Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
24 October 2012

I may be one of a tiny minority who think that schools are for student academic work.

Of course, sports, concerts, social programs, dances, and all sorts of other youth activities are important, but students don’t need schools to do them in.

My view is that without student academic work, all the buildings, bond issues, budgets, school boards, teacher unions, superintendent and teacher training programs, Broad/Gates/WalMart grants, local-state-federal education departments, NCLB, RTT, CC, CCSSO,  Schools of Education, standards projects, legislation, regulations, and all the rest of the Adults Only paraphernalia surrounding education in this country these days are just a waste of money and time.

The Education Punditocracy, including blogs, magazines, newspapers, foundations, Finn/Hess/Petrilli, etc., and even my friend and inspiration, Diane Ravitch, among hundreds and hundreds of others, are completely preoccupied with and absorbed in their consideration of what Adults are doing in education. The actual academic work of students takes place at much too low a level to attract their notice. They seem to be making the assumption that if they can just fix all the Adults Only stuff, then somehow student academic work will take care of itself. But they don’t pay any attention in the meantime to whether students are actually doing any academic work or not. And they have not learned that the students, and the students alone, have the power to determine whether they will do any academic work, and also what its quality will be.

To reiterate: without student academic work, all the rest of the bustle, noise, commentary, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent will amount to nothing, so it should be important to pay attention to student academic work, should it not?

I came to understand this because for the last 25 years in particular, and for about 10 years before that, I have been fully engaged in efforts that completely depend upon good student academic work, and I have been fascinated to discover how few Education people (I’m not talking about actual teachers) seem to be involved with that, and that just about every one of them, though laboring away quite seriously and conscientiously, seems to spend all their time on the Adults Only matters, and to have almost no interest, other than to give it lip service and quickly move on, in the serious academic work of students.

If that should somehow change, and if student academic work were to become the central focus of what we pay attention to in education, there is a chance we might see more of it, and that its quality might improve too. But if we continue to ignore it and focus on Adults Only, that most assuredly is not going to happen. As the Hindus say: “Whatever you give your Attention to grows in your life,” and we have been giving, IMHO, far too much attention (almost all of it) to the Adults Only aspects of education and far too little to student academic work.

To test what I am saying, if a kind Reader would go back over articles, books, blogs, and speeches on education in recent years, please do let me know if you find any that talk about student science projects, the complete nonfiction books they are reading, or the serious history research papers they are writing. I believe if you look closely, almost all that you find will show people caught up in what Adults Only are doing, should do, will do, must do, or might do, and there will be little to no attention to the actual academic work of students in our schools. But please prove me mistaken, with evidence, if you would be so kind.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics™

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scholars or Customers?

Scholars or Customers?; Houston, Texas
October 16, 2012
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Diane Senechal, Ph.D., has written a book (The Republic of Noise—2012) about the virtues of solitude for young people living in our mad, mad, Wireless World.

I fear she may be insufficiently aware that every moment one of our high school students spends in reflection, musing, thinking, contemplation, meditation or indeed in solitude, unless those moments are product-focused, can grow, over time, into a huge barrier to sales of computers, software, games, and other products of our marketing efforts in educational technology. After all, the business of education is business, right?

To put it plainly, thinking, and other sorts of reflection, constitute a serious threat to all efforts to meet hardware/software sales quotas, especially in the huge and growingly lucrative education market.

This should make it clearer why the companies which are the commercial engines of our economy, especially the technology companies which are concentrating on education for a large portion of their consumer marketing and sales, are so opposed to having students read actual nonfiction books or spend time working on history research papers while they are in high school.

While it is true that having students read one or more complete history books while they are still in high school may not only teach them some history, but will also help them to get ready for the nonfiction books they will be asked to read in college, and that any work they do in high school on serious history research papers will better prepare them for college writing tasks, it must be borne in mind that both of those activities can seriously cut into their use of social media and associated products, and limit the time they will spend buying and using video games and other important products!

We have to decide if we want our high school students to be scholars or customers! Apple Computer did not spend $650 million or thereabouts to persuade our students to read books and write papers to further their education, but instead to buy iPhones and iMacs to help distract them from homework and other obstacles to buying products. As Mark Bauerlein noted in The Dumbest Generation, one sign in an Apple store promised that the MacBook would be “the only book you will ever need.”

There has been attention recently given to the disadvantages of colleges inflating grades and doing other things in their attempts to attract paying customers, because treating students as customers interferes with the essential responsibility of Upper Education to serve and challenge them as students.

