Friday, August 4, 2017

TURNABOUT

TURNABOUT
4 August 2017
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

The New Common Core Standards call for a 50% reduction in “literary” [aka fictional noninformational texts] readings for students, and an increase in nonfiction informational texts, so that students may be better prepared for the nonfiction they will encounter in college and at work.
In addition to memos, technical manuals, and menus (and bus schedules?), the nonfiction informational texts suggested include The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers.
History books, such as those by David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, David McCullough, Ron Chernow, Paul Johnson, Martin Gilbert, etc. are not among the nonfiction informational texts recommended, perhaps to keep students from having to read any complete books while they are still in high school.
In the spirit of Turnabout, let us consider saving students more time from their fictional noninformational text readings (previously known as literature) by cutting back on the complete novels, plays and poems formerly offered in our high schools. For instance, instead of Pride and Prejudice (the whole novel), students could be asked to read Chapter Three. Instead of the complete Romeo and Juliet, they could read Act Two, Scene Two, and in poetry, instead of a whole sonnet, perhaps just alternate stanzas could be assigned. In this way, they could get the “gist” of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, “grist” for their deeper analytic cognitive thinking skill mills.
As the goal is to develop deeply critical analytic cognitive thinking skills, surely there is no need to read a whole book either in English or in History classes. This will not be a loss in Social Studies classes, since they don’t assign complete books anyway, but it may be a wrench for English teachers who probably still think that there is some value in reading a whole novel, or a whole play, or even a complete poem.
But change is change is change, as Gertrude Stein might have written, and if our teachers are to develop themselves professionally to offer the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards, they will just have to learn to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding they have tried to develop from readings for students in the past.
As Caleb Nelson wrote in 1990 in The Atlantic Monthly, speaking about an older Common Core at Harvard College:
The philosophy behind the [Harvard College] Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so….
The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply on subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical cognitive analytical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think “deeply,” for example, about Abraham Lincoln’s Second Inaugural Address, while knowing nothing about the nation’s Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.
Students’ new Common academic work with texts about which they will be asked to Think & Learn Deeply, may encourage them to believe that ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking, in the same way that those who have written the Common Core Standards believe that they can think deeply about and make policy for our many state education systems, without having spent much, if any time, as teachers themselves, or even in meeting with teachers who have the experience they lack.
It may very well turn out that ignorance and incompetence transfer from one domain to another much better than deeper thinking skills do, and that the current mad flight from knowledge and understanding, while clearly very well funded, has led to Standards which will mean that our high school students [those that do not drop out] will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

CHICAGO BOUND


In fact, a few months ago I received an email from a high schooler in California who had read The Concord Review, looking for some research advice!

From: Name Withheld
Date: May 25, 2017 at 20:49:39 EDT
To: Will Fitzhugh <fitzhugh@tcr.org>
Subject: Emerson Prize

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh, 

Last night I came home late from an orchestra concert to find your letter about the Emerson Prize. What an amazing surprise! I just wanted to say how grateful I am for both this, and the chance to be published in your impressive journal in the first place. 

I have no doubt that it helped me get into the University of Chicago, where I'll be going next year. From the moment I visited it I knew it was the place where I could see myself finding that same entrancement in learning (what our headmaster calls "flow,") that I get while deep in the research process. 

Although I'm not usually one for awards and such, your recognition has allowed me to feel that maybe pursuing what I love most in school is not so futile after all...and that something as seemingly solitary as a history paper can exist outside of the classroom and reach a wider audience. In fact, a few months ago I received an email from a high schooler in California who had read The Concord Review, looking for some research advice!

Thanks again for all of your help, the prize (which I promise to put to good use,) and your invaluable journal.  

