Friday, December 23, 2011

High School Flight from Reading and Writing

from Academic Questions

Will Fitzhugh

As concerns mount over the costs and benefits of higher education, it may
be worthwhile to glance at the benefits of high school education at present as
well. Of course, high school costs, while high, are borne by the taxpayers in
general, but it is reasonable to hope that there are sufficient benefits for such
an outlay...

Read the full article

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Meaningful Work

The American Federation of Teachers
American Educator
's Winter issue includes an article on:

"Meaningful Work: How the History Research Paper Prepares Students for College and Life"

While there is lively new concern for our neglect of promising STEM students, there continues to be almost no interest in encouraging serious high school students who are reading history books and writing history research papers on their own (because their schools, for the most part, don't care if they do stuff like that). We may perhaps see some improvement in our STEM performance, but the vital ROOTS of knowledge of history and skill in academic expository writing will continue to shrivel, and we may have even more inarticulate and aliterate engineers, and scientists (as well as other members of the voting public) as ignorant of history as ever. Let us reconsider our inattention to the ROOTS (academic reading and writing) of a sound liberal education while we still can, if possible.

Will Fitzhugh

Friday, December 9, 2011

No Time For Homework (including term papers)

Thomas L. Friedman
Michael Mandelbaum

That Used To Be Us
New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2011, pp. 128-129

...We wish the figure of 27,000 texts a month [by a 14-year-old girl] came out of Ripley’s Believe it or Not. In fact, it is the new normal. On January 10, 2010, the Kaiser Family Foundation released the results of a lengthy study entitled Daily Media Use Among American Children and Teens Up Dramatically from Five Years Ago:

“With technology allowing nearly 24-hour media access as children and teens go about their daily lives, the amount of time young people spend with entertainment media has risen dramatically, especially among minority youth, according to a study released today by the Kaiser Family Foundation. Today, 8-18-year-olds devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes (7:38) to using entertainment media across a typical day (more than 53 hours a week). And because they spend so much of that time “media multitasking,” (using more than one medium at a time), they actually manage to pack a total of 10 hours and 45 minutes (10:45) worth of media content into those 7 1/2 hours. The amount of time spent with media increased by an hour and seventeen minutes a day over the past five years, from 6:21 in 2004 to 7:38 today...While the study cannot establish a cause and effect relationship between media use and grades, there are differences between heavy and light media users in this regard. About half (47%) of heavy media users say they usually get fair or poor grades (mostly Cs or lower), compared to about a quarter (23%) of light users...Over the past 5 years, time spent reading books [Twilight series? WF] remained steady at about :25 a day, but time with magazines and newspapers dropped (from :14 to :09 for magazines, and from :06 to :03 for newspapers). The proportion of young people who read a newspaper on a typical day dropped from 42% in 1999 to 23% in 2009.”

One quotation in the study captured the trend: “The amount of time young people spend with electronic media has grown to where it’s even more than a full-time workweek,” said Drew Altman, Ph.D., the president and CEO of the Kaiser Family Foundation.

At precisely the moment when we need more education to bring the bottom up to the average and the American average up to the global peaks, our students are spending more time texting and gaming and less time than ever studying and doing homework. Unless we get them to spend the time needed to master a subject, all the teacher training in the world will go for naught.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Our Enemy: The Book


Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
EducationViews Contributor
December 7, 2011

Fellow members of the Electronic Educational Entertainment Association. My remarks will be brief, as I realize you all have texts to read, messages to tweet, and you will of course want to take photos of those around you to post on your blog.

I only want to remind you that the book is our enemy. Every minute a student spends reading a book is time taken away from purchasing and using the software and hardware the sale of which we depend on for our livelihoods.

You should keep in mind the story C.S. Lewis told of Wormwood, the sales rep for his uncle Screwtape, a district manager Below, who was panicked when his target client joined a church. What was he to do? Did this mean a lost account? Screwtape reassured him with a story from his own early days. One of his accounts went into a library, and Screwtape was not worried, but then the client picked up a book and began reading. However, then he began to think! And, in an instant, the Enemy Above was at his elbow. But Screwtape did not panic—fortunately it was lunchtime, and he managed to get his prospect up and at the door of the library. There was traffic and busyness, and the client thought to himself, “This is real life!” And Screwtape was able to close the account.

In the early days, Progressive Educators would sometimes say to students, in effect, “step away from those books and no one gets hurt!” because they wanted students to put down their books, go out, work for social justice, and otherwise take part in “real life” rather than get into those dangerous books and start thinking for themselves, for goodness’ sake!

But now we have more effective means of keeping our children in school and at home away from those books. We have Grand Theft Auto and hundreds of other games for them to play at escaping all moral codes. We have smartphones, with which they can while away the hours and the days texting and talking about themselves with their friends.

We even have “educational software” and lots of gear, like video recorders, so that students can maintain their focus on themselves, and stay away from the risks posed by books, which could very possibly lead them to think about something besides themselves. And remember, people who read books and think about something besides themselves do not make good customers.

