Wednesday, September 22, 2021

UNDERACHIEVEMENT

 Even worse, 19 percent of American high school graduates are functionally illiterate, unable to read well enough to manage daily tasks…Contrary to CRT ideology, several factors far outpace race in determining educational success. These include family stability, parental involvement, a school and home culture that supports effective study habits and elementary school curricula that prioritize broadening students’ knowledge base.


 AEI

Critical race theory distracts from widespread academic underachievement


Ian Rowe and Bob Woodson
Newsweek
September 21, 2021

With a new school year underway, parents, teachers and children anxiously return to classrooms amidst an ongoing coronavirus pandemic.


But this year, school board members, teachers, academics, politicians and parents continue to argue over critical race theory and how to enact its version of equity.


Last week, the U.S. Conference of Mayors adopted a resolution to support the teaching of critical race theory in public K-12 schools. The resolution initially listed among its sponsors liberal mayors like Chicago’s Lori Lightfoot, Portland’s Ted Wheeler and Louisville’s Greg Fischer. 


Over the summer, Oregon governor Kate Brown suspended a requirement for students to demonstrate reading, writing and math proficiency in order to receive a high school diploma, in a supposed effort to build “equity.” The governor’s office said the new standards for graduation would aid the state’s “Black, Latino, Latinx, Indigenous, Asian, Pacific Islander, Tribal, and students of color.” 


These efforts by politicians to push critical race theory distracts from a real analysis of educational achievement in their states and cities. The real issue in American education is a failure to enable the majority of students—regardless of race—to achieve academic excellence or even, in many cases, basic skills. 


We have a national crisis of education that most Americans aren’t paying attention to. Our school systems produce a small group of high-achieving students at the top and a massive group of low-achieving students at the bottom.


America has fallen into a multi-generational crisis of illiteracy
. In terms of raw numbers, more white students are reading below grade level than Black students. Of the 1.8 million students who took the ACT in 2019, 36 percent did not achieve college readiness in any of the four subjects. That means about 650,000 American students, despite spending thousands of hours in school, were not prepared for college-level work in a single subject. And that number does not include the millions of students who did not take the ACT. Even worse, 19 percent of American high school graduates are functionally illiterate, unable to read well enough to manage daily tasks.


Framing American educational failure in terms of critical race theory or systemic racism alone ignores the long history of Black American educational excellence. After the abolition of slavery, Black Americans took an incredible leap from illiteracy to literacy, from 20 percent in 1870 to nearly 70 percent by 1910, and many segregated schools, such as all-Black Dunbar High School in Washington, D.C., sent higher percentages of their students to college than comparable white schools did. 


While racial disparities do exist, closing them typically means achieving universal mediocrity. In West Virginia, for example, only 18.7 percent of Black male eighth graders were proficient in reading on the 2013 National Assessment for Educational Progress; for white eighth graders, that number was 19.7 percent. If we closed that “racial achievement gap,” we would still be failing to educate 80 percent of Black and white students.


Meanwhile, the voluntarily segregated Rosenwald Schools, built by Booker T. Washington and Julius Rosenwald in the early 1900s—dramatically increased educational outcomes among Blacks when racism was enshrined in law.


Instead of seeing the world solely through a racial lens, we would do better to address the underlying causes of America’s widespread and race-blind battle with illiteracy. It’s much easier to hire another equity consultant than it is to teach all kids effectively.


By deceptively characterizing educational underachievement as a “Black” problem, CRT advocates have both unhelpfully stereotyped Black students, whose levels of college access continues to rise, and lulled white parents into a false sense of security. In each year since the Nation’s Report Card was first administered in 1992, less than half of the nation’s white students in the fourth, eighth and 12th grades scored proficient in reading.


Contrary to CRT ideology, several factors far outpace race in determining educational success. These include family stability, parental involvement, a school and home culture that supports effective study habits and elementary school curricula that prioritize broadening students’ knowledge base. 


Consider the Piney Woods School in Mississippi, the nation’s oldest Black boarding school. More than 98 percent of Piney Woods’ graduates go on to attend college, because it offers, in the words of the school’s mission, an “exceptional academic model which supports the tenet that all students can learn, develop a strong work ethic, and lead extraordinary lives through academic achievement and responsible citizenship.” Rather than obsess over race, the school aims to promote love, integrity, faith, excellence and empowerment as core values. 


Imagine if this type of education were available for every American family.
Our biggest problem today isn’t the achievement gap between Black and white students; it’s the distance between current illiteracy rates among all students and true academic excellence.


