Thursday, August 15, 2019

JEFF JACOBY

                   
 The Boston Globe
 
                    September 17, 2018
                            Jeff Jacoby



                In praise of The Concord Review
 



For years, Will Fitzhugh has deplored the fact that talented high school scholars get so much less recognition than talented high school athletes. Many newspapers publish lavish “all-scholastic ” special sections celebrating the achievements of young track, softball, and soccer stars, but there are no four-color inserts extolling high-school students who excel at academics. At colleges all over America, athletic coaches keep tabs on the most promising up-and-coming high school basketball, baseball, and football players. But is there a History Department chairman on any campus in the United States who could name the most gifted history student at any high school within a 500-mile radius?
 
Thirty years ago, Fitzhugh—a one-time history teacher in Concord, Massachusetts—set out to change this imbalance. I wrote about his efforts in a column last year:
 

Fitzhugh decided to blaze a path. He quit his job, cashed in his pension, and devoted himself full-time to producing a journal that would show what kind of scholarly writing kids were capable of. He adopted “Varsity Academics®” as his slogan and put out a call for excellent history essays. The journal’s purpose, he says, was to serve as a new kind of peer pressure: to demonstrate to high school students everywhere what kids like them could produce.
 

As word of The Concord Review trickled out, the superb history papers began flowing in. So did tributes from supporters as varied as Albert Shanker, Arthur Schlesinger Jr., John Silber, and David McCullough. So did modest financial support from a handful of donors who grasped the potential of what Fitzhugh was doing.

But it has always been a hand-to-mouth existence. Fitzhugh never saw anything like the tens of millions of dollars that are poured into after-the-fact remedial writing instruction and into gimmicky feel-good campaigns by foundations more interested in boosting self-esteem than in challenging students to work hard. Over and over, Fitzhugh’s grant applications have been rejected on the grounds that his journal is too elitist, or that it doesn’t have a politically correct edge, or that the study of history isn’t, after all, nearly as important as he seems to think it is. A few high schools have embraced The Concord Review. But far more want nothing to do with a journal so committed to high academic standards.

Through it all, Fitzhugh persists, cheerful and determined—and passionate as ever about student achievement. It remains the case that most high school students are never required to write a serious research paper. But now there are 30 years’ worth of Concord Reviews that open a window into an alternative universe. You want to see what high school kids can do? Spend some time with The Concord Review, and prepare to be inspired.

The papers published in The Concord Review bear no resemblance to the five-paragraph “essay” that millions of high-school students have been misled into thinking constitutes serious writing. The history essays Fitzhugh accepts for publication are typically in the 5,000-8,000 word range. But there is no word limit, and at least one essay (on the 1857 Mountain Meadows Massacre in Utah) ran to more than 20,000 words.

Nor is there any subject requirement. Students are invited to submit papers on any historical topic at all, and the range of subjects they have tackled is vast. The most recent issue includes essays on the Treaty of Lausanne, the Northern Wei Dynasty, the Election of 1916, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, the Abraham Lincoln Brigade, and the Irish liberator Daniel O’Connell. The only thing the essays have in common, besides their brilliance, is that they were all written by high school students.

The Concord Review isn’t splashy, and neither is its founder and editor. But what Fitzhugh lacks in razzle-dazzle and snappy jokes, he more than makes up for in charisma, good spirits, commitment, and a lifelong pursuit of excellence. A brief new video highlighting his one-man crusade is promoted online by the Pioneer Institute,  one of Boston’s leading think tanks. Take seven minutes to watch it, and you’ll be reassured that even in our era of dumbed-down, short-attention-span, lowest-common-denominator education, all is not yet lost.

[Varsity Academics® is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc., a nonprofit
Massachusetts corporation...www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org]
 

Tuesday, August 6, 2019

8th GRADER

 
In 2002, a distinguished historian wrote that the widely told tales of “No Irish Need Apply” signs in late nineteenth-century America were myths. The University of Illinois professor Richard Jensen said that such signs were inventions, “myths of victimization,” passed down from Irish immigrants to their children until they reached the unassailable status of urban legends. For over a decade, most historians accepted Jensen’s scholarship on the matter. Opponents of Jensen’s thesis were dismissed—sometimes by Jensen himself—as Irish-American loyalists. 