And more than anything, we want and need good customers, young people who buy our hardware and software, and who can be encouraged to stay away from the books in libraries, which are not only free, for goodness’s sake, but may even lead them to think. And that will be no help at all to our bottom line. Andrew Carnegie may have been a philanthropist, but by providing free libraries he did nothing to help us sell electronic entertainment products. We must never let down our guard or reduce our advertising. Just remember every young person reading a book is a lost customer! Verbum Sap.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Middle School Readers

Begin forwarded message:
From: "Nell"
Date: December 1, 2011 12:43:16 PM EST
Subject: RE: Concord reading

Art, I used The Concord Review with my middle school students as a way for them to have better reading and writing skills. Not an easy go but it worked. The topics were of interest to the students (topics were self-chosen) and their capacity to read non-fiction increased. Their writing skills needed much more work due to their previous encounter with research having been limited to power point presentations with information pulled from various sources on the internet. That was a much harder habit for them to break. If we are to develop the minds and abilities of our students in academic writing we must adopt Will's suggestion of having students write a papers beginning in first grade with a one-page paper and continuing through high school where a 12-page paper would be required. This is Will's one page per grade idea [The Page Per Year Plan©]. We need to have support systems for students like writing labs where they can get the assistance they need. When I was teaching college classes the students in the sixteen-week courses had 15 weeks to write their papers with many submissions and comments from me regarding their resources, their rhetoric, etc. If writing is thinking written down, we have to go beyond the typical creative writing experiences that are based on feelings and emotional responses (nothing wrong with this but often it is the only writing experiences students have) to have students understand the purpose of research and non-fiction writing. It would also help if we were to re-introduce rhetoric as well.

Once you read the articles by the HS students [published in The Concord Review] you will be so impressed with their capacities and intellectually stimulated by the essays’ content.

[Nell Petry, Ph.D.]


On Behalf Of Art Snyder
Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2011 6:03 PM
Subject: Concord reading

Thanks to Nell and Will on the matter of reading those Concord Review articles. As I read the list of article titles earlier today, I knew right away that they'd provide good intellectual stimulation. I won't discount them because the authors are high-schoolers; excellence is excellence.

--Art Snyder

Friday, November 4, 2011


The Concord Review is an amazing publication (—a real labor of love by Will Fitzhugh. It is the only journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students. [with serious history research papers by students from 39 countries since 1987]

I highly recommend The Concord Review to teachers for:

(1) exemplary models of student writing,
(2) a motivation to encourage students to write, and
(3) a fantastic activity to do in class—read published essays by fellow high school students.”

Rick Bisset
History Teacher
Singapore American School
November 3, 2011 10:38:44 AM EDT

Monday, September 26, 2011

Engineers Need History

I recommend this article from the Wall Street Journal by the former CEO of Lockheed Martin:

"It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level....Now is a time to re-establish history’s importance in American education."

"In my position as CEO of a firm employing over 80,000 engineers, I can testify that most were excellent engineers—but the factor that most distinguished those who advanced in the organization was the ability to think broadly and read and write clearly.

Wall Street Journal; Wednesday, September 21, 2011

The Education Our Economy Needs

We lag in science, but students’ historical illiteracy hurts our politics and our businesses.


In the spirit of the new school year, here’s a quiz for readers: In which of the following subjects is the performance of American 12th-graders the worst? a) science, b) economics, c) history, or d) math?

With all the talk of America’s very real weaknesses in the STEM subjects (science, technology, English and math), you might be surprised to learn that the answer—according to the federal government’s National Assessment of Educational Progress—is neither science nor math. And despite what might be suggested by the number of underwater home loans, high-school seniors actually fare best in economics.

Which leaves history as the answer, the subject in which students perform the most poorly. It’s a result that puts American employers and America’s freedoms in a worrisome spot.

But why should a C grade in history matter to the C-suite? After all, if a leader can make the numbers, does it really matter if he or she can recite the birthdates of all the presidents?

Well, it’s not primarily the memorized facts that have current and former CEOs like me concerned. It’s the other things that subjects like history impart: critical thinking, research skills, and the ability to communicate clearly and cogently. Such skills are certainly important for those at the top, but in today’s economy they are fundamental to performance at nearly every level. A failing grade in history suggests that students are not only failing to comprehend our nation’s story and that of our world, but also failing to develop skills that are crucial to employment across sectors. Having traveled in 109 countries in this global economy, I have developed a considerable appreciation for the importance of knowing a country’s history and politics.

The good news is that a candidate who demonstrates capabilities in critical thinking, creative problem-solving and communication has a far greater chance of being employed today than his or her counterpart without those skills. The better news is these are not skills that only a graduate education or a stint at McKinsey can confer. They are competencies that our public elementary and high schools can and should be developing through subjects like history.

Far more than simply conveying the story of a country or civilization, an education in history can create critical thinkers who can digest, analyze and synthesize information and articulate their findings. These are skills needed across a broad range of subjects and disciplines....