Sincerely,
(Signed)
[Commonwealth School, Class of 2017
"Judicial Independence,"
The Concord Review, Winter 2016
Volume 27 Emerson Prize]


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Quod Erat Demonstrandum

Premise 1:
Bright Diligent High School students can write serious interesting History research papers
Check

Premise 2:
Their History papers will inspire emulation among their High School peers.
Check

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

TCR AUTHOR NEWS

Asheville School News

Richard Baek   Class of 2017   

Published in The Concord Review

An essay by Asheville School senior Richard Baek has been accepted for publication in The Concord Review, a prestigious academic journal that showcases excellent research papers written by secondary school students. Baek's 4,488-word essay, "John Stuart Mill at The British East India Company: A Defender of Despotism or A Champion of Freedom?" will appear in the Summer 2017 issue.


Baek is thrilled that his essay will be included in The Concord Review. "For me, this is a huge honor," he said. "I am especially glad that students at secondary schools around the world will have a chance to derive inspiration for their own work in history from my essay." 


The Concord Review is highly selective—according to their website, they publish about 5% of submitted essays. A recent editorial in The Boston Globe described The Concord Review as "the world's foremost showcase for first-rate history research by secondary school students." In a 2011 New York Times article, Harvard's Dean of Admissions William Fitzsimmons said that having an essay accepted in the journal was akin to winning a national math competition. 


In his essay, Baek analyzes Mill's theories, actions, and beliefs: "In a classical philosophical discourse, John Stuart Mill is often assumed to be a liberal-minded thinker who championed freedom and respected particularities of different cultures," Baek wrote. "However, contrary to this common assumption, John Mill viewed the rights and best interests of the Indian subjects in a similar manner to his chauvinist father, James Mill. In theory, the younger Mill espoused autonomy and freedom. But in practice, he believed in the alleged backwardness of the Indian political customs, and his ideas were also a forerunner of the late-nineteenth century imperialist movement led by Benjamin Disraeli and Joseph Chamberlain." 


Writing this essay was a labor of love for Baek. He began it in a summer program before his Junior year and spent his free time revising the essay before submitting it earlier this year. Baek says that the topic fascinates him because he has always loved studying the theories of John Stuart Mill. 


Baek plans to enter The University of Pennsylvania next year.


The Concord Review is published by William Fitzhugh, and it has been featured in a wide variety of outlets including The Boston Globe, The Washington Post, The New York Times, and The Chicago Tribune. You can read more about The Concord Review and purchase copies of the 2017 Summer issue at tcr.org...


News Archives Page [Asheville, North Carolina]

Monday, June 19, 2017

WRITING IS IN A "SKILLS" RUT


A nationally famous teacher of teachers of writing [Lucy Calkins] once told me:

“I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much…” 

That is a splendid example of the divorce between content and process 
in common writing instruction.

Houston, Texas

Process vs. Content

Tuesday, June 20, 2006
Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review


When teaching our students to write, not only are standards set very low in most high schools, limiting students to the five-paragraph essay, responses to a document-based question, or the 500-word personal (or college) essay about matters which are often no one else’s business, but we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of processes.


On the one hand writing is difficult enough to do, and academic writing is especially difficult if the student hasn’t read anything, and on the other hand teachers feel the need to have students “produce” writing, however short or superficial that writing may be. So writing consultants and writing teachers feel they must come up with guidelines, parameters, checklists, and the like, as props to substitute for students’ absent motivation to describe or express in writing something they have learned.


Samuel Johnson once said, “an author will turn over half a library to produce one book,” the point being, as I understand it, that good writing must be based on extensive reading. But reading is just the step that is left out of the “Writing Process” in too many instances. The result is that students in fact do not have much to say, so of course they don’t have much they want to communicate in writing.


Enter the guidelines. Students are told to write a topic sentence, to express one idea per paragraph, to follow the structure of Introduction, Body, Conclusion, to follow the “Twelve Steps to Effective Writing,” and the like. This the students can be made to do, but the result is too often empty, formulaic writing which students come to despise, and which does not prepare them for the serious academic papers they may be asked to do in college.


