Thursday, December 16, 2010

HS Author Inspiration [samples from letters]

[Albert Shanker understood: (1993) “Publication in The Concord Review is a kind of prize—a recognition of excellence and a validation of intellectual achievement—that could be for young historians what the Westinghouse [Intel] Science Competition is for young scientists. Equally important, the published essays can let youngsters see what other students their own age are capable of and what they themselves can aspire to.”]

Jesse Esch: “Finally, I would be remiss if I did not thank you, on behalf of all students who have been called upon to attempt the seemingly insurmountable task of writing an in-depth history paper, for providing us with plentiful examples of good writing and good history.”

Candace Choi: “I attend a public high school with teachers who rarely, if ever, assign any paper that exceeds two thousand words, much less a research paper. Therefore, I am writing my paper as independent research...I thank you for this great opportunity you are providing for high schoolers all around the globe. It is indeed rare to have a publication that showcases works of secondary students.”

Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse: “As I began to research the Ladies’ Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task. At first, I did check out every relevant book from the library, running up some impressive fines in the process, but I learned to skim bibliographies and academic databases to find more interesting texts. I read about women’s history, agrarian activism and Irish nationalism, considering the ideas of feminist and radical historians alongside contemporary accounts...Writing about the Ladies’ Land League, I finally understood and appreciated the beautiful complexity of history...In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come.”

Shounan Ho: “Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper...”

Samuel Brudner: “No one from my school had ever been published in the Review, and I’ll admit I was unfamiliar with it at first. A little research, however, alerted me to its outstanding quality, and I revisited my paper with my teacher’s suggestions and a sense of the journal’s high standards in mind. After several months of further research and revisions, I completed something I thought would be worth submitting. The process of revision was as transformative for me as it was for my paper, not only better informing me about an important controversy, but also leading me to think very deeply about certain ideas at play in the world. Studying a subject as closely as The Concord Review requires was a valuable experience for me, as I am sure it has been for many students. I cannot thank you enough for motivating me to achieve, and for recognizing the hard work I put into my paper. I am honored to see my paper among the fine examples of terrific historical research published in your journal.”

Kaitlin Marie Bergan: “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.”

Daniel Winik: “As many others have no doubt told you, your publication of The Concord Review is a noble enterprise with tremendous value for young historians....The Concord Review not only recognizes such work but also encourages it. Your publication of my paper has inspired several of my classmates to consider submitting theirs. I can only hope that with your jubilee [50th] issue, you will begin to receive the accolades you deserve. Once more, I thank you for honoring me and for recognizing the work of young historians everywhere.”

Colin Rhys Hill: “Also, for your information, most of the “get into college” publications I read referred to The Concord Review as the “Intel Science Competition” of the humanities and the only serious way to get academic work noticed...”

Antoine Cadot-Wood: “The paper I wrote three years ago for The Concord Review was an undertaking beyond what I had attempted up to that point, and I have continued to write papers on history frequently ever since. The [Emerson] prize will be put to good use, as I embark this week on a six-month trip to China. I will be attending a program to continue to improve my Mandarin, with the goal of being able to use it for research as my college career continues. Thank you for providing me with such a great opportunity during my last year of high school, and I hope that The Concord Review continues to publish for many years more.”

Jessica Leight: “At CRLHS, a much-beloved history teacher suggested to me that I consider writing for The Concord Review, a publication that I had previously heard of, but knew little about. He proposed, and I agreed, that it would be an opportunity for me to pursue more independent work, something that I longed for, and hone my writing and research skills in a project of considerably broader scope than anything I had undertaken up to that point...I likewise hope that the range of academic opportunities and challenges I discovered beyond my school, that contributed to make my experience in secondary school so rewarding and paved the way for a happy and successful career as an undergraduate [summa at Yale] and (I hope) as a graduate student [Rhodes Scholar], will still be available for them [my children]. Among those opportunities, of course, is The Concord Review. Twenty or twenty-five years from now, I will be looking for it.”

Sunday, December 12, 2010


Today, The Boston Globe published the latest in a long series of special “All-Scholastics” 14-page (12x20-inch) supplements on good local high school athletes from a variety of sports. These celebrations are produced three times a year (42 pages) with lots of pictures and little bios and lists of all-stars from the Boston area.

Again this Fall, there was no room for any mention by The Boston Globe of any noteworthy academic achievement by local students at the high school level. Christiane Henrich of Marblehead, Massachusetts, wrote a 7,360-word Emerson-prize-winning history research paper on the quality (good for the day) of U.S. Civil War medicine. It was published in the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students...No room in The Boston Globe for that to be mentioned. She is now at Stanford and doesn’t mind, but I mind about all the Boston-area students who are fed a constant diet of praise for athletic achievement by their peers and at the same time are starved of any and all news of the academic achievements of their peers.

In fact, over the years I have published a good number of exemplary history papers by high school students from the Boston area and they did not and do not get mentioned in The Boston Globe, nor do the academic achievements of our high school students in foreign languages (e.g. National Latin Exam, etc.), AP subject tests in Calculus, Chemistry, European history or in any other field, find any notice from the Globe.

International competitions reveal that we are below average in Reading, Math and Science. Perhaps we should just explain that we don’t care about that stuff as much as we do about swimming, soccer, cross-country, football, golf, field hockey, and volleyball, because achievement by our high school students in those efforts are what we really like to pay attention to, (not that academic stuff), at least when it comes to The Boston Globe.

The Boston Globe (and its subscribers) are, in this way, sending a constant stream of clear messages (42 pages at a time in supplements, not to mention regular daily columns on HS sports) that at least in Boston (The Athens of America) what we care about is kids doing well in sports. If they do well in academics we don’t think that is worth mentioning. Sick, sad, and self-destructive, but there we are.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

ASK STUDENTS (for once)

Newsweek reports this week on Michelle Rhee’s new project StudentsFirst, but I have been thinking a lot lately about the fact that, while our HS students have spent some 12,960 hours observing teachers [6 hours x 180 days x 12 years] and giving at least some of their attention to other aspects of school reform that affect them, no one seems to show any interest in actually talking with them to discover what they have learned.

Tony Wagner of Harvard did conduct a focus group for recent grads of a suburban high school he was working with, and he was surprised and intrigued by what he learned from them during the course of the conversation. But he tells me he only knows of three high schools in the whole country (out of 20,000 +) which conduct such efforts to learn from students what they have noticed about their schools.

When I left my job at the Space & Information Systems Division of North American Aviation to accept a new job with Pan Am in the early 1960s, they gave me an exit interview to find out why I was leaving, but also to discover what I might offer by way of observations about my tasks and the job environment.

Our high schools, I feel it is safe to claim, do not offer their students exit interviews, either as they finish graduation or a few years later. We pass up the chance to harvest knowledge from those thousands of hours of classroom observation, and from their “hands-on” experience of the educational system in which we placed them for 12 years.