But even in Lower Education, the multi-multi-billion-dollar market in digital equipment and software has employed major efforts to induce students to spend 53 hours a week with electronic entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Foundation, while most of them spend no more than 3 or 4 hours a week on homework.

There are always a few people who don’t get the Word to
dumb it down!! Since 1968, the International Baccalaureate Program has required a 4,000-word (16-page) Extended Essay for candidates for the Diploma, and that may very well have resulted in some students reading complete nonfiction books.

In addition, the Advanced Placement Program of the College Board, while it has not yet managed to include a serious term paper (a small pilot experiment is now underway), nevertheless has not exiled some teachers who go ahead and assign them anyway, a good number of which have been published in The Concord Review since 1987. In fact a special issue of AP history essays was published by The Concord Review in 1995, and this issue is available on the website at But those teachers (and students) have always been outside the mainstream with their efforts.

A few high school students, in some cases inspired by the exemplary work of their peers published in The Concord Review have worked to read for and write their serious history term papers as independent studies, some ranging from 8,000 words (32 pages) up to 15,000 words (60 pages), but with no encouragement from the electronic entertainment, computer/software, and STEM communities, these scholarly “mountaineers
  have not been numerous over the years.

If we continue to value hardware and software sales over education for our students, we will sell a lot of products, but we will also naturally continue to have students in need of extensive remediation, and to produce unemployable graduates. However, if we decide to relax our visa barriers for skilled immigrants, we may continue to count on them to carry our civilization forward or at least keep it going by making use of the benefits they bring with them from the non-commercial educations still available in other countries in South Asia, East Asia, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The Atlantic
Thursday, September 27, 2012

[William Hughes Fitzhugh is the editor of The Concord Review, a unique international academic journal that publishes history research papers by high school students.]

Why Are We Afraid to Show Off Our Brightest Students' Work?

By William Fitzhugh

[High school athletes are the pride of their communities. But if we want to inspire kids to write well, we should be putting the exemplary work of our best young high school scholars on display.]

As the editor of The Concord Review, I have been glad to publish more than 1,000 exemplary high school history research papers (average 6,000 words) by students from 46 states and 38 other countries since 1987. Yet I have long been aware that little “personal” essays have killed off academic expository writing in most of our schools.

For generations, American children in our schools have had their writing limited to short pieces about themselves, from primary school up through their “college essays” (those little 500-word “personal” narratives). As long as English teachers have borne all the responsibility for reading and writing in the schools, the reading has been fiction, the writing personal and “creative.” Lately a genre has emerged called “creative nonfiction,” but that turns out to be just more solipsistic autobiography.

Most of our students never read a single history book and they very rarely write a serious term paper before graduating from high school. They learn to write without learning anything beyond their own feelings and the events of their present lives, and their teachers are able to grade that work without knowing much either.

Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, put it very well in August this year: “The single biggest complaint from college teachers and employers is that high school graduates cannot write as well as they need to.” As a result, the member companies of the Business Roundtable have been saddled with a $3 billion bill for remedial writing courses every year, not only for their hourly hires but for their current and new salaried employees.

There are a few exceptions, of course. For decades, the International Baccalaureate has required a 4,000-word (16-page) Extended Essay for the Diploma, and thousands of American students have done that. Even the College Board has begun to think of a small new pilot program on term papers as well.

The New Common Core standards, a set of reforms that will soon be applied by most states, talk about nonfiction reading, but that category seems to include more memos, short speeches, brochures, and technical articles than anything like a complete history book. The standards also mention something about nonfiction writing, but all of the examples in the Appendix seem to be only more two-page efforts that will far from challenge the capability of our students in academic writing.

By publishing Peg Tyre’s story “The Writing Revolution,” The Atlantic is doing a great service for our students who need to learn to do some serious academic expository writing while they are still in high school. However, I would add that students really do benefit from reading exemplary academic expository papers written by their peers.

At The Concord Review, I’ve seen many examples of first-rate academic writing on historical topics. Students are startled, challenged, and inspired when they see this kind of work by people their own age. “When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and the breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it,” one New Jersey public school girl wrote to me. “The chance to delve further into a historical topic was an incredible experience for me, and the honor of being published is by far the greatest I have ever received. This coming autumn, I will be starting at Oxford University, where I will be concentrating in Modern History.”