I fear that the History book report, at least at the high school level in too many places, has died in the United States. Perhaps people will contact me with welcome evidence to the contrary, but where it is no longer done, students have not only been discouraged from reading nonfiction, but also have been led to believe that they can and must write to formula without knowing something—for instance about the contents of a good book—before they write.


A nationally famous teacher of teachers of writing once told me: “I teach writing, I don’t get into content that much...” This is a splendid example of the divorce between content and process in common writing instruction.


Reading and writing are inseparable partners, in my view. In letters from authors of essays published in The Concord Review over the years, they often say that they read so much about something in History that they reached a point where they felt a strong need to tell people what they had found out. The knowledge they had acquired had given them the desire to write well so that others could share and appreciate it as they did.


This is where good academic writing should start. When the motivation is there, born from knowledge gained, then the writing process follows a much more natural and straightforward path. Then the student can write, read what they have written, and see what they have left out, what they need to learn more about, and what they have failed to express as clearly as they wanted to. Then they read more, re-write, and do all the natural things that have always led to good academic writing, whether in history or in any other subject.


At that point the guidelines are no longer needed, because the student has become immersed in the real work of expressing the meaning and value of something they know is worth writing about. This writing helps them discover the limits of their own understanding of the subject and allows them to see more clearly what they themselves think about the subject. The process of critiquing their own writing becomes natural and automatic. This is not to deny, of course, the value of reading what they have written to a friend or of giving it to a teacher for criticism and advice. But the writing techniques and processes no longer stop up the natural springs for the motivation to write.


As students are encouraged to learn more before they write, their writing will gradually extend past the five-paragraph size so often constraining the craft of writing in our schools. Our Page Per Year Plan© suggests that all public high school Seniors could be expected to write a twelve-page history research paper, if they had written an eleven-page paper their Junior year, a ten-page paper their Sophomore year, and a nine-page paper their Freshman year, and so on all the way back through the five-page paper in Fifth Grade and even to a one-page paper on a topic other than themselves their first year in school. With the Page Per Year Plan©, every Senior in high school will have learned, for that twelve-page paper, more about some topic probably than anyone else in their class knows, perhaps even more than any of their teachers knows about that subject. They will have had in the course of writing longer papers each year, that first taste of being a scholar which will serve them so well in higher education and beyond.


Writing is always much harder when the student has nothing to communicate, and the proliferating paraphernalia of structural aids from writing consultants and teachers often simply encumber students and alienate them from the essential benefits of writing. John Adams urged his fellow citizens to “Dare to read, think, speak and write” so that they could contribute to the civilization we have been given to enjoy and preserve. Let us endeavor to allow students to discover, through their own academic reading and writing, both the discipline and the satisfactions of writing carefully and well.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

BIBLIOPHOBIA


Education Week Commentary
BIBLIOPHOBIA
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
4 October 2006 
The Boston Globe reported recently that Michelle Wie, at 16, in addition to getting out now and then for a good game of golf, not only speaks Korean and English, but has also taken four years of Japanese, and is starting Mandarin Chinese. She is planning to apply early to Stanford. I would venture the opinion, however, that in her high school, not only has her academic writing been limited to the five-paragraph essay, but it is very likely that she has not been assigned a complete nonfiction book and will not be given such an assignment at any time in her high school years.

For the last two [13] years, and especially since the National Endowment for the Arts’ large study of the reading of fiction in the United States, by young people and others, I have sought funding for a much smaller study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools. This proposed study, which Diane Ravitch has called “timely and relevant,” has been turned down by the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a number of large and small foundations and institutes so far.

I have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence, even from people who would be quite shocked to hear that high school English departments are no longer assigning any complete novels, that they understand (and accept) that nonfiction books, for instance history books, are not being assigned at all. 

One partner in a law firm in Boston, who went to Phillips Academy in Andover several decades ago, commented that there was no point in such a study because everyone knows there are no history books assigned in schools. Even at Andover in his day, he had only selections, readings and the like, never a complete book. A Senior Fellow at the Manhattan Institute, sometimes thought of as a conservative place, told me, when I commented that I couldn’t find anyone who agrees that our high school students should read one book, that “The only hope is parents introducing their kids to reading, and that’s a mighty slim hope.” 