What could be the reasons for this vacuum in our curiosity about education? I believe it comes in part from our attitude that, after all, students are merely students, and that they will not become thinking human beings until long after they leave our buildings.

This is a really stupid attitude, in my view. After all, some of these students have managed calculus, chemistry, Chinese and European history. I know some who have written very very good 11,000 to 15,000-word history research papers. So it should be obvious to us, if we take a moment to think, that not only are they fully capable of noticing something about the instruction and the other schooling processes they have experienced, but also that they are fully capable of reporting to us some of what they have learned, if we can convince them that we really want to know.

Now, someone may point out that half our college freshman drop out before their sophomore year, that a million of our HS graduates are in remedial courses every year when they get to college, and so on. I know that, so let’s, at least initially, not talk to poorly-performing students. Instead, to get our feet wet, let’s give serious interviews to the ones who will graduate summa cum laude from Yale, Stanford, Princeton, MIT and Harvard. You know, the ones who will get the Nobel Prizes one day. Surely it is not so hard to identify the ten most academically promising and thoughtful of our HS seniors each year, and, after graduation, at least ask them if they would be willing to share some of their observations and thoughts in a conversation with us.

This would give us a small first step, and a fresh one, on the way to putting Students First, and start to put an end to our really dumb neglect of this rich resource for helping us understand how to do our education jobs better for their younger peers.

I can only hope that Mr. Gates, with his hopes to improve teacher training, and Michelle Rhee, with her new push to pay attention to students for a change, are listening to this.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010


I have argued lately that students in our schools, who, by end of high school, have logged nearly 12,960 hours of classroom observation, compared with the pitiful few hours for which the official teacher evaluator in the school has time, but that those young observers are never asked for their views on any aspect of education reform. No one asks them how they think teachers should be selected or trained, or about anything else. Unlike many companies, we do not even conduct exit interviews when our best students leave our schools. When this idea is offered, many object that students are, after all, only students, forgetting, no doubt, that every Nobel Prize winner, every summa cum laude graduate of Stanford, Yale, Princeton, MIT and Harvard, and every college professor, was once a student sitting there and observing, and even thinking about, our education reform efforts. We spend billions and billions “giving help” to our students, but we have perhaps forgotten what Douglas McGregor wrote about the provision of help in 1960. It is worth reading again...

Douglas McGregor, Sloan School, MIT, The Human Side of Enterprise
Boston: McGraw-Hill Book Company, 1960, p. 163-164

“The Appropriate Role of Staff

The appropriate role of any major staff that of providing professional help to all levels of management. In some cases, such as engineering, the help is provided primarily to one or two functions, e.g., manufacturing and sales. In other cases, such as accounting and personnel, the help is provided to all other functions.

The hierarchical nature of the organization has tended to focus attention on help given to the level at which the staff group reports. Rewards and punishments for staff members come from there. Moreover, prestige and status are greater the higher level of ‘attachment.’ In large companies, where there are both headquarters and field staff groups, it is particularly important that the headquarters groups recognize and accept their responsibilities for providing help to all levels of management.

The provision of professional help is a subtle and complex process. Perhaps the most critical point—and the one hardest to keep clearly in mind—is that help is always defined by the recipient. Taking an action with respect to someone because ‘it is best for him,’ or because ‘it is for the good of the organization,’ may be influencing him, but it is not providing help unless he so perceives it. Headquarters staff groups tend to rationalize many of their activities on the field organization in a paternalistic manner and, as a consequence, fail to see that they are relying on inappropriate methods of control. When the influence is unsuccessful, the usual reaction occurs: The recipients of the ‘help’ are seen as resistant, stupid, indifferent to organizational needs, etc. The provision of help, like any other form of control or influence, requires selective adaptation to natural law. One important characteristic of ‘natural law’ in this case is that help is defined by the recipient...”

Wednesday, December 1, 2010


[Offered for the Commentary section of Education Week]


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

1 December 2010

In a Newsweek article for November 28, 2010, Jonathan Alter, in the process of calling educational historian Diane Ravitch “jaundiced,” and “the Whittaker Chambers of school reform,” praises Bill Gates for his broad-minded views of the best way to evaluate teachers, including “student feedback,” which Alter observes, parenthetically, is “(surprisingly predictive of success in the classroom)...”

Now, who is it that could be surprised that students might be able to predict which teachers would be successful in the classroom, Mr. Alter? How could it be, he must assume, that young students, after their thousands of hours of classroom observations, might know something about what makes an effective teacher and who might do well at the job?

I find the combination of hubris, ignorance and condescension revealed by that parenthetical aside to be truly astonishing.

Recently Randi Weintgarten told Jay Mathews in an interview that in considering school reform it was important to start from the bottom up, that is with teachers.

Hasn’t a single Edupundit or Union Leader noticed that “below” the teachers, if we want to start from the bottom up, are the students? You know, the ones who have always been there, observing and learning a lot about teachers, who they are, what they can do, and what it would take to make classrooms and schools do their job better. As John Shepard has pointed out to me: “Can we not—using W.C. Field’s paraphrase—see the handwriting on the floor?”

But perhaps someone has indeed thought of asking them. Tony Wagner at Harvard conducted a focus group of recent graduates for a suburban high school and was quite surprised by much of what he learned, but when I asked him how many high schools he knew of which did conduct such inquiries to learn how they could improve, he said he only knew of three in the country.

We are not asking students, so they are not telling us, no surprise there. But perhaps we are not asking them because, don’t you know, they are just kids. I know something about those kids because I was a teacher for ten years and for the last 23 I have been seeking out and publishing their serious academic expository writing. I know that some of my authors have graduated summa cum laude from Harvard, Princeton and Yale, that some of them have become Rhodes Scholars, Marshall Scholars, and doctors, lawyers, and chiefs of various kinds. Why is it so easy for us to forget that every Nobel Prize winner was once a high school student sitting there as an interested observer, learning about teachers, classrooms and schools?

But we don’t think to ask them. We don’t benefit from their years of experience studying the education we are offering them. This stupidity on our part has resulted in hundreds of billions of dollars and centuries of person-years deployed on education reform without making use of any of the knowledge students regularly accumulate about what we are trying to reform. What a sad thoughtless waste of money and time!

Japanese car makers had the sense to allow workers on the assembly line to stop the line if they saw a defect that needed correction, and they have led the world in quality work.

While it is no doubt impossible for us even to imagine giving students the power to stop a teacher who was doing a terrible job, why don’t we at least give some thought, with all our heavy thinkers and all our research budgets, to trying to discover at least
a tiny bit of what some of our more thoughtful students have observed over their decades in our schools?

We could actually consider asking for and even taking some small bit of their advice on how to educate them and their peers better. After all, we landed on the Moon within a decade, didn’t we? And brought the astronauts safely home...surely we could ask a few students a few questions, and listen to the answers, couldn’t we?