In a 2015 story that seemed to encapsulate the death of expertise, an eighth grader named Rebecca Fried claimed that Jensen was wrong, not least because of research she did on Google. She was respectful, but determined. “He has been doing scholarly work for decades before I was born, and the last thing I want to do was show disrespect for him and his work,” she said later. It all seemed to be just another case of a precocious child telling an experienced teacher—an emeritus professor of history, no less—that he had not done his homework. As it turns out, she was right and he was wrong. Such signs existed, and they weren’t that hard to find. For years, other scholars had wrestled with Jensen’s claims, but they fought with his work inside the thicket of professional historiography. Meanwhile, outside the academy, Jensen’s assertion was quickly accepted and trumpeted as a case of an imagined grievance among Irish-Americans. (Vox, of course, loved the original Jensen piece.)

Young Rebecca, however, did what a sensible person would: she started looking through databases of old newspapers. She found the signs, as the Daily Beast later reported, “collecting a handful of examples, then dozens, then more. She went to as many newspaper databases as she could. Then she thought, somebody had to have done this before, right?” As it turned out, neither Jensen nor anyone else had apparently bothered to do this basic fact-checking. Jensen later fired back, trying to rebut the work of a grade-schooler by claiming that he was right but that he could have been more accurate in his claims. Debate over his thesis, as the Smithsonian magazine later put it, “may still be raging in the comments section” of various Internet lists, but Fried’s work proves “that anyone with a curious mind and a nose for research can challenge the historical status quo.” Miss Fried, for her part, has now entered high school with a published piece in the Journal of Social History.


Tom Nichols, The Death of Expertise: The Campaign Against Established Knowledge and Why it Matters (170-171). Oxford University Press. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, August 1, 2019

ROBERT HOLLAND


RealClearEducation


A Simple Page-Per-Year Plan© Formula Could Increase Students’ Ability to Read, Write, and Think


By Robert Holland   November 30, 2018

The never-ending quest for a magic formula to educate all children brings to mind this lyrical lament from a 1980 Johnny Lee country tune: “I was lookin’ for love in all the wrong places.”


Rarely does anything loveable, or even merely useful, come from wandering the maze of government agencies, huge foundations, textbook publishers, and assorted ed-tech or pedagogical soothsayers. A review of a century’s worth of grandiose schemes, designs, and boondoggles—Common Core being the latest—would be hard-pressed to identify more than a few that have succeeded.


By contrast, a spark of inspiration for helping children can emanate from an individual who has no institutional axe to grind and is willing to sacrifice for the cause.


Will Fitzhugh fits that mold perfectly.


Three decades ago, Fitzhugh quit his job as a history teacher at Concord High School, cashed in his small pension, and put all his energies into creating a quarterly journal to be filled with the finest history essays written by high school students. His mission was to show students—and the rest of the world—what they are capable of producing.


Operating without the gargantuan grants that fuel the merchants of ed-biz faddism, The Concord Review has published 1,307 [1,340 now] scholarly articles under the bylines of student authors from 45 states and 40 countries. Fitzhugh imposes no arbitrary word limit on submissions. Published essays average 7,500 words, complete with endnotes and bibliography.


The Concord Review is the only quarterly journal in the United States [in the world] devoted exclusively to publishing secondary students’ writing about history. The range of topics is eclectic and the writing is engaging. Here is a small sampling of topics over the past year: “Machine Politics,” “Black-Jewish Relations,” “The Scopes Trial,” “Food Guide Pyramid,” “Coups in Pakistan,” “Sino-Soviet Split,” “Roaring Twenties,” “Chinese Feminism.”


Fitzhugh’s blog makes plain how The Review’s essayists have justified his confidence in them. Many students have written him to say they reached a point in reading about history where they strongly felt a need to tell people what they had discovered. 


In short, as Fitzhugh put it, “reading and writing are inseparable partners.” When motivation springs from knowledge gained, writing can follow a natural progression of writing, reviewing a draft, revising for clarity and correcting omissions, reading for additional content, and rewriting again.


In other words, The Review’s authors exhibit “all the natural things that have always led to good academic writing, whether in history or any other subject.”


Unfortunately, in most high schools, writing is a heavily regulated and restricted process far removed from the ideal of students being able to express something they have learned. Fitzhugh describes the current practice:


“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 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.”