Closing this achievement gap will take a cultural sea change in the way America approaches schooling. Yes, debate critical race theory, but let’s keep our eyes on the prize. We should spend far more time in the pursuit of excellence—implementing reading instruction that would improve literacy outcomes for kids of all races. That would erase the stain of racism far more than endlessly debating critical race theory.


[Bob Woodson is a civil-rights veteran, and founder and president of the Woodson Center and its 1776 Unites initiative. Ian Rowe is a Senior Fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Senior Visiting Fellow at the Woodson Center, and a scholar for the 1776 Unites Initiative.]


Ian Rowe and Bob Woodson

Thursday, September 16, 2021

KAGAN INTERVIEW [EXCERPT]

National Review
A Scholar and a Gentleman
By Jay Nordinger; September 2021

At Brooklyn [College], a history major had to take Western civilization and then a variety of courses, covering many periods and places. They wouldn’t let you be an ignoramus, Kagan said. These days, if you’re an ignoramus, no problem.


And how did he come to be a classical historian—an historian of the ancient world? This, said Kagan, tells us something about “the role of chance in our lives.”


There were so many history courses to choose from, after you took Western civ. Where to begin? Donald Kagan thought he would go in order: from the ancient world on up. He consulted some older students about this. Should he begin with Greece and Rome? “Um, that’s fine,” they said, “but you might want to wait a year or two. Maybe she’ll be retired by then.”


“She”? That was Meta Elizabeth Schutz, “a maiden lady in her sixties,” as Kagan put it to me. She was formidable, no-nonsense—kind of a battle axe. Anyway, Kagan, undaunted, signed up.


“The first thing I noticed was that the room was too big for the number of students in it. And that squared with what I’d heard about her.” Not many were undaunted. Not many were cut out for Miss Schutz.


She had no desire to be your friend. She wasn’t there to cuddle you. She was a severe, exacting teacher. She would not wait for you to raise your hand. She would call on you. And you’d better have the answer.


One young woman began her answer tentatively, saying, “Well . . .” Miss Schutz said, “It is not well!”


Kagan resolved to be ready for this lady. She would not show him up. He studied and studied. And when she called on him—he gave the answer she needed, and gave it with kind of a tough-guy attitude. “Yes,” said Miss Schutz. Then she moved on, matter-of-factly, to the next student.


She did not celebrate young Kagan’s answer. She did not pat him on the back. She expected you to know. That was normal. And if you didn’t know—that was abnormal. She treated her students—many of them poor immigrant kids—as if they were products of Choate and Groton, studying at Princeton. She had high standards—normal standards, she would have said—and expected you to meet them.


Long story short, Kagan grew to appreciate Meta Elizabeth Schutz a great deal. And he determined, then and there—that very semester—to be an ancient historian. When he was a professor, did he, too, call on students, without waiting for them to raise their hand? No. “I wasn’t man enough to be Meta Schutz.”

 

 ===============

Donald Kagan was one of the leading classical historians of our time. He spent most of his career at Yale—from 1969 until his retirement in 2013. For three years, he was dean of the college. Kagan knew plenty about Rome, but his real love was Greece, and at Yale he had the luxury of teaching Greek history, only. On August 6, 2021, Professor Kagan passed away at 89.
 

Monday, September 13, 2021

AUTHORITARIANS AT HARVARD

 Ibrahim Mammadov, Harvard College Class of 2023

 “The class was authoritarian.”
These were the words spoken by my classmate several days ago. Both of us are juniors at Harvard College, and we often talk among our friends about how we feel increasingly unable to engage in real debate on our campus, whether it be in class or otherwise. “They want controlled opposition,” he continued, describing how he felt that “the answers [in class] felt scripted,” and how there was little room for discussion. This class is by far not an exception to this general trend at Harvard. This is worrisome, because already we are beginning to see some of the problematic ramifications of this trend and its negative impact on the campus environment.


One negative impact is that there are very few novel ideas being presented. The students, who are scared stiff by the thought that they might say something that a segment of the class will find problematic, simply regurgitate the same cookie-cutter answers that they know their teachers and classmates will feel comfortable hearing. Not surprisingly, the vast majority of those “acceptable” answers are in line with progressive worldviews. Conservatives—who comprise a little over 12% of the campus population, cannot bring their ideas forward without major backlash from classmates, or sometimes even from the professors. This trend is dangerous
because in the past, colleges were places where ideas could be debated and new solutions could be found to social problems. Debate would mold students’ perspectives, and allow a new generation to emerge that is better equipped to deal with the diverse problems of their time than the previous generation. That is no longer the case. Enrolling a “diverse student body” and then not allowing that student body to express a diversity of thought is nonsensical, and is the reason why the world is increasingly polarized.