Read the full article at WSJ...

Monday, August 29, 2011


New York Times
; The Opinion Pages

Are Research Papers a Waste of Time?
Room for Debate, Will Fitzhugh

Has the Internet made research papers a useless exercise for college students? Is there a better way to assess knowledge?

Knowledge and the Individual
Updated August 28, 2011, 05:45 PM

Will Fitzhugh is the founder of The Concord Review, since 1987 the only journal in the world for the academic research papers of secondary students.

The Internet can supply information—tables, charts, lists, graphs, facts—but that information is manufactured. Knowledge has to be handmade by each individual; the Internet cannot supply it.

If students abandon the research paper, they will miss the only discipline that can reveal to them the accuracy and integrity of their own thoughts.

To make knowledge, which is the foundation of learning, it is necessary to apply thought to information, to think about the facts that have been gathered, and this is work only an individual can do. Reading books can help a person discover how others—with more information, experience and wisdom—have thought about a subject, but there is no better way to comprehend, consider and digest information for oneself than to write a serious paper.

A research paper can show the student whether he or she has really understood as much as he or she supposed about a subject. The exercise of writing helps a student to organize and examine the information gathered in a careful way.

Sir Francis Bacon wrote in 1625 that “Reading maketh a Full man, conference a Ready man, and writing an Exact man.” If students abandon the research paper, they will miss the only discipline that can reveal to them the accuracy and integrity of their own thoughts. The Internet can be a supermarket of information to assist such efforts, and books and fine teachers can also help, but the real effort of acquiring knowledge belongs to the student, and there is, at least in the humanities, no better work for the student to undertake than a serious research paper.

Friday, August 26, 2011


This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students...


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

26 August 2011

It is settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality.

However, a small number of dissenting voices have begun to speak. Richard Arum and Josipa Roksa, in Academically Adrift have suggested that (p. 131) “Studying is crucial for strong academic performance...” and “Scholarship on teaching and learning has burgeoned over the past several decades and has emphasized the importance of shifting attention from faculty teaching to student learning...”

This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.

In 2004, Paul A. Zoch, a teacher from Texas, wrote in Domed to Fail (p. 150) that: “Let there be no doubt about it: the United States looks to its teachers and their efforts, but not to its students and their efforts, for success in education.” More recently, and less on the fringe of this new concern, Diane Ravitch wrote in Death and Life of the Great American School System (2010) (p. 162) that “One problem with test-based accountability, as currently defined and used, is that it removes all responsibility from students and their families for the students’ academic performance. NCLB neglected to acknowledge that students share in the responsibility for their academic performance and that they are not merely passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

There are necessarily problems in turning attention toward the work of students in judging the effectiveness of schools. First, all the present attention is on teachers, and it is not easy to turn that around. Second, teachers are employees and can be fired, while students can not. It could not be comfortable for the Funderpundits and their beneficiaries to realize that they may have been overlooking the most important variable in student academic achievement all this time.

In February, when the Associated Press reported that Natalie Monroe, a high school English teacher in Pennsylvania, had called her students, on a blog, “disengaged, lazy whiners,” and “noisy, crazy, sloppy, lazy LOAFERS,” the response of the school system was not to look more closely at the academic efforts of the students, but to suspend the teacher. As one of her students explained, “As far as motivated high school students, she’s completely correct. High school kids don’t want to do anything...(but) It’s a teacher’s give students the motivation to learn.”

It would seem that no matter who points out that “You can lead a student to learning, but you can’t make him drink,” our system of schools and Funderpundits sticks with its wisdom that teachers alone are responsible for student academic achievement.

While that is wrong, it is also stupid. Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote that; “For education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.”

As in the old story about the drunk searching under the lamppost for his keys, those who control funds for education believe that as long as all their money goes to paying attention to what teachers are doing, who they are, how they are trained, and so on, they can’t see the point of looking in the darkness at those who have the complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be—namely the students.

Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools. What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, history, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them. Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.

This situation will persist as long as those funding programs and projects for reform in education pay no attention to the actual academic work of our students. And students, who see little or no pressure to be other than “disengaged lazy whiners” will continue to pay the price for their lack of education, both in college and at work, and we will continue to draw behind in comparison with those countries who realize that student academic achievement has always been, and will always be, mainly dependent on diligent student academic work.

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

Tuesday, August 23, 2011


NY Times Op-Ed: "Education Needs a Digital-Age Upgrade,"
by Virginia Heffernan, in a review of Now You See It by Cathy N. Davidson, co-director of the annual MacArthur Foundation Digital Media and Learning Competitions. 7 August 2011

"The new classroom should teach the huge array of complex skills that come under the heading of digital literacy. And it should make students accountable on the Web, where they should regularly be aiming, from grade-school on, to contribute to a wide range of wiki projects...."

I am not surprised that after the MacArthur Foundation put $50,000,000 into the study of Digital Learning (not learning just with one’s digits, of course) they discovered that using digital technology to enhance learning is a super-duper idea.