Monday, November 29, 2010

From Hong Kong

Hong Kong

23 November 2010

Mr. Will Fitzhugh


The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

Please accept my essay submission: “Matteo Ricci and the Jesuit Mission in China: 1583-1610.”

I’m a Junior at the Chinese International School ( in Hong Kong. CIS is a K-12 bilingual English-Mandarin school. I am fluent in both languages, and am now pursuing the IB Diploma. I intend to edit this essay and submit it as my IB extended essay.

My favorite subject is history, and my teacher, Mr. Christopher Caves, supervised the writing of this essay. Allow me to explain how I decided upon my subject. Last spring I was on holiday in Beijing with my family and we visited a special exhibition at the Capital Museum honoring the life of Matteo Ricci. He was the Italian scholar and priest who led the pioneering Jesuit mission to China in the late 16th century. There are Jesuit schools and colleges in Hong Kong and Macau named after Ricci, but I confess I did not know anything more about him. It turns out that this year marks the 400th anniversary of his death, and the exhibition was a showcase of his intellectually astonishing life. The exhibition was stunning. On display were a number of his books written in Latin, Portuguese, and Chinese; his journals; scientific and musical instruments he brought to China from Europe; and copies of some of the incredible world maps he created. As my essay explains, Matteo Ricci was the first major conduit connecting China to the West, and he left an indelible mark on both worlds in terms of a mutual appreciation for culture and civilization.

By chance, my mother had read Jonathan Spence’s wonderful book, The Memory Palace of Matteo Ricci, and I read it soon after returning from Beijing. I was enthralled at the breadth and depth of Ricci’s intellect, and his devotion to his mission. I was also amazed by his mastery of Chinese. I have found it a difficult language to learn, so I can only imagine what it was like for him to master the Confucian classics four centuries ago. Blood, toil, tears and sweat. I felt deeply humbled.

The large-scale world maps he started producing in 1584 are amazing. He cleverly put China in the middle of the world to please the Ming Emperor Wan Li. Attached are copies of a few (reprinted with permission) which give you a glimpse of his genius.

I thank you for giving high school students like myself a chance to pursue our passions in depth. This process of research, discovery, organizing thoughts and references, and continuous redrafting has made me much more appreciative of historical scholarship. Regardless of whether my essay is selected, I hope you enjoy reading it and learning about this fascinating man, whose life and work have opened up my eyes to the beauty of the humanities across cultures.

Sincerely yours,
Caitlin Lu
Class of 2012
Chinese International School (Hong Kong)

Monday, November 15, 2010


There are many suggestions that the best teachers have an obligation
to teach in the worst schools. Perhaps they would be more likely to do so
if they were granted a few privileges, such as the peremptory
challenge available to lawyers in court trials....


Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

15 November 2010

The conductor pauses, waiting for the coughing to die down before he raises his baton. The surgeon looks over her team, making sure all are in place and ready to work, before she makes the first incision. The prosecuting attorney pauses to study the jury for a little while before making his opening statement.

All these highly trained people need certain conditions to be met before they can begin their vital work with the necessary confidence that it can be carried out well. If the audience is too noisy, the conductor must wait. If the team is not in their places, the surgeon will not begin. If the members of the jury have not been examined, the attorney will not have to present his case before them.

Only schoolteachers must start their classes in the absence of the calm and attention which are essential to the careful exchange of information and ideas. Only the schoolteacher must attempt the delicate surgery of attaching knowledge and removing ignorance, with no team to help. Only schoolteachers must accept all who are assigned to the class, without the benefit of the peremptory challenges the attorney may use to shape his audience, and give his case the benefit of the doubt.

The Sanskrit word for a teaching, sutra, is the source of the English word, suture, and indeed the stitching of learning to the understanding in young minds is a particularly delicate form of surgery. The teacher does not deal with meat, but with ideas and knowledge, attempting to remove misconceptions and provide truth. The teacher has to do this, not with one anaesthetized patient, and a team of five, but with twenty-five or thirty students and no help.

Those who attend concerts want to be quiet, so that they and their fellows can hear and appreciate the music. Those who come in for surgery want the doctor to have all the help she needs and to have her work under the very best possible conditions, because the outcome of the operation is vital to their interests. The legal system tries to weed out jurors with evident biases, and works in many ways to protect the process which allows both the prosecution and the defense to do their best within the law. The jury members have been made aware of the importance of their mission, and of their duty to attend and to decide with care.

Students, on the other hand, are constantly exposed to a fabulously rich popular culture which assures them that teachers are losers and so is anyone who takes the work of learning in school seriously. Too many single parents feel they have lost the power to influence their offspring, especially as they become adolescents, and many are in any case more concerned that their youngsters be happy and make friends, than that they respect and listen to their teachers, bring home a lot of homework, and do it in preparation for the serious academic work that awaits them the next day.

Students are led to believe that to reject authority and to neglect academic work are evidence of their independence, their rebellion against the dead hand of the older generation. We must of course make an exception here for those fortunate children, many but not all Asian, who reject this foolish idea, and instead apply themselves diligently to their studies, grateful for the effort of their teachers and for the magical opportunity of 12 years of free education.

But what they see as a privilege worthy of their very best efforts, many other students see as a burden, an wanted intrusion on their social and digital time of entertainment. A study of the Kaiser Foundation last year found that the average U.S. student spends more than six hours each day with some form, or combination of forms, of electronic entertainment, and the Indiana Study of High School Student Engagement studied 80,000 teenagers and found that 55% spent three hours or less each week on their homework and still managed to get As and Bs.

We hear stories about the seriousness of students in China and India and South Korea, but we are inclined to ignore them, perhaps as the Romans discounted rumors about the Goths and the Visigoths until it was too late. We hear about our students doing more poorly in international academic competitions the longer they stay in school, but we prefer to think that our American character and our creativity will carry us through somehow, even as we can see with our own eyes how many of the things we use every day are “Made in China.”

Part of the responsibility lies with our teachers in the schools, overburdened and unappreciated as they are. Their unions fight for better pay and working conditions, but say nothing about their academic work. Teachers, too, like lawyers, should demand peremptory challenges, so that they can say they will not be able to teach this one and that one, without damaging the work of the whole class. They, as much as the surgeons who are cutting meat, must be able to enforce close attention to the serious work of suturing learning and minds in their classes. And like the conductor, they must be given the attention that is essential if the music of their teaching is to be heard and appreciated. Teachers who do not demand these conditions are simply saying that their academic work is not important enough to deserve such protections and conditions, and as a result, parents and students are encouraged to see it in the same light.

