Saturday, December 2, 2017



2 December 2017
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

In the fifties, I think it was, there was a science fiction novel, my copy of which has disappeared, by, I think, Charles Eric Maine, called High Vacuum. The idea was that in teaching cadets in the space program about the dangers of vacuum to their survival in space, it was useful to have them think about Vacuum as trying to get into their spacecraft and kill them. From a “Safety First” point of view, it seemed more practical for spacemen, as they were thought of in the 1950s, to think of keeping high vacuum out of their craft rather than to think about keeping their life-supporting oxygen from escaping, thus leaving them to die. So, instead of thinking of vacuum as the absence of atmosphere, they were taught to think of it as an active agent trying to get “in” and kill them.

    When we think of Mediocrity in education, a similar strategy is advisable  for us. Generally it is thought that Mediocrity is the absence of excellence, a lack of good quality in performance or knowledge. But in thinking about standards in our schools, I have come more and more to regard Mediocrity as an active agent, trying (with notable success) to establish itself and spread itself throughout every academic enterprise. I think of it as a potent force for lowering standards, and for reducing the value we place on the work that teachers and students should be doing in the classroom. I know we could outline many of the strategies employed, and many victories won, by the forces of Mediocrity in our schools, and this is something to which I believe we should turn more of our attention as we think about education reform.

    But let us think for a moment of the gifted students in our classrooms, and ask ourselves why so many of them have “dropped out” of education. What are some of the demands and pressures on them which make it harder for them to do what they are good at, which is to learn a lot and achieve proficiency in a variety of the skills of understanding and expression in history, literature, science and math?

    One of the problems with teaching high school students is that you never know who is out there. As you look out over your class, you can easily forget that Mohandas K. Gandhi, Henry Kissinger, George Orwell, Richard Feynman, Marie Curie, Winston Churchill, Colin Powell, Robert Oppenheimer, Madeleine Albright, and George C. Marshall, among others, were once high school students too. And to some extent, they were all disguised as teenagers. Some gifted students stand out and seem to be immune to any effort to make them work less hard, or  pretend to be stupid, or be ashamed of being smart, or try harder to be popular in order to compensate for the “problem” of being really bright, but some gifted students instead hide out and do not succeed in finding a good place to work in the classroom. 

We can’t imagine this sort of thing happening on the playing field, where a gifted athlete would try to hide his athletic skills for fear of being rejected. The very idea is absurd. Yet this is what we see with too many bright students in school. And many in the Mediocrity establishment tell them, in one way or another, that their intelligence and skill at learning are not things to be so proud of, that they should not be “elitist,” that they should make amends  by performing community service, that they should help other students as a sort of due penance for the sin of excellence, and the like. We would not dream of treating our best athletes this way, yet we do it to bright kids all the time, almost without thinking about it.

    We seem to have some strange confusion about the relative roles of genes and hard work.
In athletics, apparently, no matter how much natural talent an athlete has, it is all right to think that her achievement is the result of real effort and thus praiseworthy, yet in academics we seem to believe that no matter how hard a student works, the achievement is fundamentally the result of her genes and thus nothing to be proud of. Among the worst consequences of this philosophy are that it has encouraged black students to huge efforts and superb achievement on the courts and playing fields, but discouraged them from making much effort in the classroom, lest they be seen as “acting white.” Black kids can dominate sports invented by white people, but if the curriculum is defined as “white,” then black kids must not be expected to do well in it. As this Rule of Mediocrity continues to operate, we all pay the cost.

Wednesday, November 15, 2017


"History is Philosophy Teaching by Examples"...



Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Monday, November 13, 2017


Start assigning term papers early.

Think Little League.

Think Pop Warner.

Don't wait till High School...

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Monday, November 6, 2017


Good Student Academic work inspires 
Good Student Academic Work.

For examples from 40 countries, email:

Will Fitzhugh at

Thursday, November 2, 2017


Pattern recognition, the fourth component of sound decision making, is why history is such an essential part of a liberal education—why, in the famous words of George Santayana, those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it. Pattern recognition refers to the ability to see the relevance of other nonidentical situations. It is inextricably linked with experience. A child can play wonderful chess at age seven or eight just by knowing the tactical techniques of chess and having an abundance of raw talent for the game. What takes the prodigy to the grandmaster level in his teens is his accumulated exposure to thousands of positions combined with the ability to see the similarities of those positions to the one he faces in the present game. Similarly, a young physician can be a technically proficient diagnostician the day he finishes his internship, but he cannot become a great diagnostician except by accumulating the experience that is the foundation of pattern recognition.

    Both of these examples illustrate how experience can be personal and vicarious. Personal experience is important, but the chess prodigy studies thousands of games played by the great players of the past to gain vicarious experience. The physician who wants to become a great diagnostician immerses himself in medical journals and texts long after medical school to build up his vicarious experience and thereby enhance his capacity for pattern recognition.

    In all of the great cultural, political, and economic issues of the day, the study of history is how we develop vicarious experience, and that’s why extensive study of history must be part of a liberal education. I do not mean one required survey course, but closer to half a dozen. The rewards of studying history are not abstract. The very creation of the United States is a case in point. The Founders did not imagine that they could make up a Constitution in a vacuum. They consciously undertook a study of democracies and republics from ancient Greece and Rome up through their own time, analyzing the reasons why each had collapsed. The mechanisms they devised—checks and balances, separation of powers, and the rest—were directly influenced by that analysis.

Charles Murray, Real Education: Four Simple Truths for Bringing America's Schools Back to Reality 

 (Kindle Locations 1444-1459). The Crown Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017


HS Students who have not read one History book are not ready for college.

Saturday, October 21, 2017


High School students who have not written one term paper are not ready for college.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review