In conversation with my classmates who come from abroad, I realized that many of them are shocked at how restricted freedom of expression is in the United States. One of them, who is from India, said that after witnessing multiple students get piled on for defending capitalism in class—with most opponents making little effort to engage with their argument and instead focusing on insulting their character—he swore that he would never disagree with the crowd and simply “say whatever they wanted me [him] to say.” It is shameful that the most elite institutions in the United States are marring the perception of the U.S. as a country where liberty of thought and expression are valued.


The situation is turning outright totalitarian. With students increasingly flirting with the idea of the “fascist lifeboat,” where the objective of achieving a certain political end could justify almost anything, from limitations on speech to harassment and false accusations, it is perhaps time to reconsider the role that universities ought to play in political conflicts. Are they to actively promote a certain perspective? Or should the universities allow the ideas to compete, and let the merit of the best one shine through? The pervasive authoritarianism that exists on
campuses is currently disabling democracy of thought, and it is a mystery why university administrators are doing nothing to stop it.

 

[Ibrahim Mammadov is from Azerbaijan. He graduated from Brooklyn Technical High School and he had a history paper published in The Concord Review.]

Thursday, September 9, 2021

CULTURE WATCH 1996

CULTURE WATCH
Volume 1, Number 3, August 1996
A publication of Capital Research Center

Why doesn’t a journal for the best high school history papers have support
from groups professing an interest in the future of education?

by Laurence Jarvik

When Will Fitzhugh quit teaching high school history in Concord, Massachusetts nine years ago to start The Concord Review, he didn’t know that it would be so difficult to find backers for his venture. The premise for his quarterly publication was simple: to publish the best history papers by public and private high school students in the United States so that teachers and students would have access to examples of excellence. High standards for writing history could be encouraged by learning by example. Fitzhugh, a graduate of Harvard College (Class of 1960), thought that there would be a natural demand among teachers for his effort to publicize essays written by the “best and the brightest.” He was surprised when his request for funding was turned down by 125 foundations, the Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Fitzhugh cashed in his retirement account and put one hundred thousand dollars of his own money into The Concord Review, whose first issue appeared in 1988. What Fitzhugh did not realize was that while he was pursuing teaching history in the public high schools, the field of academic history was changing. The lifelong Democrat had become an unknowing participant in the culture wars. The rejections he received from foundations and government agencies were the results of a paradigm shift which preferred group identity to individual merit. “Sometimes they tell me they are only interested in the work of minority students,” Fitzhugh recalled, “and sometimes they say they cannot see the value of supporting the work of just a few good youngsters.” Fitzhugh’s position that minority students are “welcome to contribute their work” and to be judged on the basis of its excellence fell on deaf ears.

That Fitzhugh’s journal would be caught up in the controversy over politically correct high school history came as a surprise. When the National Standards for United States History were released in 1994, they listed The Concord Review among approved “teaching resources for United States history”…as “an exceptional teaching tool modeling outstanding essays research (sic) and written by high school students…Recommended for grades 9-12.” Two essays were featured in a special January, 1995 Concord Review as the best of the year. Neither could be considered conservative. Aaron Einbond, a sophomore at New York City’s elite public Hunter College High School, contributed a study of John Maynard Keynes based on citations from liberal economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Lekachman. Pia Lindstrom Luedtke, a sophomore at the private Polytechnic School of Pasadena, offered a feminist interpretation of the career of architect Julia Morgan entitled “Blueprint for Social Change.” The high-schooler had already enjoyed one official seal of approval: in 1993 Luedtke received a $1,900 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the NEH Younger Scholars Program to write her essay over summer vacation. Other essays published in The Concord Review included accounts of baseball’s Negro Leagues, women’s suffrage, President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of the League of Nations, the role of women in the French Revolution, and a critique of Frederick Jackson Turner based on the work of liberal historian Richard Hofstadter. The Concord Review also published essays on the development of the Ferris Wheel and the power loom and an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis continue the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. A glance at issues provided to Culture Watch shows little in the way of what might be characterized as conservative history: for example, the legacy of conservative statesmen, scientists, businessmen, intellectuals, military history, or criticism of leftist historical figures or trends.

