whether American HS students are ever asked to read one complete nonfiction (e.g. history) book or to write one serious (nonfiction) term paper before they graduate and go to college.

Why don’t they know? Because the actual academic work of students (the main point of schooling) is beneath their notice, as they wrestle with the higher issues of politics, legislation, standards for math and basic reading, etc.

No one I could find at the Harvard Ed School reported any research interest in physics, history, literature, languages, chemistry, or any other academic subject, for which we build schools.

Our EdReform Big Domes have simply overlooked the actual academic work of students as not worthy of their attention. IMHO.

Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review
September 2016

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

ALL-ATHLETICS ALL THE TIME

All-Athletics

Will Fitzhugh, 

The Concord Review
August 24, 2016


The Boston Globe has been publishing for 144 years, and each Fall, Winter and Spring the paper publishes a special section, of 14 pages or so, on notable local public high school athletes and their coaches. There is a mention of athletes and coaches at local prep schools as well.

When The Boston Globe’s “ALL-SCHOLASTICS” Winter section arrives, it includes the “ten moments that stood out among the countless athletic stories in Massachusetts.” There are reports on the best HS athletes and coaches in Skiing, Boys’ Basketball, Girls’ Basketball, Boys’ Hockey, Girls’ Hockey, Boys’ Track, Girls’ Track, Boys’ Swimming, Girls’ Swimming, Preps, Wrestling, and Gymnastics, etc. The Preps and Gymnastics parts consolidate boys’ and girls’ accomplishments, perhaps to save space (and cost).

Each full-page section also features photographs of 9-16 athletes, with perhaps a twitter-sized paragraph on their achievements. In addition, there are 30 photos and tweets about some coaches, spread among the various sports. There are 26 “Prep” athletes mentioned, from various sports, but I haven't seen any “Prep” coaches profiled. For each high school sport there are two “athletes of the year” identified, and all the coaches are “coaches of the year” in their sport.

There may be, at this time, some high school “students of the year” in English, math, Chinese, physics, Latin, chemistry, European history, U.S. history, biology, and the like. There may also be high school “teachers of the year” in these and other academic subjects, but their names, photos, and descriptions are not to be found in The Boston Globe, perhaps the most well-known paper in the “Athens of America” (Boston).

It may be the case, indeed it probably is the case, that some of the athletes featured in the “All-Scholastics” sections are also high school students of math, history, English, science, and languages, but you would not know that from the coverage of The Boston Globe. The coaches of the year may in many, if not all, cases, also be teachers of academic subjects in the Massachusetts public and private schools, but that remains only a guess as well.

When the British architect Christopher Wren was buried in 1723, part of his epitaph, written by his eldest son, Christopher Wren, Jr., read: “Lector, si monumentum requiris, Circumspice.” If you wanted to judge his interest, efforts, and accomplishments, all you had to do was look around you. His work was there for all to see.

The work of Massachusetts high school athletes and coaches is all around us in The Boston Globe on a regular basis, but the work of our high school scholars and teachers is nowhere to be seen in that public record.

If one seeks a monument to anti-academic and anti-intellectual views and practices in Boston today, one need look no further than The Boston Globe. I read it every day, but if it folded, I would not miss its attention to and recognition of the academic efforts and accomplishments of Massachusetts secondary students and their teachers, because there is none now, and never has been any, no matter how many reports on education reform and academic standards it may have published over the years. If you ask how much The Boston Globe editors (and I am sure The Globe is not alone in this) care about the good academic work now actually being done by high school teachers and their students in Massachusetts, the answer is, from the evidence, that they do not.

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

MAKING OF A RELIC


In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers: “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”


Teacher Magazine
March 1, 2002
The Making of a Relic

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species. Focus on creative writing, fear of plagiarism, fascination with PowerPoint presentations, and lack of planning time have been joined by a notable absence of concern about term papers in virtually all of the work on state standards. As a result, far too many American high school students never get the chance to do the reading and writing that a serious history paper requires. They then enter college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors, and of the employers who later hire them. The Ford Motor Co., for example, had to institute writing classes to ensure that their people are able to produce readable reports, memos, and the like.

A few years ago, a survey of English and social studies standards by the Thomas B. Fordham Foundation showed that term papers are, indeed, ignored. The Pew Charitable Trust’s Standards for Success program, with its focus on high school and college articulation of standards and expectations, likewise includes no term papers. Neither has the American Diploma Project in Washington, D.C., working to define the expectations of high schools, colleges, and employers, yet found a place in its deliberations for history research papers. One problem for these groups and others, of course, is that serious term papers cannot be assessed in a one-hour objective test. But their impact on students and the consequences of never having done one can be incalculable.