But I worked for the North American Aviation Space and Information Systems Division, on the Apollo Program,
which was somehow managed by engineers with computers only as powerful as iPhones are now, and who, with their pocket protectors and slide-rules, had sat patiently in rows in old-fashioned classes at MIT and Caltech, and learned the “huge array of complex skills” (of which Ms. Davidson speaks) that they needed to know to get men to the moon and back, and that includes the test pilot/astronauts who were also pocket-protector-wearing students who sat in rows learning aeronautical engineering, when they were not writing out their flight plans with a ballpoint pen.

The tens and tens of billions of dollars that have been spent on computers and software for education, and the hundreds of thousands (or millions of dollars?) spent on advertising for that stuff, coupled with a despair of ever raising the academic achievement of kids who skip classes and fail to do any of their homework, have deluded Digitopundits into a flight of digitalistical fantasies of wonderful changes which will relieve us of the hard work of teaching math, grammar, rhetoric, patience, self-discipline, history, attention, persistence, and all the other basic tools of learning a civilization requires, whether in the 18th century, the 19th century or the 21st century.

I find all of this drooling over the changes for education which technology will bring in some digitalistically magical mystery way to our tasks as parents and teachers to be a waste of time, money, and thought.

Pardon my age, but if 65 percent of jobs in the future will have new names, they will all still require basic literacy, patience, honesty, responsibility, probably some knowledge of math and science, an ability to listen and to follow instructions, etc. In short, nothing new.

I don’t forsee the day when “witty and incisive blogs” will be able to take the place of writing legislation, annual reports, history books, judicial opinions or any of the other vital tasks of a literate society.

This is all the malady of surrender to trendy digitalism that promises an escape from the hard work and necessary standards for literacy in our civilization.

If we can't do a good job of educating students, they seem to feel, then we should just jettison the effort and have lots of fun with Facebook and Tweets instead. So the standards for learning join those for modern art, showing that junk is, really, all we should hope to create.

Samuel Johnson and George Orwell would turn over in their graves at junk like this:

"Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. 'What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school—the term paper—and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?' She adds: 'What if ‘research paper’ is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?'”

Will Fitzhugh

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Professor Shaughnessey; Houston, Texas

July 28, 2011 8:05 am

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh:
Concord Review
Authors on Television [CNN]

Michael Shaughnessy, EducationViews Senior Columnist on July 28, 2011 in Commentaries

Michael F. Shaughnessy, Ph.D.

Eastern New Mexico University, 
Portales, New Mexico

1) Will, I understand that CNN broadcast a feature on U.S. History in the schools at 8:45am EST on Wednesday, July 27, 2011. How did this come about ?

A producer at CNN wanted to do a story on the sad performance of American students on the NAEP test of U.S. History, and thought that it would be useful to include The Concord Review and its authors in the discussion. The piece was short and superficial and mirrored well how we neglect history (and academic expository writing) in American education.

2) It seems that this feature included a (very brief) interview with one of the high school authors whose history research papers were published by The Concord Review in recent issues. Do you keep track of these authors?

I work alone and cannot keep track of most of the authors I publish. They have active, mobile lives, and I don’t have the time or energy to keep after them for information. I used to have support for the Concord Review Society, our alumni effort, but after a couple of years the angel who provided funding for that flew away.

3) How long has The Concord Review been in existence and what do you hope to accomplish?

The Concord Review was founded in March of 1987, and in August of that year I sent a brochure asking for history research papers to every high school in the United States and Canada and 1,500 schools overseas. My goal has been to find and recognize exemplary secondary student work in history and then to distribute it as widely as possible to show other HS students the serious papers of their peers. We have now published 956 by students from 44 states and 38 other countries.

4) Will, I have read past issues of The Concord Review, and I have to say that with each issue, you assemble some of the finest academic writing I have ever seen. How do you do it?

I don’t do it, of course. The students do it, and they have been raising the standards every year since I started the journal. My secret is the same that works in athletics. Show young people the exemplary accomplishments of their peers and they will strive to meet and exceed them. The standards have been going up every year, but they are academic expository writing standards set by our authors, not by me.

5) Further, the topics cover everything from the Renaissance to the American to the French to the Russian Revolution and everything in between! It seems that these writers are young aspiring historians. How many go on to actually write a history book?

Some go on to major in history at Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and so on, but even physics and pre-med majors can sometimes write first-class history papers. We don’t reward history the way we do student work in STEM, but I like to think that our authors will continue to write well and perhaps read history for the rest of their lives.

6) Recently you did a special South Korean issue—having been to Seoul, and actually all of the Universities in South Korea, I know they treasure and value education. Can you brief us on some of the papers from South Korea?

The First Special Korean Issue was the result of the work of Caroline Lee, a South Korean very concerned about the English expository writing skills of Korean students who want to attend American independent schools and selective American universities. She felt that while Korean students put serious and successful efforts into math and science and objective tests, many underestimate the work they need to do to become fluent in English expository writing. So she worked with me to produce the Korean issue, which has seven (of eleven) papers by Asian students, but only two by Korean students studying in the United States. Others were by a student from Singapore and one from Japan, and the rest from students at schools here.