Fitzhugh is a colorful character. The son of a prominent Boston physician, at the age of two Fitzhugh moved to Arizona with his mother after his parents divorced. Graduating from a boarding school in Menlo Park, California after winning a prize by answering (almost) 1,000 questions correctly (the best a student had done in 17 years), he went to work as a logger. Fitzhugh entered Harvard in 1956 after his father brought him back East with an offer to pay his tuition. He graduated in 1962 with an English degree, spent a year doing graduate work in English literature at Cambridge University, and in 1964 went to work for the Apollo space program preparing charts used in the construction of the Command Module. This led to a job with Pan Am as a management trainee. Fitzhugh returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he obtained a master’s degree in education from Harvard. After jobs with the Peace Corps (which sent him to Iran), Westinghouse, and Polaroid, Fitzhugh went into teaching, first working as a guidance counselor and, in 1978, as a social studies teacher at Concord High School. In 1987, he started The Concord Review to give recognition to good students, “the ones who’re doing better than we think they are.” In its first year the magazine had subscribers in 14 states, and soon had support from Harold Howe, a Harvard professor and Commissioner of Education in the Johnson administration, and Chester Finn, Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration. Finn gave Fitzhugh $10,000 from the Fordham foundation. Howe wrote letters to 15 foundations on his behalf.

A traditional liberal approach to history—narratives of great men, nations and ideas—is not in keeping with trends in political correctness sweeping education. Against his will, Fitzhugh is being pushed into the conservative camp. His notion that The Concord Review is a form of “Varsity Academics®” [now a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.] is offensive to advocates of the new pedagogy. The very educational nostrums that brought Fitzhugh to Harvard in 1956 from a logging camp are now considered obsolete and elitist. The new view of history is instrumental, and high school history has become a kind of sensitivity training. Robert Lerner, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman have called the process Molding the Good Citizen (Prager, 1995) in their review of the politics of high school history texts. They point out that civil rights groups, feminists, peace activists and environmentalists have all “sought to change the school in specific ways to bring about a new social order.” Because Fitzhugh’s journal does not pretend to fight oppression by race, class and sex, its purpose is suspect. “It used to be the people on both sides of the aisle thought standards were a good idea,” Fitzhugh told Culture Watch. “Now anybody who thinks reading and writing and doing homework is a good idea is considered a conservative.’

[Will Fitzhugh can be reached at fitzhugh@tcr.org; and The Concord Review at tcr.org. Varsity Academics® is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.]

Wednesday, September 1, 2021

BURNING OF LOUVAIN

     On August 25 [1914] the burning of Louvain began. The medieval city on the road from Liège to Brussels was renowned for its University and incomparable Library, founded in 1426 when Berlin was a clump of wooden huts. Housed in the fourteenth century Clothworkers’ Hall, the Library included among its 230,000 volumes a unique collection of 750 medieval manuscripts and over a thousand incunabula. The façade of the Town Hall, called a “jewel of Gothic art,” was a stone tapestry of carved knights and saints and ladies, lavish even of its kind. In the church of St. Pierre were altar panels by Dierik Bouts and other Flemish masters. The burning and sack of Louvain, accompanied by the invariable shooting of civilians, lasted six days before it was called off as abruptly as it began. 


    Everything went smoothly when Louvain was first occupied. The shops did a rush of business. German soldiers behaved in exemplary fashion, bought postcards and souvenirs, paid for all their purchases, and stood in line with the regular customers for haircuts at the barbershop. The second day was more strained. A German soldier was shot in the leg, allegedly by snipers. The burgomaster urgently repeated his call upon civilians to surrender arms. He and two other officials were arrested as hostages. Executions behind the railroad station became frequent. The endless tramp of von Kluck’s columns continued through the city day after day. 


    On August 25 the Belgian Army at Malines, on the edge of the entrenched camp of Antwerp, made a sudden sharp sortie upon the rearguard of von Kluck’s Army, flinging them back in disorder upon Louvain. In the turmoil of retreat a riderless horse clattering through the gates after dark frightened another horse which tried to bolt, fell in harness, and overturned the wagon. Shots rang out, setting off cries of “Die Franzosen sind da! Die Engländer sind da!” Later the Germans claimed they had been fired on by Belgian civilians or that civilians had fired from rooftops as signals to the Belgian Army. Belgians claimed that German soldiers had fired on one another in the dark. For weeks and months, even years, after the event that appalled the world, judicial inquiries and tribunals investigated the outbreak, and German accusations were contradicted by Belgian countercharges. Who shot whom was never established and was in any case irrelevant to what followed, for the Germans burned Louvain not as a punishment for alleged Belgian misdeeds, but as a deterrent and a warning to all their enemies—a gesture of German might before all the world. 