In the early 1980s, while I was teaching American history to high school sophomores in Concord, Massachusetts, each of my students had to write a biographical paper on a U.S. president. One student chose John F. Kennedy, and I lent him a copy of Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.’s A Thousand Days. The boy took a look at the rather large book, and told me, “I can’t read this.” I said, “Yes, you can,” and eventually, he was able to finish it. Five or six years later, out of the blue, I got a letter from the student. He was now a Junior at Yale, and he wanted to thank me for making him read Schlesinger’s book. It was the first serious work of nonfiction he had ever read, and being able to get through it had done something for his self-confidence. Of course, he was the one who had forced himself to read the book, but the anecdote points up one of the great advantages of working on a history term paper. The experience often will mark the first time a high school student discovers that he or she is capable of reading a book on an important topic.

When I was an alumni interviewer for Harvard College, I asked one high school boy what he thought he might major in. History, he replied. I had said nothing about my own interest in the subject, and all he knew about me was that I was an alum. But after he gave me his answer, I naturally asked what his favorite history book was. Before long, it became clear that, while this student had achieved good grades and advanced placement scores, he had studied only textbooks. No one had ever handed him a good history book and encouraged him to read it, apparently. More than likely, he had never had to write a serious history paper either. If he had, he might have been forced to read a book or two in the field.

In the March 14, 2001, issue of Education Week, Victor Henningsen, director of the history department at Phillips Academy in Andover, had this to say about term papers; “There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you have posed, to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the advanced placement exam, but they do remember the papers they have written, and so do I.”

Since 1987, I have been the editor of The Concord Review, a quarterly journal of history research papers written by high school students. We’ve published 528 [1,198] papers (averaging 7,400 words, including endnotes and bibliography) by students from 42 [44] states and 33 [40] foreign countries. Out of some 22,000 public and private high schools in the United States, we receive about 600 [200] essays a year, from which we publish 11 in each issue. If you do the calculation, that means that more than 21,000 high schools do not even submit one history essay for consideration in a given year. While this may not prove that exceptional history essays are not being written at those schools, it is not an encouraging sign.

As for what teachers expect in their high school history classes in lieu of research papers, I have only anecdotal evidence. I met with the head of the history department at a public high school in New Jersey once, a man very active in the National Council for History Education, and asked him why he never sent papers from his best students to The Concord Review. He said he didn’t have his students do research papers anymore; they make PowerPoint presentations and write historical fiction instead. When I asked the now-retired head of history at Scarsdale High School in New York, why, even though he subscribed to The Concord Review, he never submitted student papers for consideration, he too said he no longer assigned papers. After the AP exam, he would hold what he called the Trial of James Buchanan for his role in helping to precipitate the Civil War. His students would then write responses on that subject instead.

After I published her paper on the Women’s Temperance Union, the class valedictorian at a public high school on Staten Island wrote me to say she felt weak in expository writing and offered some reasons. Here are her words: “I attend a school where students are given few opportunities to develop their talents in this field. It is assumed students will learn how to write in college.” I feel confident in saying that, on the college side, there is the expectation that students will learn at least the rudiments of putting together a research paper while they are still in high school. College humanities professors, slow to learn perhaps, are routinely surprised when they find that this is not the case. And rightly so. What is at work here?

For one thing, creative writing often rules at the high school level (and earlier in many cases). Even the director of Harvard’s Expository Writing program for undergraduates has said she thinks that teenagers don’t get enough chances to write about their feelings, anxieties, hopes, and dreams, and that they shouldn’t be pushed to work on research papers until college. The National Writing Project in Berkeley, California, a program that reaches hundreds of teachers each year, takes a postmodern approach to what it calls “Literatures,” and never comes within a mile of considering that students could use some work on research skills and expository writing.

I have actually seen what teenagers can do, and it is more like the following, an excerpt from an essay published a few years back in The Concord Review. (more examples at www.tcr.org) This passage concludes an essay by a high school Junior who went on to major in civil engineering at Princeton, get a Ph.D. in earthquake engineering at Stanford, and she is now an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell.

As is usually the case with extended, deeply-held disagreements, no one person or group was the cause of the split in the woman suffrage movement. On both sides, a stubborn eagerness to enfranchise women hindered the effort to do so. Abolitionists and Republicans refused to unite equally with woman suffragists. Stanton and Anthony, blinded for a while by their desperation to succeed, turned to racism, putting blacks and women against each other at a time when each needed the other’s support most. The one thing that remains clear is that, while in some ways it helped women discover their own power, the division of forces weakened the overall strength of the movement. As a result of the disagreements within the woman suffrage movement, the 1860s turned out to be a missed opportunity for woman suffragists, just as Stanton had predicted. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, they were forced to wait another 50 years for the fulfillment of their dream.

High school kids are fully capable of writing long, serious history papers. And they will get a lot out of doing so, not only in terms of reading nonfiction, but also in learning to write nonfiction themselves. These days, too many of our students are not given that chance to grow. Colleges may continue doing what they can to help teenagers master the rudiments of expository writing, but much of what these high school students have lost can never be recouped in remedial coursework.


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“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics™
blog: www.tcr.org/blog