Tuesday, July 17, 2012


SchoolInfoSystem.org; Madison, Wisconsin

EducationViews.org; Houston, Texas

Down in Lower Education

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
17 July 2012

In 1893, when the Committee of Ten published its recommendations for high school education, Upper Education and Lower Education academics were still talking to each other. Harvard president Charles William Eliot was the chairman, and the committee, Diane Ravitch reported in Left Back (Simon & Schuster, 2000), included four other college presidents, three high school principals, and a college professor. In 1918, when the NEA Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education issued its report, the chairman was, as Diane Ravitch wrote, “Clarence Kingsley, a former social worker, former teacher of mathematics at Brooklyn Manual Training High School, and—at the time of the report—supervisor of high schools in Massachusetts.” (Ravitch, pp. 42,123)

The main objectives for high school students in the NEA report were: “1. Health, 2. Command of fundamental processes, 3. Worthy home membership, 4. Vocation, 5. Citizenship, 6. Worthy use of leisure, and 7. Ethical character.” These “became famous among educators as ‘the Seven Cardinal Principles,’ the seven objectives based on the needs of life.” (Ravitch, p. 124)

With this new set of objectives in view, and with the transformation of the Normal Schools into psychobabbling Graduate Schools of Education hostile to academic content, perhaps it is not surprising that college professors and other academics were increasingly estranged from the goings on in Lower Education. What professor of history or physics or Romance languages or nanotechnology could find common ground with those at the Lower Level who were dedicated to teaching secondary students the “worthy use of leisure”?

Nevertheless, as the number of high schools grew, along with the number of colleges, one Upper Education group formed a growing interest in what people were doing in sports at the Lower Level. This would be college coaches, who saw in the strong interest in athletics at the high school level a vital breeding ground for the athletes they would need to recruit for their college programs. As a consequence, college coaches began to keep track of the progress of especially promising high school athletes in a variety of sports, and in their Lower Education Level coaches. In fact, friendly relations were often formed between high school coaches and college coaches, so that news about really good athletes could get to the Upper Level in time to enable recruiting to begin (now at about the 10th grade).

Coaches in colleges recognized that success in their jobs depended in part on their ability to locate good candidates and persuade them to come to their place of work to be athletes after high school. Lower Education coaches understood that their work and their opinions were valued by those in the Upper Education reaches of their sports.

Meanwhile, among teachers of academic subjects in Lower Education, a very different situation could be found. Teachers who identified and prepared promising students of history or physics or literature realized that their counterparts in Upper Education did not want to know them or to hear about their students. Upper Education professors left recruitment of great candidates in their disciplines completely up to the Upper Education Admissions Committees.

By contrast, Upper Education coaches have decided not to depend on the Admissions people to find the best athletes for them. In fact, they typically bring the Admissions Committees lists of the athletes who they would like to have admitted to meet the needs of their teams. Upper Education professors rarely, if ever, come to the Admissions Committees with names of scholars from the high schools they want admitted to strengthen their academic departments.

Of course there are many differences in the reward systems for Upper Level coaches and for Upper Level professors. If the coaches do not get good athletes they will not be able to win games, matches, or other athletic competitions and before long their jobs will be in jeopardy. On the other hand, most Upper Education professors believe they lose nothing by simply ignoring their Lower Education colleagues, their students, and their curricula. Their jobs depend on their research and publications, for the most part, and they are content to let the Admissions Committees select their students for them. When the students arrive in their courses, they often complain that these recruits are ignorant and unable to do serious Upper Education academic work, but that never seems to increase their interest in meeting Lower Education teachers or finding out what academic work is being done at that Lower level.

One result of this situation is that Lower Education teachers and scholars are aware that Upper Education academics don’t much care about what they do, while Lower Education coaches and athletes (often the same people) are quite sure that Upper Education coaches are very interested in what they are doing, to the extent, in some cases, of forming good relationships between them. It is understood that Upper Education coaches may even wish to visit promising high school athletes in their homes in an effort to recruit them for their programs. It is beyond imagination that an Upper Education professor would do anything like that.

In their battles against anti-intellectualism, Lower Education people can expect little or no interest or assistance from their Upper colleagues, and the professors in Upper Education will no doubt continue to bemoan the level of preparation of their students, especially in reading and writing, without wondering, it seems, if that is the result in part of anything they have failed to do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012


EducationViews.org, Houston, Texas

SchoolInfoSystem.org, Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
12 July 2012

Not long ago, an associate professor of Creative Writing (the most popular subject in which is now not Ozymandias or Dover Beach or Westminster Bridge, but “ME”)...at an Upper Education institution west of the Mississippi wrote an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, bemoaning the incompetence and/or indifference of her Upper peers in evaluating, correcting or coaching the academic writing of their students:

“...And since there's little room in most graduate curricula to focus on writing, many future faculty members simply never learn. The truth is, everyone thinks whoever went before him or her was responsible for the job of teaching writing: College instructors believe students learned the mechanics in high school; graduate advisers assume their students learned as undergraduates what they needed to know about style and argumentation.

By the time people become professors, they have no one to turn to for help with their writing. Some hope or pray that editors will save them; sometimes that happens. But most acquisitions editors don't have the time or energy to do line-editing, and they assume that the copy editors will clean up the prose...And so, bad prose gets published and bad models proliferate....

...What, then, to make of the political scientist who didn't think he had the expertise to comment on his students' writing? I believe he's shirking an important aspect of his job...If professors don't tell students that the writing matters, who will? If professors don't know what good writing looks like, who does?”

I followed up this welcome interest in academic writing at the Upper Education level by sending her information about The Concord Review, which, for 25 years has been working to encourage, distribute and, with the National Writing Board, to assess, serious academic expository writing by high school students around the world (Lower Education Level).

The replies I got from the Upper Education personage were:

“I got a whole bunch of messages that I don't think were meant for me. You might check your computer for viruses.”

When I sent more information, she replied that she had seen material about these efforts when she was in Admissions at an Upper Education place in the Southeast but:

“What made a big impression on me is that there was (as I recall) a submissions fee. At Duke, I saw a lot of ‘honors’ that came with a price tag. That troubles me.”

So, of course, she never inquired further. (And yes, Duke has an application fee...)

Now, so as not to charge all Upper Education people with having the same dim or poor vision about writing at the Lower Education Level, here is a letter I got from a physicist at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study...

Einstein Drive, Princeton, New Jersey 08540

22 June 2000

Mr. Will Fitzhugh, President
National Writing Board
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

    I recently came across The Concord Review, and I would like to express my appreciation for your leadership role and your continuous dedication to this endeavor. Not only am I impressed with the high quality of the history articles that appear in the Review, but I am also impressed with the very idea of a publication which provides a forum for the academic work of high school students in history.

    As a physicist, I am accustomed to the many initiatives, such as math competitions and physics olympiads, instituted to recognize and promote interest and talent in the sciences among high school students. However, I have always felt that there was no equivalent mechanism to encourage and nurture students in the humanities, and to recognize their accomplishments. The Concord Review strikes me as a simple yet brilliant idea to help fill that gap, and as a very effective way to promote high standards and excellence in the humanities.

Chiara R. Nappi
Theoretical Physicist