Learn something then write about it. Now there is a novel concept.

 
Fitzhugh has developed a Page Per Year Plan© (and even copyrighted it) that, if ever implemented widely, could lead to substantially increased time devoted to student reading and writing.


His idea is that all public high school seniors would be expected to write a 12-page history research paper. However, that requirement would not just be plopped on them. They would have written an 11-page paper as juniors, a 10-pager as sophomores, and so back down the year-by-year ladder to a 5-page paper in fifth grade, and even a one-pager on a topic other than themselves in the first grade.


With a Page Per Year Plan© in place, Fitzhugh figures that “every senior in high school will have learned, for that 12-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.”


It is highly doubtful that a government-run school system would ever adopt anything as rigorous, yet sensible, as this Page-Per-Year Plan© ladder to writing success. Perhaps there are private-sector innovators including homeschoolers bold enough to give it a try.


Meanwhile, anyone looking to find evidence of a love of writing by inspired students will continue to find it every three months in the pages of The Concord Review.


[Robert Holland (holland@heartland.org) is a senior fellow for education policy for The Heartland Institute.]


Varsity Academics® is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc. [tcr.org]

Thursday, July 25, 2019

PURPOSE OF HIGH SCHOOL


 Excerpt from:

Professor William M. McClay
“Reunifying History in the Age of Fracture”
NAS Academic Questions, Spring 2018, 48-61



The chief purpose of a high school education in American history is not the development of critical thinking and analytic skills, although the acquisition of such skills is vitally important; nor is it the mastery of facts, although a solid grasp of the factual basis of American history is surely essential; nor is it the acquisition of a genuine historical consciousness, or an ability to “think like a historian,” the current Holy Grail among many theorists of historical pedagogy, although that certainly would be nice to have too, particularly under the present circumstances, in which historical memory seems to run at about fifteen minutes, especially in the young.


No, the chief purpose of a secondary school education in American history is something different. It is a rite of civic membership, an act of inculcation and formation, a way in which the young are introduced to the fullness of their political and cultural inheritance as Americans, enabling them to become literate and conversant in its many features, and to appropriate fully all that it has to offer them, both its privileges and its burdens. It is to make its stories theirs, and thereby let them come into the possession of the common treasure of its cultural life. In that sense the study of history is different from any other academic subject. It is not merely a body of knowledge. It also ushers the individual person into membership in a common world, and situates him in space and time. As in Plato’s great allegory of the cave, it ushers him into the light of day, into a public world, into a fuller and more capacious identity.

 

This is most especially true in a democracy. The American Founders, and perhaps most notably Thomas Jefferson, fully grasped that no popular government could flourish for long without an educated citizenry, one that understood the special virtues of republican self-government, and the civic and moral duty of citizens to uphold and guard it. As the historian Donald Kagan has put it, “Democracy requires a patriotic education,” and it does so for two reasons. First, because its success depends upon the active participation of its citizens in their own governance, and second, because without an education, there would be no way to persuade free individuals of the occasional need to sacrifice the pursuit of their self-interest for the sake of the greater good.

Friday, July 19, 2019

NEMO CURRICULUM

The Nemo Curriculum Program©

The HS history student who wrote the attached letter was a beneficiary, like many others, of our unique and amazing Nemo Curriculum Program (NCP). 

I never met her, talked to her, or sent her mailings or emails. She found out about The Concord Review, chose her historical topic, did the research for it, outlined a paper, wrote the paper, proofread it, and submitted it.

All we did was publish it. All the work was hers, but she felt so good about doing it that she gave some credit to TCR. This is the magic of our Nemo Curriculum Program. (tcr.org/blog)

Our motto is: “Where there’s a Way (to earn recognition) there’s a Will (to work for it).” We plan to bring the benefits of the NCP to as many more HS history students in the future as we possibly can...

=======================


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

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

I am writing to tell you how thrilled I was to learn that my essay (“America and the Invisible Hand: The Influence of Adam Smith on the American Economy”) was selected for publication in the upcoming Summer issue of The Concord Review. I want to thank you for the opportunity you have given me and other young writers to be published.