7) Is there any one high school that seems to consistently produce exemplary papers of historical relevance?

I can think of several I can count on for a steady stream of excellent papers: Richard Montgomery High School in Rockville, Maryland, Horace Greeley High School in Chappaqua, New York, Hunter College High School in New York, the Ellis School in Pittsburgh, and more recently, the University of Chicago Laboratory High School in Chicago, among several others.

8) Obviously, you rely on principals and teachers to encourage students. Is there any one parent, principal or teacher who deserves recognition?

Robert Hines of Richard Montgomery, Broeck Oder of Santa Catalina School, Steven Houser of Horace Greeley, Paul Horton of the Chicago Lab High School, Ric Bisset of Singapore American School, and a number of others, of course.

9) Subtle question—but what is the impact of having been published in The Concord Review?

For high school students who are published, there is the pride and satisfaction of knowing their academic paper meets the standard of the only journal in the world for such work at the secondary level. Their success usually leads to more confidence and then on to greater efforts to achieve academically in school and later in college. The prestige of being published in The Concord Review has been compared to that of being a finalist in the Intel or Siemens Science Competitions, which are much, much better funded, of course.

10) How can readers, historians, and librarians assist you in your endeavors?

Historians, and Upper Education History Professors, with one or two exceptions, have shown no interest in the exemplary work in history by students in Lower Education, but every reader, teacher and librarian who subscribes is voting for the survival of this unique journal and its efforts to recognize, distribute, and encourage exemplary academic expository writing among secondary students all over the world.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Volume 21 Emerson Prizes

2012 Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [Volume 21]

Ayana Gray, Pulaski Academy, Little Rock, Arkansas, Fall 2010
Female Infanticide

Eric Keen, Homescholar, Bethesda, Maryland, Summer 2011
Anglo-Afghan War

Maya Krishnan, Richard Montgomery High School, Rockville, Maryland, Fall 2010
Socialist Realism

Caitlin Lu, Chinese International School, Hong Kong, Spring 2011
Matteo Ricci

Jonathan Lu, Chinese International School, Hong Kong, Summer 2011
The Needham Question

Matthew C. Weinstein, Belmont Hill School, Belmont, Massachusetts, Winter 2010
Lodges vs. Kennedys

Saturday, July 9, 2011



Will Fitzhugh, Founder, The Concord Review

Secondary students should read history, think about it, and learn to write serious research papers, not only to prepare themselves for higher education, but also to get ready for the nonfiction reading and expository writing tasks they will meet in their careers.

I started The Concord Review in 1987 to recognize exemplary academic expository writing by secondary students and to inspire others to read history and to improve their own nonfiction writing abilities.

We have now published 956 history research papers by students from 44 states in the United States and from 38 other countries. These include a number of very good papers by South Korean students, some now at school in the United States and some at school in Korea.

In 2010, Caroline Lee began to work towards the first issue of this journal to be published in another country. In July of this year, she produced the First Special Korean Issue of The Concord Review, with essays from Japan and Singapore, and from Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, New York, North Carolina, and Ohio. Four of the authors won our Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes. These students are now attending Columbia, Harvard, Princeton, Stanford, Yale and Williams, among other colleges.

Caroline Lee, as Managing Editor of this issue, will be donating copies to a number of South Korean secondary schools, with the goal of inspiring their students to do more nonfiction reading and academic expository writing in the international language of English.

I welcome essay submissions from South Korean secondary students writing in English on any historical topic, ancient or modern, domestic or foreign. The submission form may be found on the website of The Concord Review at My email address is:, and I welcome questions and comments from secondary students, their teachers, and any others interested in history and in serious academic writing.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

KNOWING HOW TO KNOW; Madison, Wisconsin

Knowing How to Know

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
18 June 2011

Students in schools of education pay a lot of attention to the problems of learning how to learn, lifelong leaning, and the like. In the absence of much knowledge of history, economics, physics, literature, foreign languages, chemistry, calculus and so on, this can degenerate into what Professor E.D. Hirsch, Jr., calls “How-to-ism,” an absorption in “pedagogy” without any secure foundation in academic knowledge.

It is also the case that most graduates of our schools of education are shocked by the day-to-day problems of managing youngsters with Twitter, popular music, sports, popularity, and Grand Theft Auto on their minds. But it should be noted that it is very hard to get students interested in academic work, for instance history, if the teacher doesn’t know any history herself. This problem causes some number of coaches who teach Social Studies to shy away from the Renaissance in favor of current events, which may seem more approachable both to them and their students. How ‘bout those Bruins!

In the meantime, even American students who are Seniors in high school show a pitiful ignorance of the most basic knowledge of the history of their own country, as revealed in the latest National Assessment of Educational Progress report released this month.