For the last two (three) decades, I have been working to encourage the writing of history research papers by our high school students, but it has become apparent to me that one of the many problems in getting students to undertake such a task is that so many do not read any history, and so have nothing to write about. But as I began to try to find out about the reading of nonfiction books, I have found more and more apathy and acceptance of the situation in which as long as the English department controls reading and writing in our schools, the reading will be fiction, and the writing will be personal, creative or the five-paragraph essay.

Now consider the fact that while most of our high school students are not fluent in English and Korean, and are not studying Japanese or Mandarin, tens or hundreds of thousands of them are expected to manage Chemistry, Calculus, and Physics. I don’t understand the view that reading a good history book is more difficult than Calculus, but there it seems to be.

Why is this important? ACT found this Spring that 49% of our high school graduates (half of the 70% who do graduate) cannot read at the level of freshman college texts. Common sense, buttressed by such work as that of E.D. Hirsch, Jr., for instance in his most recent book, The Knowledge Deficit, would lead to the assumption that perhaps the reason so many students need remedial work in college (65% of those in Massachusetts’ community colleges and 34% of those in Massachusetts’ four-year colleges, according to The Boston Globe), and the reason so many do not return for their sophomore year, may be because they have never faced a nonfiction book before, and they may have so little knowledge that they do not know what their professors are talking about.

These days, of course, there is a great deal of attention given to many educational issues, and one of the current Edupundit maxims is that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality. So lots of attention and many millions of dollars go into teacher training, re-training, professional development, and the like.

I believe the truth is otherwise. The most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work. Those who concern themselves with teacher quality only assume that better teachers will lead to more student academic work, but if they would care to look, the examples of the lousy teacher with the diligent student who does well, and the superior teacher with a student who does no academic work, are everywhere to be found.

Ignoring academic writing and the reading of nonfiction books at the high school level can only prolong, it seems to me, the high levels of remediation and failure in college that we already have. I hope that it may soon become possible to discover if our high school students are indeed discouraged from reading a history book and from writing a serious term paper, and that then we might turn more of our attention to asking for the student academic work that alone can lead to the academic achievement we all wish to see for our students.

The Concord Review, 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776
www.tcr.org     978-443-0022     fitzhugh@tcr.org

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

ACADEMIC WRITING

EDUCATION NEWS, Houston, Texas

"Academic Writing for HS Students"


May 18, 2017 by Will Fitzhugh EducationViews Contributor





High School students wishing to submit their History research papers for consideration by The Concord Review should follow a few simple rules:

Pick a Historical topic you can stay with and read a lot about it.

Find lots of good History sources in books and articles and take notes from them.

Make a good outline of your paper before you write it.

Write your paper as if for someone who is also a strong History buff.

Read your first draft aloud to a teacher, a parent, a friend, or any intelligent reader.

Take advantage of their comments in your final draft.

Realize that the average paper published in The Concord Review is now 8,400 words, (about 32 pages) with endnotes and bibliography.

Remember that you are in competition with your peers from 44 states and 40 other countries for a place in that quarterly journal, which accepts about 7% of the papers submitted.

Read some of the papers published in The Concord Review (see the bookstore at tcr.org) to get an idea of the quality of the papers published there.

About 40% of the High School students published in The Concord Review go to Ivy League colleges or Stanford.

If you have done the research and worked hard on your writing to let people know all that you have learned about your Historical topic, be willing to take your chances and submit your paper to The Concord Review at submit@tcr.org.

The Concord Review needs all the great History research papers it can get, which it can use to inspire other secondary students to read more History and to work on serious History research papers of their own, to help them get ready for college.

Questions and Comments Welcomed: Will Fitzhugh, TCR Founder, at fitzhugh@tcr.org