When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it. While most of the writing I have completed for my high school history classes has been formulaic and limited to specified topics, The Concord Review motivated me to undertake independent research in the development of the American Economy. 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. The skills that I have acquired from completing my paper for The Concord Review will be invaluable in the continuation of my education, and I cannot thank you enough for giving me the opportunity to undertake such an endeavor. The Concord Review has truly been an inspiration to me and I wish you tremendous luck in its continuing success.

Sincerely,
Kaitlin Marie Bergan
Northern Highlands Regional High School
Allendale, New Jersey

Wednesday, July 17, 2019

EXCEPTIONAL STUDENTS


An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: The Concord Review 
—an outlet for Exceptional History Students
July 16, 2019 by Education News; Houston, Texas
Michael F. Shaughnessy, EducationViews Senior Columnist
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1) Will, here we are in the middle of the summer—and some teachers are preparing to teach history, social studies, economics—and [a very few] preparing to assign major term papers. But where are the outlets for these students’ good works?
National History Day accepts history papers of not more than 10 pages and it doesn’t publish any. The average paper in recent issues of The Concord Review was 36 pages long, and we recently published a paper on the U.S. election of 1916 that was 84 pages, including 355 endnotes and a bibliography, and the author will be at Oxford in the Fall. The National Writing Project prefers students to write about themselves, and in general the Adolescent Literacy Community would like students to confine themselves to reading and writing only fiction, not history.
2) Let’s talk about the personality traits that make a good historian and good writer of history—what are they?
It is important in any field to be diligent and literate. A good High School student of history is curious about some historical person or event and reads enough about it until they reach the point at which they really want to tell others what they have learned. This is the most important step on the path to an exemplary history research paper. We have published 1,329 of them from 41 countries in the 121 issues of The Concord Review since 1987—see some at tcr.org.
3) “No Shortcuts” is your recent statement. You and I know that good writing requires good research, writing, editing and polishing. Are teachers teaching these skills however?
“No Shortcuts” was a motto of the extraordinary California teacher Rafe Esquith. We borrowed it to point out that no one can do the reading for or the writing of a serious history research paper for the student. The student must do all their own work. For the most part, Social Studies Teachers have neither the training nor the inclination to assign serious history papers, so they don’t. More and more of our best essays were done as independent studies, often by students who have read or heard about the work of their peers that was published in The Concord Review.  And sometimes the teacher knows nothing about them.
4) In your most recent edition of The Concord Review—what were some of the researched topics?
In recent issues, we have had papers on Vietnamese Refugees, the Trans-Siberian Railroad, Bleeding Kansas, the Northern Wei Dynasty, Superfrigates, the Nanking Safety Zone, John Wilkes, the Anglo-Japanese Alliance, and the Caste System, among scores of other interesting historical topics. We don’t tell students what to write about and we don’t tell them how long their papers should be.
5) Where have some of your high school students, who have published in The Concord Review matriculated to?
151 have gone to Harvard, 113 to Yale, 82 to Stanford, and the like, but a few have gone to Caltech, MIT, Oxford, and Cambridge as well. Altogether, 35% have gone to the Ivy League or Stanford so far.
6) What have I forgotten to ask?
There has been a sharp 30% decline in history majors in our colleges. While there have been moves to STEM, economics and the like, too many of our politically correct instructors want to rewrite or erase history rather than teach it, and that turns students away. The absence of nearly all courses in diplomatic, political, and military history persuades many students that the history department is not for them.
In our high schools, Social Studies has long been dominant over history and in many colleges the history department is shrinking almost to the point of extinction. In addition, the vast majority of our high school students who head for college do so having never read even one complete history book or written one serious history research paper, so they are much less well prepared for college work than they should be. 
Feel free to send comments or questions to Will Fitzhugh at fitzhugh@tcr.org.

Monday, July 15, 2019

OPENING DAY


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
15 July 2019


The principal should say: 


“Good morning, boys and girls, and welcome back from vacation.

This year we will have a school for students who want to work hard. Those who do not want to work hard will be removed. We haven’t worked out where they will go yet, but while they are there, they will not interfere with the education of students who want to work hard in our school. In the new setting, they can choose whether they will take advantage of it, and try to work their way back into our school, but until they are ready to work hard here, they will not be allowed to harm the education of the students we have here who want to work hard on their education. 

Your teachers and the rest of the adults here will work hard to help you as much as we can, but we know that only you can decide how much you want to work and how much you want to learn.

Best wishes to you for a very productive year!