In The Knowledge Deficit, E.D. Hirsch, Jr., tried to get across the point that teaching “learning skills,” for example, which pedagogy graduates are supposed to be good at, does little or nothing for helping students acquire knowledge. He argues that the only way to increase knowledge is to build on a stronger and stronger base of knowledge, not by wasting time on the dubious techniques of “Learning How to Learn.”

I am convinced that one of the reasons even some students who do not require remediation in reading and writing when they get to college still fail to gain a degree after six or eight years, in part go under academically, because they do not bring enough knowledge to help them understand what the professor is talking about. Their ignorance makes them feel lost. Some become determined to find the knowledge they have not been given in high school, but too many quit instead.

To be more fair to the education schools, even Harvard has had great difficulty in committing its faculty to teach certain basic areas of knowledge. The faculty tried to avoid arguing over what needed to be taught, so they fell back on allowing each department to teach “the skills” of its discipline, which they believed could be taught with any subject matter (such as that which the professor’s research happened to focus on at the moment).

The problem, as pointed out in an article by Caleb Nelson in The Atlantic called “Harvard’s Hollow Core,” is that “One cannot think like a physicist, for example, without actually knowing a great deal of physics.” Similarly, it is quite hard to think like a historian if you don’t know any history.

So the whole “Learning How to Learn” paradigm collapses of its own emptiness and leads to academic failure for many students who have been offered rubrics, techniques and skills as a substitute for the academic knowledge they would need to survive in college.

The Common Core is offering national goals for knowledge. Others have critiqued their weakness in math, but I would suggest that their goals for reading in history are scarcely
challenging for eight graders. Reading The Declaration of Independence and A Letter from the Birmingham Jail is not a waste of time, but for high school students, why not offer
Mornings on Horseback, Washington’s Crossing, Battle Cry of Freedom and The Path Between the Seas? In other words, actual history books? I cannot find out when it was decided (or by whom) that American high school students can manage European history, calculus, Latin, chemistry and so on, but cannot be expected to read through even one complete history book? How did our expectations for nonfiction reading (and gathering knowledge thereby) get so dramatically dumbed down? Of course STEM is very important, but even engineers and scientists need to read and write.

To demonstrate how far we have slid down the slope of expectations since Thomas Jefferson’s day, here is an example from The Knowledge Deficit (p. 9):

“In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift.”

Friday, May 27, 2011


That’s why Chetan Singhal, a senior at United World College of S.E. Asia in Singapore, was inspired to turn his interest in medieval history into a research paper on the trial of the Knights Templar. After literally stumbling across a volume of The Concord Review in his library a year ago, he became intrigued by the fact that such high-quality work was being done by other high school students. “It was then it struck me, that even I could produce a work like this, and that even if it doesn’t get published, it will definitely be worth the effort,” says the 17-year-old.

University of Pennsylvania; The Wharton School
Knowledge@Wharton High School
Adventures in Intellect: The Value of a Good Research Paper

Published on May 25, 2011

“Researching allows me to pursue what I really want to learn and forces me to think creatively to answer questions that I have posed”– Caroline Tan, freshman, Yale University, Connecticut

“I think the thought process involved in writing a research paper definitely got me thinking critically of the knowledge around me, and asking questions instead of just accepting other people’s opinions” – Chetan Singhal, senior at United World College of S.E. Asia, Singapore

“Researching [Alexander] Hamilton would allow me to analyze issues in politics, economics and even constitutional law, subjects in which I have a very strong interest. I found the challenge of constructing a scholarly paper of my own to be enticing in terms of the intellectual adventure and sheer joy that it promised” – Tianhao He, senior, Walter Johnson High School, Maryland

Nothing makes William Hughes Fitzhugh, a former high school history teacher, happier than hearing students talk about their love of research. It is what inspired him to launch a small academic journal 24 years ago in Sudbury, Massachusetts, that is highly revered today as The Concord Review. “I felt there was a need to recognize diligent high school students who were going above and beyond their school’s academic requirements to research and write quality history papers,” says Fitzhugh.

In keeping with that mission, the Review has published 945 research papers from teenagers in 44 states and 38 other countries, ranging in topics from the history of IBM and the Asian financial crisis to Christianity in Korea and the American philosopher George Ripley. “My goal has been to not only recognize these students for their achievements, but to encourage others to follow in their footsteps,” says Fitzhugh.

Definitely Worth the Effort

That’s why Chetan Singhal, a senior at United World College of S.E. Asia in Singapore, was inspired to turn his interest in medieval history into a research paper on the trial of the Knights Templar. After literally stumbling across a volume of The Concord Review in his library a year ago, he became intrigued by the fact that such high-quality work was being done by other high school students. “It was then it struck me, that even I could produce a work like this, and that even if it doesn’t get published, it will definitely be worth the effort,” says the 17-year-old.

Singhal’s essay was published in the Review—an accomplishment that helped him gain acceptance at Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts, where he will be going in the fall.

