Tuesday, January 12, 2021

COLLEGE READINESS

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
Raleigh, North Carolina


Clarion Call
“Windows on College Readiness”

By Will Fitzhugh
October 26, 2006


The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a report called “Reclaiming the American Dream.” The study was intended to find out how to get more U.S. high school students prepared for and through college.

Much of the report is about getting kids to go to college, and it finds that if there is enough money provided, and if parents, peers, counselors and teachers say going to college is important, more high school students are likely to go.

The major weakness of the report, in my view, is its suggestions for the kind of high school work that will help students to do college work and to graduate.

One of the concluding statements is that “Inertia is particularly difficult to overcome when people are unaware that a problem exists or that the potential for solving it is real.” What a useful insight. What they recommend for high school students is “a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.” What could be wrong with that?

Two very simple and basic things are wrong with that. Current “college preparatory” curricula, including AP courses, do not include the reading of complete nonfiction books or the writing of serious research papers.

That is almost as if we had a crisis in preparing high school football players for success in college and recommended a standard preparation program which did not give them practice in running, blocking and tackling. ACT found last spring that 49 percent of the high school students it tested could not read at the level of college freshman texts. And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey in which 90 percent of college professors thought high school students were not well prepared in reading, writing and doing research. A true college education requires reading serious books and writing substantial papers—although many schools have watered their requirements down. High school students should be ready for in-depth study.

If high school football players haven’t done much blocking or tackling in high school, no one would expect them to play well in college, but somehow we expect high school students in a college preparatory program which includes no nonfiction books and no real research papers to do well with college reading lists and with college term paper assignments.

In my state, Massachusetts, 34 percent of the students who go to state four-year colleges are in remedial classes, according to The Boston Globe. Those students had the expectations, support, access and aspiration for the college dream, but when they got there, they were not ready to do the work.

The Gates report says that “the high school environment needs to provide students with high expectations and strong teaching...” but without any real focus on students’ independent academic reading and writing, that environment doesn’t do the job of preparing students for college work.

If we want students to be able to read and understand college books and to write research papers there, then we must give students a chance to learn how to do that in a ”rigorous college preparatory program” in high school. But that is not happening, and just about no one is paying attention to the fact that it is not happening.

The inertia in this case that is “particularly difficult to overcome” is the exclusive focus on what teachers do and what courses cover in textbooks. There must be more attention to the actual academic work that students are required to do—at least in the humanities. Perhaps in mathematics and the sciences, some students are really doing the kind of academic work that prepares them, but in the world of academic reading (nonfiction books) and academic writing (serious research papers), most schools badly serve their students. This report, like so many others, completely misses that.

The Business Roundtable reported in 2004 that their member companies were spending more than $3 billion each year on remedial writing courses for both salaried and hourly employees, so even many of our college graduates may not have achieved a very satisfactory level of academic competence in reading and writing these days. With so many ill-prepared students coming into college, many professors have taken the path of least resistance and watered down their courses.

Our high school programs for students who hope to succeed in college and beyond should require them to write extended essays and papers which are rigorously graded. They should also require students to read at least one serious complete nonfiction book every year. While this may be beyond the prevailing and generally feeble educational standards of the moment, if we don’t do it, most U.S. high school students will continue to be unprepared for higher education.


Will Fitzhugh (fitzhugh@tcr.org) is the founder of The Concord Review; www.tcr.org; Varsity Academics@ is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.;
Teach with Examples

Monday, January 4, 2021

ACADEMIC FITNESS

Education News: Houston, Texas

Academic Fitness


A few years ago I was at a conference of a few hundred History/Social Studies educators, consultants, etc. at the Center for the Study of the Senate in Boston. I was introduced, as The Concord Review and I had recently been the subjects of an op-ed column in The Boston Globe.

After several presentations and some discussion of History/Social Studies in the schools, I asked the question: “Is there then a consensus that high school students are incapable of reading a complete History book?” No one objected to that suggestion.

We have talked for several decades about “Varsity Academics®” and we now have that as a trademark. We have wanted to call attention to the possibility that work on academic expository writing in History could be seen as parallel to the work that goes into preparing a young athlete to be accepted on varsity sports teams in high school. 

We still think that academic writing should start at about the same time as Little League and Pop Warner, giving students years to learn more about and to get better at term papers, especially in History. 

We are now claiming a need for the same long-term preparation for academic reading, so that high school seniors, instead of being judged incapable, in advance, of reading a complete History book, would turn out to be quite capable of doing so, as a result of many years of serious nonfiction reading at growing levels of difficulty, during their school years. 

At present, most of the focus in our schools is on writing that is personal or creative, and that has led to widespread incompetence in academic expository writing. Similarly what students are asked to read is mostly fiction, leading to incompetence in managing actual History books. These disabilities can be remedied by the regular development of academic fitness, in nonfiction reading and writing, especially in History, all through the years in school.


Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review

tcr.org

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

ANCIENT ROME

I no longer think, as I once naively did, that we have much to learn directly from the Romans—or, for that matter, from the ancient Greeks, or from any other ancient civilisation. We do not need to read of the difficulties of the Roman legions in Mesopotamia or against the Parthians to understand why modern military interventions in western Asia might be ill advised. I am not even certain that those generals who claim to follow the tactics of Julius Caesar really do so in more than their own imaginations. And attractive as some Roman approaches to citizenship may sound, as I have tried to explain them, it would be folly to imagine that they could be applied to our situation, centuries later. Besides, ‘the Romans’ were as divided about how they thought the world worked, or should work, as we are. There is no simple Roman model to follow. If only things were that easy.

But I am more and more convinced that we have an enormous amount to learn—as much about ourselves as about the past—by engaging with the history of the Romans, their poetry and prose, their controversies and arguments. Western culture has a very varied inheritance. Happily, we are not the heirs of the classical past alone. Nevertheless, since the Renaissance at least, many of our most fundamental assumptions about power, citizenship, responsibility, political violence, empire, luxury and beauty have been formed, and tested, in dialogue with the Romans and their writing.

Mary Beard, SPQR: A History of Ancient Rome (535). Liveright. [2015] Kindle Edition

Monday, December 14, 2020

WILLIAM HARVEY

Living in Vein
Remember the man who invented modern medicine.
review of William Harvey A Life in Circulation
by Thomas Wright, Oxford, 2013


Joshua Gelernter
The Weekly Standard, September 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 2

Science doesn’t make a splash in the news too often. But a year or so ago, when the CERN labs announced that they might have observed the “God particle,” everyone got very excited. A year of peer-review later, it appears they were right: After a 50-year search, the Higgs boson has been found—“God particle” is a silly, press-hype sort of name; but finding the Higgs boson is, genuinely, a big deal. It confirms the existence of the Higgs field, the hitherto-theoretical field that imbues objects with mass. Understanding mass will help us understand gravity and time, and all the other sundry, interconnected pieces of physics. It’s a big step towards understanding why the world works the way it does. 


Finding the Higgs boson means that the knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake reservoir is filling up. And the reservoir’s high-water mark is owed mostly to the accumulated work of a few dozen big minds belonging to men everyone’s heard of: Newton and Einstein, Mendel and Darwin, Watson and Crick, and so forth. But none of their discoveries would have happened if controlled-experiment, cause-and-effect science hadn’t taken over from the Aristotelian method of anecdotal deduction. That switch happened 300 years ago, when a man named William Harvey discovered that blood circulates—and accidentally invented hard science. 


Harvey was born in 1578 to Thomas Harvey, a yeoman landowner in Kent, England. The elder Harvey’s ambition in life was to have successful sons, so he packed his firstborn William off to Cambridge to become a physician. College life around the turn of the 17th century was no picnic: Harvey slept in an unheated attic with three other students and was roused by a bell at 4 a.m. so that he could be at church by 5, at class by 6, and in class till 10 at night. 


Despite the conditions, Harvey thrived as a student and won the Matthew Parker Scholarship, the first medical scholarship ever awarded in England. It required its beneficiary be “able, learned, and worthy” and not be “deformed, dumb, lame, maimed, mutilated, sick, invalid, or Welsh.” Harvey advanced rapidly, excelling in his studies and dominating the thesis-defense shows called “disputations.” At disputations, teams of students would debate each other in “smooth, vivid, masculine” Latin. Harvey was the master arguer of his college and sometimes ended his matches by shouting “Tuo gladio jugulabo!” (“Now I will slit your throat with your own [rhetorical] sword!”) The crowds that turned out to watch these disputations would cheer him like a king returning from victory. After a few terms embarrassing his Cambridge peers, he set off for Europe’s finest school of medicine, the University of Padua.


Padua was a big change from the stringency of Cambridge. In the early 1600s, Englishmen regarded Italy as the world capital of atheism and debauchery; Padua worked hard to prove them right. Hordes of students waded through the manure-filled streets to duel each other, Tybalt-style. Drunken doctoral candidates would rampage through shops and monasteries, smashing things; monks and shopkeepers would riot and try to set the university and its students on fire. Even the anatomy lectures that had drawn Harvey from Cambridge were in on the chaos, featuring dissections of freshly killed Paduans pilfered from open-casket funerals. Despite the anarchy, the university assembled a faculty featuring some of the generation’s great minds (Galileo was head of the mathematics department), and the experience set Harvey down a path that would change the world of science. And the world, generally.