    General von Luttwitz, the new Governor of Brussels, expressed as much next morning. Visited in the course of duty by the American and Spanish Ministers, he said to them, “A dreadful thing has occurred at Louvain. Our General there has been shot by the son of the Burgomaster. The population has fired on our troops.” He paused, looked at his visitors, and finished, “And now of course we have to destroy the city.”


Barbara W. Tuchman,  (7-22-2009). The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; Barbara W. Tuchman's Great War Series (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books) (Kindle Locations 6001-6018). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, August 26, 2021

A WRITING TEST

Some serious concern now over Oregon minority students being allowed to graduate from high school without knowing how to write.

As far as I can tell from the information available to me, we test no HS seniors on their skill in nonfiction writing. If there is such a test of academic (or any) writing for Seniors at any U.S. public high school, I hope someone will let me know about it.
 
We do not test for writing and guess what? our HS graduates cannot write. Q.E.D.

Will Fitzhugh 


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

RATE BUSTERS

 Rate Busters

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
1 September 2021

Back in the day, when Union contracts specified the number of widgets each worker was expected to produce during a shift, that number was called “the rate.” Anyone who produced more than that number was called a “rate-buster,” and was subjected to pressure, sanctions, and the like, from fellow union members, until their production was once more within the agreed rate for that job.

There are “rates” in education as well, for students. In general, if they are assigned nonfiction papers, many high school students are asked to write only 3-5 pages. The International Baccalaureate asks for Extended Essays of 4,000 words (16 pages) at the end of a candidate’s time in the program, but that is quite out of the ordinary.

In 2014 a Junior at one of the most prestigious (and most expensive) New England preparatory schools expressed an interest in preparing a paper to be considered by The Concord Review, where the published history research papers now average 9,000 words (30 pages), but she was concerned because her teachers limited history papers at that school to 1,000 words or less (4 pages).

When The Concord Review started calling for history research papers by secondary students in 1987, the suggestion was that papers should be 4,000-6,000 words (or more), (16-24 pages) but students have been sending in longer papers. One 20,000-word paper on the Augustan Reforms in the Roman military (c. 65 pages) was submitted by a student in Singapore whose English curriculum would limit him to 2,000 words. He wanted to read more and write more about the topic. (He will be going to Oxford.)

He is a rate-buster, eager to go beyond the common expectations for what high school students are capable of in writing serious history research papers. In his introduction to the first issue of The Concord Review, (1988) Theodore Sizer, former Dean of the School of Education at Harvard, and former Headmaster at Andover, wrote:  

Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.

We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.

Not much has changed since Dr. Sizer wrote that in 1988. Our schools continue to find ways to limit the amount of nonfiction writing our students do, with the result that they do not get very good at it. But no matter how much college professors and employers complain that their students and employees can’t write, our “union rules” at the k-12 level ensure that students do very little nonfiction writing.

This is not the result of a union contract on rates, but it does come in part from the fact that, for instance in some public high schools, history teachers can have 150 students. This provides a big disincentive for them in assigning term papers or even book reports. They must consider how much time they have to advise students on papers and to evaluate them when they are submitted. But the administration and the school committees do not want nonfiction writing to get, for example, the extra time routinely given to after-school sports, or band and cheerleading.

In addition, some significant number of teachers have never written a thesis, or done much serious academic writing of their own, which makes it more comfortable for them to limit their students to the minimum of nonfiction writing in school (or none).

The Concord Review
has published 130 issues with 1,427 history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 43 other countries, so there are some “rate-buster” students out there, even in our public high schools. It is even clearer, from the number of excellent “independent study” papers we now receive, that many more students, when they see the exemplary work of their peers, follow the rule that says “Where there’s a Way there’s a Will,” and they take advantage of a journal that does not tell them what to write about, nor does it limit the length of the papers they want to write. When we see the number of these fine history papers, it should make us regret all the more everything we do to press our potential student “rate-busters” to do less than they could. We don’t do that in sports. Why in the world do we do it in academics?


“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987] tcr.org
TCR History Camp [2014]
Varsity Academics®