Not everyone is as fortunate to make the same self-discovery as Singhal. According to Fitzhugh, reading nonfiction books and writing a research paper still remain foreign concepts to most high school students.

Tianhao He, 17 and a senior at Walter Johnson High School in Bethesda, Maryland, has grown used to the puzzled looks on people’s faces when they discover he researched and wrote an 11,200-word history paper—not as homework or extra credit, but for the sheer enjoyment of learning something new. “The first thing I tell people is that I wrote it because it was fun,” says He, whose essay focused on Alexander Hamilton and his contributions as the first U.S. Secretary of the Treasury. “I realized that researching Hamilton would allow me to analyze issues in politics, economics and even constitutional law, subjects in which I have a very strong interest.”

As He looks forward to attending Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts in the fall and studying economics, he feels better prepared to tackle the in-depth studying the college requires. “I know that I will continue to hone the critical thinking skills that I learned through writing this research paper in college and beyond,” says He.

Skillful Library Navigation

Kristy Henrich, a freshman at Stanford University in Stanford, California, also values the chance to strengthen her research skills before arriving at college, especially since all freshmen are required to write a 12-to 15-page research-based argument. Thanks to the [Emerson Prize] essay she wrote on Civil War Medicine for The Concord Review, Henrich says she developed a number of skills, such as organization, time management, analysis, development of original ideas, creativity and diligence. “While tackling a research paper is always challenging, it is not nearly as daunting for me as it has been for some of my classmates who have never had this experience before,” says Henrich.

Caroline Tan, a freshman at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, agrees. She, too, credits the research paper she wrote in high school for the Review, which was on President Wilson’s influence on student-led demonstrations in China, for better preparing her for coursework at Yale.

“When professors assign research papers in class, I know how to use academic databases to find scholarly articles or navigate libraries to find relevant books,” says Tan. “I know how to brainstorm, structure and ultimately churn out thousands of words regarding a particular intellectual topic.”

As more businesses, such as law firms, report spending money on remedial writing courses for their employees, writing a research paper may prove to have a positive impact on building skills necessary for the workforce as well. “You won’t get anywhere in a career by just talking about yourself,” says Fitzhugh. “Accumulating and communicating information are essential skills for any job.”

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

[Houston, Texas]


Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

There are many important variables to consider in evaluating the causes for academic failure or success in the high school classroom. The training of the teacher, the quality of the curriculum, school safety, availability of books, etc., etc., are extensively studied, and all these have a part to play.

But I would argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, including classroom work. Why do so many of our high school students do so little academic work? Because they can get away with it.

A close study of the academic demands on students in the vast majority of our high school classrooms would disclose, I feel certain, that one of the principal reasons for their boredom is that they really have nothing to do but sit still and wait for the bell.

In most classrooms the chances of a student being called on are slight, and of being called on twice are almost nonexistent. If a student is called on and has not done the reading or other class preparation, most probably the teacher will just call on someone else. There are no real consequences for being unprepared, and as a result many, if not most, students are unprepared, and that also contributes to their boredom.

By contrast, on the football or soccer field, every player is called on in every practice and in every game. Even if a player is on the bench, there is a constant risk for most of them that they may be called on at any time, and if they do not know what to do, the disgrace and disapproval will be obvious and swift. The same may be said for Drama productions, Chorus, Model UN, and most of the students’ other activities.

In extracurricular activities, the student will often face a peer pressure to do well that is usually lacking in the classroom. Peers in the classroom may even think it is cool for another student to “get away with” having done no preparation for the class.

It is these circumstances, among others, that lead, in my view, to the findings, by the Indiana University High School Survey of Student Engagement (2005), that of the 80,000 students they questioned, 49% do only three to four hours a week of homework, and they still report getting As and Bs. I can not think of a single high school sport that asks for only three to four hours a week of practice, and so little time would easily lead to an athletic failure to match the academic failure of so many of our students.

The absence of serious academic demands on the attention and effort of students in our high school classrooms means not only boredom and daydreaming, but allows students outside of school to spend, according to the Kaiser Foundation study (2005), an average of 6.5 hours a day (44.5 hours a week) with various electronic entertainment media—not homework on the computer—but entertainment.

Somehow, in addition to all that time spent entertaining themselves, high school students usually find time for an active social life, perhaps a job, and often sports or other student activities.

While we have lots of research studies on test results, teaching training, per-pupil expenditure, new curricula, professional workshops, and many other subjects, I believe there is a striking need for a close study of what students are actually being asked to do while they are in class. The remarkable thing, to me, is not that 30% to 50% of our students drop out before graduating from high school, but rather how the other 50% to 70% of them stay in a situation in which so little is asked of them that they are often bored, and in which they are usually very tired of sitting and waiting for the bell.