Friday, November 5, 2010


In a June 3, 1990 column in The New York Times, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“...It is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process—or better yet become involved in it—productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits—history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned—it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”


In a June 1993 letter to the MacArthur Foundation, Albert Shanker, President of the American Federation of Teachers, wrote:

“...Equally important, the published essays can let youngsters see what other students their own age are capable of and what they themselves can aspire to. The Review also has a vital message for teachers. American education suffers from an impoverishment of standards at all levels. We see that when we look at what is expected of students in other industrialized nations and at what they achieve. Could American students achieve at that level? Of course, but our teachers often have a hard time knowing exactly what they can expect of their students or even what a first-rate essay looks like. The Concord Review sets a high but realistic standard; and it could be invaluable for teachers trying to recalibrate their own standards of excellence.”

...Let me say that I think The Concord Review could be especially useful to poor and disadvantaged children and their teachers. Last year, I was privileged to hear John Jacob, the president of the National Urban League, talk about how poor black children, in particular, need to be held up to higher academic standards. Jacob believes that, instead of lowering our sights, we must raise them and demand high academic performance. Among the specific standards he suggested was that every African-American child—and in fact every American child—write a 25-page paper in order to graduate from high school. I think Jacob is right. I also think The Concord Review could be a vehicle for raising the sights of disadvantaged children and their teachers. And I plan to work with leaders in one or more of the American Federation of Teachers’ urban locals to help set up special issues of The Concord Review for their cities similar to the special International Baccalaureate issue the Review recently published.”

Monday, November 1, 2010


October 21, 2010

The Concord Review has, over the years, deeply engaged and inspired hundreds of high school students to conduct research and then to write full-length, thoughtful and publishable essays of the highest quality.

I commend your dedication to this effort.

Carole M. Watson
Deputy Chairman
National Endowment for the Humanities
Washington, DC

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Curriculum Matters; Education Week

Why Students Don't Write Research Papers in High School

By Catherine Gewertz on October 25, 2010 11:53 AM

Those of you who lament the state of high school students' research and writing skills will be interested in a discussion that's been unfolding at the National Association of Scholars. It began a couple weeks ago with the publication of a previously undisclosed report on why students are not learning—let alone mastering— the skills of crafting substantial research papers.

The report is here, and the explanation of its origins and disclosure is described in the press release here. A response from a frustrated high school English teacher is here.

The report found that most social studies/history teachers never assign moderately long research papers. Most of the teachers—whose student loads often surpass 150—said they can't afford the time necessary to grade such papers.

This is hardly a new conversation. Consider the work done by Achieve and ACT on this issue, and the look Cincinnati took at it last year. And Will Fitzhugh, who was the driving force behind the recently disclosed paper, has been tirelessly advocating for rigorous high school research papers for years. A former history teacher, he runs The Concord Review, the only journal [in the world] that publishes high school students' history research papers, and blogs as well. (He sums up his views on the importance of research papers in this EdWeek commentary, from a few years ago, and more recently on The Washington Post's Answer Sheet blog.)

On a related note, another recent paper pinpointed a fragmented high school English curriculum and a neglect of close-reading skills as key explanations for teenagers' poor reading skills. That paper was written by one of the architects of Massachusetts' academic standards, former state board member Sandra Stotsky, and published by the Association of Literary Scholars, Critics, and Writers (ALSCW).

While the reflections on students' mastery of reading, writing and research skills are hardly new, they take on an interesting dimension (and more urgency, perhaps?) with the widespread adoption of common standards that envision a significant shift in how literacy skills are taught.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Digital Dilettantism

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

The Kaiser Foundation, in its January 2010 report on the use of electronic entertainment media by U.S. students, aged 8-18, found that, on average, these young people are spending more than seven hours a day (53 hours a week) with such (digital) amusements.

For some, this would call into question whether students have time to read the nonfiction books and to write the research papers they will need to work on to get themselves ready for college and careers, not to mention the homework for their other courses.

For the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, however, the problem appears to be that we are not paying enough attention to the possible present and future connections between digital media and learning, so they have decided to invest $50,000,000 in grants to explore that relationship.

One recent two-year grant, “for $650,000 to study the effect of digital media on young people's ethical development and to develop curricula for parents and teachers,” went to the Harvard Education School, which has distinguished itself for, among other things, seeming to have no one on its faculty with any research or teaching interest in the actual academic work of high school students, for example in chemistry, history, economics, physics, foreign languages, calculus, and the like.

The Harvard Ed School faculty do show real interest in poverty, disability, psychological problems, race, gender, ethnicity, and the development of moral character, so they may take to this idea of studying the relation between electronic media and student ethics. A visit to the Harvard Ed School website, and a review of the research interests of the faculty would prove enlightening to anyone who thought, for some odd reason, that they might be paying attention to the academic work of students in the schools.

Whether Harvard will conclude that seven hours a day doesn’t help much with the ethical development of students or not, one could certainly wish that they would discover that spending a lot of their time on digital media does very little for student preparation for college academic work that is at all demanding, not to mention the actual work of their careers, unless they are in the digital entertainment fields, of course.

The National Writing Project, which regularly has received $26,000,000 each year in federal grants for many years to help thousands of teachers feel more comfortable writing about themselves, has now received $1.1 million in grants from the MacArthur Foundation, presumably so that they may now direct some of their efforts to helping students use digital media to write more about themselves as well.

Perhaps someone should point out, to MacArthur, the National Writing Project, the Harvard Ed School, and anyone else involved in this egregious folly and waste of money, that our students already spend a great deal of their time each and every day writing and talking about themselves with their friends, using a variety of electronic media.

In fact, it is generally the case that the students (without any grants) are already instructing any of their teachers who are interested in the use of a variety of electronic media.

But like folks in any other self-sustaining educational enterprise, those conversing on the uses of digital media in learning about digital media need a chance to talk about what they are doing, whether it is harmful to serious academic progress for our students or not, so MacArthur has also granted to “the Monterey Institute for Technology and Education (in Monterey, California) $2,140,000 to build the field of Digital Media and Learning through a new journal, conferences, and convenings (over five years).”

The MacArthur Foundation website has a list of scores more large grants for these projects in digital media studies and digital learning (it is not clear, of course, what “digital learning” actually means, if anything).

This very expensive and time-consuming distraction from any effort to advance respectable common standards for the actual academic work of students in our nation’s schools must be enjoyable, both for those giving out the $50 million, and, I suppose, for those receiving it, but the chances are good that their efforts will only help to make the college and career readiness of our high school students an even more distant goal.

Saturday, October 16, 2010


The consensus among Edupundits is that teacher quality is the most important variable in student academic achievement.

I argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work.

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review, 29 March 2007
Columnist, Houston, Texas

Edupundits have chosen very complex subject matter for their investigations and reports. They study and write about dropouts, vouchers, textbooks, teacher selection and training, school governance, budgets, curricula in all subjects, union contracts, school management issues, and many many more.