In Harvey’s time, all medicine was based on the work of the Greek philosopher Galen, who had been dead for 1,400 years. Galen believed that health depended on the balance of the four humors—yellow and black bile, blood, and phlegm—and that the heart’s role was to keep the humors regulated. Blood, he thought, came from the liver. Doctors disputing Galen’s work were rare: Contradicting Galen was a good way to get blacklisted, and inductees of the College of Physicians in London swore an oath never to speak disrespectfully of him. But at wild and crazy Padua, one of Harvey’s teachers cut open a heart and observed that Galen had made a mistake in describing one of the chamber walls as porous. A small mistake, it appeared, and Galen’s reputation at large remained untarnished. In Harvey’s eyes, however, the veneer of infallibility had been cracked.


William Harvey, M.D., left Padua in 1602, returned to England, joined the College of Physicians, took the respect-for-Galen oath—and began to conduct private experiments in a home laboratory. His curiosity had been roused: It was time, he decided, to reexamine the heart’s functions, through a series of impartial, Galen-free experiments. 


According to Galen, the heart, after receiving blood from the liver, heated and distributed it throughout the body, where it was absorbed by muscle. But when Harvey began vivisecting animals, he noticed that the heart wasn’t so much receiving blood as it was sucking it in with forceful expansions. And he noticed—in his eureka! moment—that the heart pumps out a whole lot of blood—much more, he was certain, than the body could possibly absorb. If the blood wasn’t being absorbed, it was being recycled; so blood wasn’t being distributed and used up, it was being circulated. Harvey was forced to conclude that the world of medicine—the entire philosophy of the humors—was based on a false premise.


Of course, since no one wanted to hear that every physician in Europe misunderstood the human body (and no one was willing to take Harvey’s word over Galen’s), Harvey had to make his conclusions undeniable. So, in effect, he went on tour, performing experiments for everyone to see. It took 10 years to perfect the demonstration, but he made his point, and changed medicine. He also made a bigger point that changed science: The way to prove something is to show it to be true. Reproducible, Harvey-style experimentation has been the standard ever since.
And for all his hard work, courage, and brilliance, which shaped the modern world and gave birth to the practice of medicine that has prolonged millions of lives, William Harvey is remembered today by just about no one. He is not revered, like Einstein and Darwin; he is never mentioned in high school curricula; and no one would credit him as the ancestor of the Higgs boson discovery. But William Harvey: A Life in Circulation is an important step towards setting this injustice straight.


Joshua Gelernter is a writer in Connecticut.


Wednesday, December 9, 2020

GOOD MEN

Madison had begun his statements on this question in Federalist LV and LVI, published in mid-February 1788: “As there is a degree of depravity in mankind,” he then wrote, “which requires a certain degree of circumspection and distrust, so there are other qualities in human nature which justify a certain portion of esteem and confidence.” Four months later he elaborated the point in what was for him a remarkable outburst. It was touched off by Mason’s insistence, in the Virginia ratifying convention, that legislators will do everything mischievous they can think of and fail to do anything good. Why is it not as reasonable, Madison replied, to assume that they will as readily do good as evil?—not that one should “place unlimited confidence in them, and expect nothing but the most exalted integrity and sublime virtue.” And then followed this statement of his basic philosophy:

I go on this great republican principle, that the people will have virtue and intelligence to select men of virtue and wisdom. Is there no virtue among us? If there be not we are in a wretched situation. No theoretical checks, no form of government, can render us secure. To suppose that any form of government will secure liberty or happiness without any virtue in the people is a chimerical idea.

Other federalists, equally convinced of the power of self-interest, greed, and corruption, said the same. Washington wrote Lafayette that the guarantee that the American government would never degenerate into despotism lay in the ultimate virtue of the American people. John Dickinson asked, “will a virtuous and sensible people choose villains or fools for their officers? Or, if they should choose men of wisdom and integrity, will these lose both or either, by taking their seats? If they should, will not their places be quickly supplied by another choice? Is the like derangement again, and again, and again, to be expected? Can any man believe that such astonishing phenomena are to be looked for?” Similarly, the federalist Reverend Samuel West in the Massachusetts convention demanded to know whether it was likely that people would “choose men to ruin us…May we not rationally conclude that the persons we shall choose to administer [the Constitution] will be, in general, good men?”

Bernard Bailyn, The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution (369-370). Harvard University Press. [1967, 2017] Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 4, 2020

WALTER E. WILLIAMS

Hoover Daily Report
 
Walter E. Williams 1936-2020
By Dr. Thomas Sowell
December 2, 2020 

Walter Williams loved teaching. Unlike too many other teachers today, he made it a point never to impose his opinions on his students. Those who read his syndicated newspaper columns know that he expressed his opinions boldly and unequivocally there. But not in the classroom. 

Walter once said he hoped that, on the day he died, he would have taught a class that day. And that is just the way it was, when he died on Wednesday, December 2, 2020.

