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?