Meanwhile, practically all of them fail to give any attention to the basic purpose of schools, which is to have students do academic work. Almost none of them seems inclined to look past the teacher to see if the students are, for instance, reading any nonfiction books or writing any term papers.

Of course all of the things they do pay attention to are vitally important, but without student academic work they mean very little. Now, I realize there are state standards in math and reading, and some states test for writing after a fashion, but no state standards ask if students have read a history book while they were in school or written a substantial research paper, and neither do the SAT, ACT, or NAEP tests.

Basic math skills are important, and current standards try to find out if those graduating from our high schools can do math at the 8th-grade level, and a similar standard is in place for reading, but for the time being, higher education and the workplace are still not well designed for students with 8th-grade math and reading skills.

Students in Massachusetts who pass the state test for graduation, the MCAS, find out when they take their college placement tests that they have come up against a different level of expectation. In Massachusetts, more than 60% of those who go to community colleges have to take remedial courses and 34% of those who go to the four-year colleges have to take remedial courses. As the Chancellor of Higher Education in the Commonwealth has pointed out, the state is now paying for high school twice. The students have to learn to do in college what they should have learned to do in the high schools.

Once they are allowed into college courses for credit, they encounter nonfiction books and term paper requirements which they hadn't been asked to manage in high school.

After college, there are tremendous efforts at remediation required as well. The Business Roundtable has reported that their member companies are spending more than three billion dollars [>$3,000,000,000] every year on remedial writing courses for their employees, both hourly and salaried, in about equal numbers.

One of the sad and damaging consequences of this myopia among Edupundits is that everyone but students is imagined to be responsible for student academic work. As Paul Zoch has so regularly pointed out, the message that sends down the line to students is that their job is to get through high school with a minimum of work, while it is someone else's responsibility to educate them. The result is that, whatever gets decided about dropouts, vouchers, union contracts, budgets, textbooks, teacher selection and training, school governance, curricula in all subjects, school management issues, and the like, our students are not working hard enough on their own education.

Of course there are exceptions, students whose teachers demand that they read history books and write research papers, and there are students who do that on their own, in independent studies, partly because they have become aware that they must meet more rigorous academic demands down the road, and they are determined to get themselves ready.

But far too many of our high school students are waiting for someone else to set demanding academic standards, and when they don't, the students accept that, and get jobs, play sports, lead an active social life, spend hours a day on video games, and so forth. But after they slide through high school and emerge, they are mightily sorry they were not asked to do more and held to a higher standard for their own academic work.

We should not kid them about the need for serious reading and academic expository writing, and when we do, we are not educating them, we are cheating them. Edupundits should heed the old Hindu saying, "Whatever you give your attention to, grows in your life." The actual academic work of students while they are in school deserves a lot more attention than it has been receiving from them so far.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

National Association of Scholars

Peter Wood, President
Princeton, New Jersey

October 14, 2010

Why aren’t our high schools doing a better job of preparing college-bound students in academic expository writing? And in particular, to master the research paper?

The question was raised in a research project a decade ago by Will Fitzhugh, one of the great unsung champions of school reform in the United States. If ever there were a person who deserved a MacArthur “genius grant” and was doomed never to get it, Fitzhugh would be the man. A retired history teacher living in Sudbury, Massachusetts, he has dedicated the last twenty-three years to publishing The Concord Review, a quarterly journal dedicated to showcasing the best history papers written by high school students (from 39 countries so far). He dreams of making academic excellence as important to American schools as varsity athletics. And he has been tireless in making his case....

Wednesday, October 6, 2010


"Mankind needs more to be reminded, than informed."
—Samuel Johnson

"We must change our attitudes about school, the nature of young people, and how one achieves in academics. No school reform will succeed without a far-reaching transformation that goes beyond teachers and curriculum."

Doomed to Fail

Paul A. Zoch, Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2004, pp. 200-202

American schools must change student attitudes by making clear the purpose of being in school. Students must understand that going to school is their job, something most do not now realize. Many students, thinking it is the teacher’s job to do what will “make” them smart, feel little need to take their classes seriously. End-of-course tests and an altered view of how success is achieved would help students focus their efforts and give them a feeling that school is a real mission, one that demands seriousness of purpose, dedication, and diligence. If they study more diligently, they might even come to enjoy learning and the feeling of real accomplishment.

Students should be told in plain language why they must take academic courses in school, why society has decided that they must learn math, English, the sciences, a foreign language, history and social studies. Most students do not understand why they must learn these subjects; they tend to think of school only in terms of a future job. Some say they must learn such things in order to be well-rounded individuals, which is not a bad answer. But students should begin learning from their earliest school days that academic subjects are the primary means to understanding world civilization. These disciplines are essential to the development of an educated person who will be the equal of all other educated persons in America’s republican democracy. To many Americans, academic subjects seem to be required because of mere tradition.

Changing what is expected of students will simultaneously change the attitudes of teachers, improving the morale and status of the teaching profession. The knee-jerk tendency in the United States is to charge teachers with incompetence for any perceived failure of their students or their schools. Considering what teachers are expected to do—make students smart without causing them stress, and make their time at school a joyful, emotionally fulfilling experience—teachers cannot but fail and thus incur society’s contempt. Placing responsibility for learning on the students, and expecting teachers only to present competent lessons (as teachers in Japan and other countries are expected to do), might retain many of the large percentage of teachers who leave within the first three years, and might reduce the burnout factor among veterans.

At the same time we should change the relative responsibilities of teachers and students, we should reduce the number of hours teachers teach per day. So important is such a change that Stevenson and Stigler make it their first recommendation for changing the schools. Teacher in the United States should teach the same number of hours that teachers in other countries do—approximately four a day or slightly less, instead of five or more. Reducing teaching hours will relieve teachers and also make it possible to lengthen the school day so that teachers can require failing students to attend tutoring sessions. Many teachers do not tutor as willingly as they should, one reason being that at the end of the day they are exhausted and have lesson plans to make, tests and quizzes to grade, and paperwork to complete. With more time during the day for non-instructional work, teachers can be required to tutor students who want and need help. Mandatory after-school tutoring for failing students should take precedence over all extra-curricular activities.

Our educational system must look to students and what they do as the fount of success. A few of the authors quoted in this book have noted the irony that in the United States, though famous for our work ethic, in our schools we don’t expect students to work at their studies. One observer noted that to study the relationship between school success and character development, he had to go to Japan. We must change our attitudes about school, the nature of young people, and how one achieves in academics. No school reform will succeed without a far-reaching transformation that goes beyond teachers and curriculum. We need also to change the attitudes of the education experts, who continually promote an unworkable and unfeasible educational philosophy and then flay teachers for their inability to meet impossible expectations.