He was my best friend for half a century. There was no one I trusted more or whose integrity I respected more. Since he was younger than me, I chose him to be my literary executor, to take control of my books after I was gone. 

But his death is a reminder that no one really has anything to say about such things.

As an economist, Walter Williams never got the credit he deserved. His book Race and Economics is a must-read introduction to the subject. Amazon has it ranked 5th in sales among civil rights books, 9 years after it was published.

Another book of his, on the effects of economics under the white supremacist apartheid regime in South Africa, was titled South Africa's War Against Capitalism. He went to South Africa to study the situation directly. Many of the things he brought out have implications for racial discrimination in other places around the world. 

I have had many occasions to cite Walter Williams' research in my own books. Most of what others say about higher prices in low income neighborhoods today has not yet caught up to what Walter said in his doctoral dissertation decades ago. 

Despite his opposition to the welfare state, as something doing more harm than good, Walter was privately very generous with both his money and his time in helping others. 

He figured he had a right to do whatever he wanted to with his own money, but that politicians had no right to take his money to give away, in order to get votes.

In a letter dated March 3, 1975, Walter said:
Sometimes it is a very lonely struggle trying to help our people, particularly the ones who do not realize that help is needed.

In the same letter, he mentioned a certain hospital which “has an all but written policy of prohibiting the flunking of black medical students.” 

Not long after this, a professor at a prestigious medical school revealed that black students there were given passing grades without having met the standards applied to other students. He warned that trusting patients would pay—some with their lives—for such irresponsible double standards. That has in fact happened.

As a person, Walter Williams was unique. I have heard of no one else being described as being “like Walter Williams.”

Holding a black belt in karate, Walter was a tough customer. One night three men jumped him—and two of those men ended up in a hospital.

The other side of Walter came out in relation to his wife, Connie. She helped put him through graduate school—and after he received his Ph.D., she never had to work again, not even to fix his breakfast.

Walter liked to go to his job at 4:30 AM. He was the only person who had no problem finding a parking space on the street in downtown Washington. Around 9 o’clock or so, Connie—now awake—would phone Walter and they would greet each other tenderly for the day.

We may not see his like again. And that is our loss.

[Thomas Sowell is a senior fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. His website is www.tsowell.com.]

Wednesday, December 2, 2020

THEODORE ROOSEVELT II

A bum knee and a rheumatic hip forced Roosevelt to carry a cane, which he wielded as if it were a rapier, slicing the air and pointing at exits through the dunes. Rarely did he speak at any volume lower than a bellow, and now in his foghorn voice he roared, again and again, “Get into the battle!” 

“I will always be known as the son of Theodore Roosevelt,” he had written in 1910, at the age of twenty-three, “and never as a person who means only himself.” He spent the subsequent three decades proving himself wrong. Decorated for valor in the 1st Division during the Great War—he had been gassed at Cantigny and wounded at Soissons—young Ted then amassed both a fortune and a reputation independent of his father. A wealthy investment banker by age thirty, he lost the 1924 New York gubernatorial race to Al Smith by 100,000 votes, then pressed on in various public and private roles: as the governor of Puerto Rico and the Philippines; as the author of eight books; as a senior executive at American Express and Doubleday; as an early activist in the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People; and as an explorer and a hunter, whose trophies for the Field Museum in Chicago included the rare mountain sheep Ovis poli and a previously unknown deer subsequently named Muntiacus rooseveltorum. He was plainspoken—“I’m anti-bluff, anti-faker, anti-coward, that’s all”—and unaffected. “Do fill your letters with the small beer of home, the things we knew in the kindly past,” he had written his wife, Eleanor, on June 5. “Also gossip. I love gossip.” A week later he wrote her a poem that began, “This dark, grim war has swallowed all / That I loved.” 

Perhaps not quite all, for certainly he loved the Big Red One, as the 1st Division styled itself. “Ted Roosevelt is perhaps the only man I’ve ever met who was born to combat,” wrote the veteran war correspondent Quentin Reynolds, and soon after returning to active duty in 1941, Roosevelt became the division’s assistant commander. “Whenever you write a message, remember you’re writing it for a damned fool,” he advised junior officers. “Keep it clear and simple.” Troops adored his bluff pugnacity and considered him “an intellectual because he carries a considerable stock of books in his blanket roll,” observed the journalist A. J. Liebling. A 26th Infantry medic recalled, “When he got up to leave, we willingly got up and saluted.” In the Tunisian campaign, he again demonstrated extraordinary valor, winning the Distinguished Service Cross at the battle of El Guettar.

Rick Atkinson, The Day of Battle: The War in Sicily and Italy, 1943-1944  (The Liberation Trilogy Book 2) . Henry Holt and Co.. Kindle Edition.