It may be objected that this is a letter from a good student. Where are the letters from struggling students? I would respond that in sports, we are quite happy to present other students with the very best public performances of their most athletic peers. But when it comes to academics, we seem afraid to show students the exemplary work of their peers, for fear of driving them away. This dichotomy has always seemed strange to me.

Of course we must pay attention to our least able students, just as we must pay attention to the those who have the most difficulty in our gym classes. But it would’t hurt, in my view, to dare to recognize and distribute some of our students’ best academic work, in the hopes that it may challenge many others of them to put in a little more effort. Surely that is worth a try.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Monday, October 1, 2012



Summit Country Day School senior Theresa Rager’s research paper on the history of tuberculosis research and its effects on the development of the medical field has been chosen for publication in The Concord Review. It will be published in the quarterly’s Winter Issue.

Theresa is only the sixth student from the Cincinnati area to be published in The Review in the 26 years that the publication has been in existence. Including Theresa, four of those six published Cincinnatians were Summit students.

Summit Country Day School Senior
Theresa Rager, seated, with Dean
of Students Kelly Cronin.

Theresa’s 50-page research paper, “The History of Biomedical Research on Tuberculosis,” was a year-long project in Honors Research Seminar in Social Studies taught by Summit Dean of Students Kelly Cronin. Theresa, who is one of three Summit students in the Greater Cincinnati Health Council’s 2012 TAP MD program, has an interest in becoming a physician. “She combined her interest in science with history.” says Ms. Cronin. “She was taking AP Biology at the same time. Her research project was equivalent to work done by an undergraduate history major. Students in Honors Research Seminar start out studying research methods, then select a topic for research and spend the rest of the year researching and writing a paper. Theresa shortened the paper she wrote in Ms. Cronin’s class before sending it to The Review.

The Concord Review selects only about 3% [6%] of the papers that are submitted,” says Ms. Cronin. “It is harder to get published in The Concord Review than it is to get accepted into Harvard [6%].” Even Harvard acknowledges how prestigious the publication is. In a recent New York Times story, William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard University, said he keeps copies of The Concord Review in his office to inspire applicants. Being published in The Concord Review is impressive, like winning a national math competition, he says.

The Concord Review
champions exemplary history essays by English-speaking high school students. As of the Fall 2012 issue, the Review had published 1,033 research papers—averaging 6,000 words each, complete with endnotes and bibliography—from authors in 46 states and 38 other countries. The Concord Review is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students of history.

Dr. Terrence Malone, Summit’s Upper School Director, credits The Summit’s signature Writing Program with Summit’s success in The Concord Review. The Writing Program culminates in the Upper School with the writing of major research papers in several different areas of the curriculum. “The volume of writing that students undertake here at The Summit makes a difference in how well prepared our graduates are,” he says. “We hold our students to a high standard. We have a high expectation for their performance and the quality of the written word. In our most advanced classes, students are doing college-level writing and we’ve heard from some alumni that their first writing assignments in college were easier than the work they did here.”

The three previous Summit students to be published in The Concord Review also were students in Ms. Cronin’s courses. They were:

•Jane Abbottsmith’ 08. Her paper, “Religion and Nationalism in Ireland in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries,” was first published in the Spring of 2009 during her senior year. It subsequently received The Concord Review’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize and was republished in 2012 The Concord Review Readers Series, Emerson Prize Issue 1. Jane received a bachelor’s degree in religion magna cum laude, with a certificate in Values and Public Life, from Princeton University. A Gates-Cambridge scholar, she is now pursuing a master’s degree in theology and religious studies at Cambridge University in the U.K.

•Nick Corser ’08. His paper, “The Burning Times: The Role of the Catholic Church in the European Witch Trials,” was published in the Winter of 2006 during his sophomore year. Nick received a B.A. in political science and history from Vanderbilt University and is now attending Emory University School of Law.

•Dr. Margaret (Niehaus-Sauter) Fuchs ’03. Her paper, called “The Role of Music in the Life of the North American Slave,” was published in the Fall of 2002 during her sophomore year. Dr. Fuchs received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Kenyon College and a medical degree from The Ohio State University (OSU). Dr. Fuchs is a second-year internal medicine/pediatrics resident at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center.

The Summit Country Day School serves students from age two through grade twelve in a coeducational setting. The Summit combines the academic excellence and one-on-one guidance of a top-tier independent school with the servant leadership and character building environment that are hallmarks of a Catholic education.