Education is so important in the United States that we expect teachers, who are professionals trained in pedagogical science, to get the job done. We sincerely want all students to learn so that they may lead good, productive lives. But teachers, parents, and adults cannot do it for them. The nation is looking for educational excellence in the wrong place, in the actions of teachers. We must instead expect students to create their success, give them our full support and guidance in their labors, encourage and expect them to try again with renewed effort and persistence when they fail, and reward them for their success...

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

66th NACAC Conference

St. Louis, Missouri, October 1, 2010
Friday Morning Panel on the 500-word College Personal Essay
Panelists: Christopher Burkmar, Associate Dean of Admissions at Princeton;
Will Fitzhugh, Founder, The Concord Review; Jonathan Reider, Director of College Counseling, San Francisco University High School

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

I propose a thought experiment for what it may be worth.

What if we change the name of our organization from the National Association of College Admissions Counselors to: The National Association of College Completion Counselors?

Note that the new name is more comprehensive, as Completion presupposes Admission, but, as is all too obvious these days, Admission cannot assume Completion.

You are all at least as aware as I am of the numbers about the need for academic remediation in Higher Education and the numbers of dropouts from college, but I will review a couple of them. Tony Wagner of Harvard reports that in general, including community colleges, half of college freshman do not return for a second year, and a huge percentage of our HS graduates take six years or more to complete a Bachelor’s degree, and four years or more to complete an Associate’s degree.

Students who need remediation in basic academic skills are more likely to drop out, and the more remedial courses they have to take, the more likely they are to drop out.

The California State College System reported at a conference last Fall that 47% of their Freshman students are in remedial reading courses.

We may assume that these students have had 12 years of reading in school already, but they still can’t read well enough to do college work, at least by California standards.

Reading is not calculus or chemistry, it is just a basic academic skill in which we expect that the schools have offered practice for 12 years.

Now, a youngster can start to play Pop Warner football at age 6. By graduation from HS, he could have had 12 years of practice at the basic skills of football. Imagine athletes reporting for a college football team, only to be told that they need a year of remedial blocking and tackling practice before they can be allowed to play. It seems unlikely that they would not have learned basic blocking and tackling skills in their previous 12 years of playing football.

I am not just talking about improvement here. Of course, students in college can learn to read more difficult material in new academic subjects. And of course college athletes can get better at all the skills needed for success in their sports.

But we are talking about basic, entry-level academic skills. 47% of freshmen in the California State College System don’t have them in reading, after 12 years of practice in school.

When I went into the Army in 1960, I had never fired a rifle before, but in a week or two on the range in Basic Training, I was able to meet the standard for “Sharpshooter.” I missed “Expert” by one target.

I am convinced that if I had had 12 years of practice with my M-1 Garand, I really could have scored “Expert”—perhaps even by the higher standards of the U.S. Marine Corps.

I have to confess I am stunned that so many of our high school students, having been awarded one of our high school diplomas, and having been accepted at one of our colleges, are found to be unable to read well enough to do college work.

The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are now in remedial courses each year when they get to college.

It also notes that these students, having satisfied our requirements for the high school diploma, and graduated—having applied to college and been accepted—are told when they get there, that they can’t make the grade without perhaps an additional year of work on their academic fundamentals. Naturally this experience is surprising to them, given that they satisfied our requirements for graduation and admission to college, and embarrassing, humiliating and discouraging, as well.

As you may know, my particular interest since 1987 has been in student history research papers at the high school level. I have published 912 essays by secondary students from 44 states and 38 other countries over the last 23 years.

Some of the students who wrote the required Extended Essays for the IB Diploma and were published in The Concord Review, and some of our other authors as well, have told me that in their freshman dorms they are often mobbed by their peers who are facing a serious term paper for the first time and have no idea how to do one.

It is absurd to contemplate, but imagine a well-prepared college basketball player being mobbed for help by his peers who had never been taught to dribble, pass, or shoot in high school.

If even colleges like Harvard and Stanford require all their Freshmen to take a year of expository writing, that may not exactly be remedial writing, but I would argue that a student who has completed an Extended Essay for the International Baccalaureate Diploma, and a student who has published a 12,000-word paper on Irish Nationalism or a 15,000-word paper on the Soviet-Afghan War for The Concord Review, should perhaps be allowed to skip that year of remedial writing. The author of the Soviet-Afghan War paper, from Georgia, is now at Christ Church College, Oxford, where I believe he did not have to spend a year in an expository writing course, and the author of the Irish Nationalism paper is at Princeton, where she may very well have been asked to spend a year in such a course.

If so many of our students need to learn how to do academic writing (not to mention how to read), what are they spending time on in high school?

I believe that writing is the most dumbed-down activity we now have in our schools. The AP program includes no research paper, only responses to document-based questions, and most high school Social Studies departments leave academic writing tasks to the English Department.

Now, in general, English Departments favor personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, but college admission requirements have given them an additional task on which they are working with students. Teaching writing takes time, not only in preparing and monitoring students, but more especially in reading what students have written and offering corrections and advice. Time for one kind of writing necessarily means less time for another kind.

Personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay have already taken a lot of the time of English teachers and their students, but as college admissions officers ask for the 500-word personal essay, time has to be given to teaching for that.

While high school English departments work with their students on the 500-word personal essay, they do not have the time to give to serious term papers, so they don’t do them, and I believe that is why so many students arrive in our colleges in need of a one-year course on the expository writing they didn’t get a chance to do in school.

Lots of the public high school students whose work I publish simply do their papers as independent studies, as there is no place for serious academic writing like that in the curriculum.

I would suggest that if college admissions officers would ask instead for an academic research paper from applicants in place of the short little personal essay, while it would be more work for them, it would make it more likely that students they accept would arrive ready for college work, perhaps even ready enough to allow them to skip that year of expository writing they now have to sit through, and they could take an actual academic course in its place.

Making sure that our high school students arrive in college able to manage college-level nonfiction reading and academic expository writing might really help us earn our new credential as professionals who work not just to help students get accepted at college, but to help them complete college as well.

Sunday, September 26, 2010


From: Oliver Kim
Date: September 26, 2010 5:17:44 AM EDT
Subject: Thank you from Singapore

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

Thank you for publishing my essay on the Maginot Line in this year’s fall issue of The Concord Review. Receiving your letter was at once joyous and humbling.

From the rise of the standardized test as a measure of academic success, to the subordination and disappearance of the long-form essay in the high school curriculum, the humanities appear to be losing ground in education. In light of the numerous competitions and accolades available to students of math and the hard sciences, options for students of the humanities, especially history, are comparatively few. The Concord Review stands alone as an exemplar for quality writing by lovers of history.

Thanks to your hard work, my school has all freshman students write a long-form historical essay based on the model of the essays that appear in The Concord Review. All students of AP European History are required to do the same, and, even in those classes that do not require long-form essays, The Concord Review is employed as a standard of quality and academic rigor. Though I cannot speak for my whole school, I can say that, anecdotally, this project has sparked historical curiosity and illuminated unexplored talents in my classmates.

Again, thank you for publishing my essay. I hope that the Review will find a solution to its financial woes and continue inspiring future generations of historians.

Warm regards,

Oliver Kim
Singapore American School
[Class of 2011]

Saturday, September 25, 2010


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

May 17, 2006

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

Thank you so much for publishing my essay on the Irish Ladies’ Land League in the Spring 2006 issue of The Concord Review. I am honored that my writing was chosen to appear alongside such thoughtful work in your journal.

When a former history teacher first lent me a copy of The Concord Review, I was inspired by the careful scholarship crafted by other young people. Although I have always loved history passionately, I was used to writing history papers that were essentially glorified book reports. A week before a paper was due, I would visit the local university library, check out all available books on my assigned topic and write as articulate a summary as possible. Such assignments are a useful strategy for learning to build a coherent argument, but they do not teach students to appreciate the subtleties and difficulties of writing good history. Consequently, few students really understand how history is constructed.

As I began to research the Ladies’ Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task. At first, I did check out every relevant book from the library, running up some impressive fines in the process, but I learned to skim bibliographies and academic databases to find more interesting texts. I read about women’s history, agrarian activism and Irish nationalism, considering the ideas of feminist and radical historians alongside contemporary accounts.

Gradually, I came to understand the central difficulty of writing history: how do you resurrect, in words, events that took place in a different place and time? More importantly, how do you resurrect the past only using the words of someone else? In the words of Carl Becker, “History in this sense is story, in aim always a true story; a story that employs all the devices of literary art (statement and generalization, narration and description, comparison and comment and analogy) to present the succession of events in the life of man, and from the succession of events thus presented to derive a satisfactory meaning.”

Flipping through my note cards, the ideas began to fit themselves together in my mind. I was not certain, but there was an excitement in being forced to think rigorously; in wrestling with difficult problems I knew I could not entirely solve. Writing about the Ladies’ Land League, I finally understood and appreciated the beautiful complexity of history.

In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come.

Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse
Class of 2009, Columbia University
North Central High School, Indianapolis, Indiana 2005

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

September 15, 2010

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

Dear Will,

We agree with your argument that high school students who have read a complete nonfiction book or two, and written a serious research paper or two, will be better prepared for college academic work than those who have not.

The Concord Review, founded in 1987, remains the only journal in the world for the academic papers of secondary students, and we in the Admissions Office here are always glad to see reprints of papers which students have had published in the Review and which they send to us as part of their application materials. Over the years, more than 10% (103) of these authors have come to college at Harvard.

Since 1998, when it started, we have been supporters of your National Writing Board, which is still unique in supplying independent three-page assessments of the research papers of secondary students. The NWB reports also provide a useful addition to the college application materials of high school students who are seeking admission to selective colleges.

For all our undergraduates, even those in the sciences, such competence, both in reading nonfiction books and in the writing of serious research papers, is essential for academic success. Some of our high schools now place too little emphasis on this, but The Concord Review and the National Writing Board are doing a national service in encouraging our secondary students, and their teachers, to spend more time and effort on developing these abilities.


William R. Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid

Administrative Office: 86 Brattle Street • Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Wednesday, September 15, 2010


From: Glenn Scoggins
Date: September 5, 2010 7:44:12 PM EDT
To: Will Fitzhugh
Cc: College , Timothy Matsumoto
Subject: RE: Singapore Emerson

Dear Will,

Thank you for sharing this letter with me. I enjoyed [Ms.] Wei Li’s paper immensely and learned a lot from it that I had never known, even though I have been teaching about this time period in medieval Spain as part of the middle year in the three-year World History course at Saint Maur (Grades 8 through 10) which I oversee. I will be able to use this information in class to make more sense of the era and its impact on modern Spain and relations between Islam and the West.

Kaya Nagayo [Ainu Trade, 1650-1720, Spring 2010 issue] graduated with honors from Saint Maur in June and is entering her first year at Waseda University in Tokyo, where she will major in History with a concentration on Russia and other Slavic countries of central and eastern Europe, as well as Russian relations with Japan. She has been interested in this area for several years, and wrote about 2000 words of her Extended Essay (on trade relations between the Ainu and the Wajin of Tokugawa Japan) on Ainu trade with Russians and other people of Siberia, Sakhalin, the Kurile islands, and the Kamchatka peninsula—all of which had to be cut out to make the IB 4000-word limit. This was a valuable experience for her in editing her own work and sharpening her focus.

I continue to support and congratulate you and The Concord Review for your valuable work in maintaining and raising standards and expectations for young scholars around the world. It has a ripple effect—when Kaya’s paper was published, every student at Saint Maur realized that the hard work they put into their research and writing in History, English, the Sciences, and other subjects can be recognized by a worldwide audience. I hope there is another budding student in a lower grade whose work will be worthy of publication as well.

Thank you again for keeping me abreast of the impressive work of which our students are capable!

Glenn Scoggins
College Admissions Counselor
Social Studies Department Head
Saint Maur International School
Yokohama, Japan

Saturday, September 4, 2010


From: Wei Li

Date: September 4, 2010 5:06:38 AM EDT
Subject: Thank you from a very grateful student

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

I am writing to thank you for publishing my paper (“Convivencia in Medieval Spain”) in the Fall 2009 issue of The Concord Review and for also choosing me as one of the Ralph Waldo Emerson laureates for this year. It is a huge honor and one that although I’d dreamed about, never quite expected to be realized.

Getting my paper published and then winning the Emerson prize have been two of the greatest highlights of my high school career. When my teacher, Mr. Bisset, recommended me, a sophomore in his AP European History class, to submit for publication the research paper that I wrote in his class, I did so without ever expecting a response. The news I received a few months later shattered all my expectations. Mr. Bisset was quite right in pulling out a chair for me before breaking the news! (In retrospect, I wished he’d done that again this year when he told me about the Emerson Prize!)

In writing my paper, I have learned so much more about myself—my interests, capabilities, and passions. I have enjoyed every minute of the months I spent researching. Reading articles and books on topics ranging from Hebrew poetry in the 11th century, to Islamic architecture, expanded my knowledge, horizons, and tastes and allowed me to discover that I was genuinely interested in all of these eclectic topics. And the long process of drafting, editing, and revising allowed me to discover that I was truly capable of producing an extended piece of work—something that I had never tried before—of high quality.

My experiences with The Concord Review inspired me to continue writing history academic papers. Last year, I wrote another serious research paper on China’s One Child Policy for a different history teacher and am looking forward to writing another one of equal caliber for AP Art History this year. Most importantly, working on my Convivencia paper made me realize that my interest in history was a true passion—something I want to pursue for the rest of my life.

The Concord Review, by honoring me with publication and then with the Emerson Prize, has made me confident in my own abilities. With it, I was able to persuade my parents, and now I am planning to follow the passion that it inspired in me by majoring in History in college.

I cannot thank you enough for your efforts over the past 20 years in providing students like me with the opportunity to explore writing a scholarly history paper. The Concord Review has provided examples of quality writing and excellent history topics as well as asking students to rise to those high standards you have set. Thank you for allowing me to find my passion in life and for believing that all high school students can rise to the challenge you have set for us.

Best regards,

Wei Li
Singapore American School
Class of 2011

Friday, September 3, 2010

Office of Admissions and Financial Aid

September 2, 2010

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

Dear Will,

I very much enjoy receiving your emails. You continue to stand for the highest ideals in education.

If there is an easy way for you to send us the names and addresses of the winners of your various awards, we would be happy to send them a “search letter” assuming we have not already contacted them. Such an accomplishment is a clear indication of their love of learning and the real possibility that they would be competitive applicants at Harvard.

Take care and I hope everything continues to go well for you.

Best personal regards,

William R. Fitzsimmons
Dean of Admissions and Financial Aid


Administrative Office: 86 Brattle Street, Cambridge, Massachusetts 02138

Monday, August 30, 2010


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
August 2010

When my father graduated from Harvard Medical School in 1927, I am pretty sure it was not called “The Harvard Graduate School of Medical Education.” People I know who got their degrees from Harvard Law School tell me that it was never, to their knowledge, called the “Harvard Graduate School of Legal Education.” I think that the Harvard Business School does not routinely refer to itself as the “Harvard Graduate School of Business Education.” Harvard College (this is my 50th reunion year) has never seen the need to call itself “The Harvard Undergraduate School of Academic Subjects,” as far as I know. But the Harvard Education School, where I was informed, in the late 1960s, that I had been made a “Master of Education,” (!?) calls itself the “Harvard Graduate School of Education.” Perhaps that makes it a status step up from being called the Harvard Normal School, but the name is, in my view, a small symptom of a deeper problem there.

I had lunch in Cambridge yesterday with a man from Madagascar, who was bringing his daughter (one of The Concord Review’s authors), for her first year at Harvard College. He asked me why there seemed to be so much emphasis in United States schools on nonacademic efforts by students (I assumed he was referring to things like art, band, drama, chorus, jazz ensemble, video workshop, sports of various kinds, community service, etc., etc.). Now you have to make allowances for a geophysicist from Madagascar. After all, on that large island, and indeed in the whole Southern Hemisphere, they think that June, July, and August are Winter months, for goodness’ sake!

As I tried to explain to him the long tradition of anti-intellectualism in American life, and the widespread anti-academic attitudes and efforts of so many of our school Pundits, I thought again about the way the Harvard Education School defines its mission.

As you may know, I am very biased in favor of reading and writing, especially by high school students, and since 1987, I have published 912 exemplary history essays by secondary students from 39 countries in the only journal in the world for such work, so when I have failed to stir some interest in faculty at the Harvard Education School, it has disposed me to look closer at what they are interested in other than the exemplary academic work of students at the high school (or any other) level.

To be fair, there have been a few Harvard people who have taken an interest in my work. Harold Howe II wrote to fifteen foundations on my behalf (without success) and Theodore Sizer wrote the introduction to the first issue in the Fall of 1988, and served on my Board of Directors for several years. Recently, Tony Wagner has taken an interest, and, a very good friend, William Fitzsimmons, Harvard Dean of Admissions, got his doctorate there.

But what are the research interests of faculty at the Harvard Education School, if they don’t include the academic work of students? I recommend that anyone who is curious about this odd phenomenon may review the interests of this graduate faculty by looking at their website, but here a few revealing examples:

“Dr. Ronald F. Ferguson is a Lecturer in Public Policy and Senior Research Associate at the Wiener Center for Social Policy at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, where he has taught since 1983. His research publications cover issues in education policy, youth development programming, community development, economic consequences of skill disparities, and state and local economic development. For much of the past decade, Dr. Ferguson's research has focused on racial achievement gaps...”

“During the past two decades, [Howard] Gardner and colleagues have been involved in the design of performance-based assessments; education for understanding; the use of multiple intelligences to achieve more personalized curriculum, instruction, and pedagogy; and the quality of interdisciplinary efforts in education. Since the mid-1990s, in collaboration with psychologists Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi and William Damon, Gardner has directed the GoodWork Project, a study of work that is excellent, engaging, and ethical. More recently, with longtime Project Zero colleagues Lynn Barendsen and Wendy Fischman, he has conducted reflection sessions designed to enhance the understanding and incidence of good work among young people. With Carrie James, he is investigating trust in contemporary society and ethical dimensions entailed in the use of the new digital media. Underway are studies of effective collaboration among nonprofit institutions in education and of conceptions of quality in the contemporary era. In 2008 he delivered a set of three lectures at New York’s Museum of Modern Art on the topic ‘The True, The Beautiful, and the Good: Reconsiderations in a post-modern, digital era.’”

“Nancy Hill’s area of research focuses on variations in parenting and family socialization practices across ethnic, socioeconomic status, and neighborhood contexts. In addition, her research focuses on demographic variations in the relations between family dynamics and children's school performance and other developmental outcomes. Recent and ongoing projects include Project PASS (Promoting Academic Success for Students), a longitudinal study between kindergarten and 4th grade examining family related predictors of children's early school performance; Project Alliance/Projecto Alianzo, a multiethnic, longitudinal study of parental involvement in education at the transition between elementary and middle school. She is the co-founder of the Study Group on Race, Culture, and Ethnicity, an interdisciplinary group of scientists who develop theory and methodology for defining and understanding the cultural context within diverse families. In addition to articles in peer-reviewed journals, she recently edited a book, African American Family Life: Ecological and Cultural Diversity (Guilford, 2005) and another edited volume is forthcoming (Family-School Relations during Adolescence: Linking Interdisciplinary Research, Policy and Practice; Teachers College Press).”

This is really a random sample and there are scores of faculty members in the School, studying all sort of things. If I were to summarize their work, I would suggest it tends toward research on poverty, race, culture, diversity, ethnicity, emotional and social disability, developmental psychology, school organization, “The True, the Beautiful, and the a post-modern, digital era,” and the like, but as far as I can tell, no one there is interested in the academic study (by students) of Asian history, biology, calculus, literature, chemistry, foreign languages, European history, physics, United States History, or any of the academic subjects many taxpayers think should be the main business of education in our schools.

Of course all the things they do study are important, and can be funded with grants, but how can the academic work of students in our schools be of no importance to these scholars? How can they have no interest in the academic subjects which occupy the time and efforts of the teachers and students in our schools?

Perhaps if they were interested in the main academic business of our schools, the place would have to change its name to something less pretentious, like the Harvard Education School?