We sometimes claim that if only the teacher is brilliant or entertaining enough, boredom can be banished, or if we show enough movies, PowerPoint presentations and DVDs on “relevant” subject matter, the students will not sleep in class, either with their eyes open or closed. But imagine how absurd it would be to expect students to stay committed to a sport where they spent all their time sitting in the stands while the coach told wonderful stories, showed great movies and talked amusingly about her/his personal athletic history. The students come to play, as they should, and their motivation to participate is rewarded by their chance to participate, often with sweat, strain, and even potential injury.

When we make so few demands on students in the classroom we should not wonder why so many check out, and are really “absent from class,” whether they are sitting there or not. If they have nothing to do, and nothing is asked of them, and they are not challenged academically, then really they are better off if their attention and their minds are on other things that may offer them greater rewards than sitting still and doing nothing.

I hope the education research community will consider comparing the academic demands on students in the typical classroom with the demands of other activities in which students take a more active part. Let us discover which high school classrooms are like law school and business school classrooms, where students are expected to be prepared and are at risk to be called on for clear proof of their readiness at a moment's notice, as they are in the games and matches in which their energy and commitment are so commonly understood to be essential. If we want our high school students to do more academic work, let’s try to figure out how to stop boring and ignoring them in our classes. Let’s give them better reasons not to be “absent from class.”

Thursday, May 5, 2011


New York Sun
September 13, 2006 Edition
Section: Opinion

They Can Write

September 13, 2006


In the 1980s, when I was teaching history at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, there was increasing concern about measuring the outcomes of education. It occurred to me that a journal of exemplary high school history essays might show other students and teachers what was possible.

So I established a quarterly journal in 1987, and students started to send in their work. Each year for the past 12 ]16] years The Concord Review has given out at a prize, the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, for outstanding academic promise seen in the 44 published research papers [five prizes each year].

About a decade later I founded the National Writing Board to provide an independent assessment of high school research papers. [The main high school writing assessment is now the superficial SAT essay, a 25-minute test on which factual errors do not matter to the score.]

Since 1987, I have been privileged to publish 737 [945] exemplary high school history research papers from 34 [39] countries in The Concord Review. None of these papers would have met the standard English department guidelines, or for that matter the requirements for a high score on an SAT essay. They are all too long, too concerned with historical accuracy, and not personal enough.

Some of the best have come from students in New York City, including one of the first two Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize winners in 1995, a paper by Aaron Einbond, then a Sophomore at Hunter College High School, on the degree of originality in John Maynard Keynes’ The General Theory of Employment, Interest, and Money.

When I first read this 7,366-word paper, I thought it could not have been written by a high school sophomore. But I learned that Mr. Einbond had placed 5th in the Westinghouse [now Intel] Science Talent Search, was first clarinet in the New York Youth Symphony Orchestra and a legend around Hunter, so I published the paper. He went on to Harvard, became a Marshall Scholar at Cambridge, and is now getting a Ph.D. in music composition at Berkeley.

I also published two papers by Hana Lee, class of 2003 at Hunter, one on Tiananmen Square and one on Transcendentalism. She graduated first in her class at Hunter and she recently told me she was at Harvard, majoring in molecular biology and evolutionary genetics, and "working in a lab that studies a chaperone protein in Arabidopsis that may function to buffer the effects of genetic variation in phenotype."

Some of the papers by New York students have been about New York itself, including a great essay on the economic revitalization of Flushing by Amy Peltz at Hunter, who is now at the University of Chicago. Ms. Peltz wrote, “In these times of rising anti-immigrant sentiment, it is important to remember the valuable contributions immigrants can make. In Flushing, the Asian immigrants saved Main Street. Perhaps there are other immigrants waiting in the wings, and other Main Streets in need of saving.” There was a fine paper about the history of Jewish Harlem by Sarah Goldberg who went to the Horace Mann School and is now at Williams. There was a great paper on the Harlem Renaissance by Gabriella Gruder-Poni, an Italian girl studying in this country, who also attended Hunter.

There have also been fine history papers from the Bronx High School of Science, Poly Prep Country Day School, Great Neck North High School, Horace Greeley High School, and Paul D. Schreiber High School, among several other schools.

While this is some of the good news, there is some bad news as well. Part of the bad news is the low and non-academic writing standards of the College Board. With funding from the Albert Shanker Institute (affiliated with the American Federation of Teachers) The Concord Review commissioned a study of the state of the history research paper in public high schools in America in 2002.

We found that, while 95% of teachers praised the value of research papers, 81% never assigned a 5,000-word paper, and 62% never assigned a 3,000-word paper in history classes. Most teachers said they simply did not have time to assign, monitor, and read history papers, so they didn't have their students do them.

The English department in public high schools has its attention on fiction, personal, and creative writing or the five-paragraph essay. Nonfiction reading and serious research papers are not to be found there.

There are real consequences for students who go on to college or to jobs. The Business Roundtable reported on a survey of its member companies in 2004, in which it had found that they were spending $3,090,943,194 annually on remedial writing courses for their salaried and hourly employees, in about equal numbers. American College Testing (ACT) reported this spring that 49% of the high school graduates they tested were unable to read at the level of college freshman texts.

James Story, an education policy analyst at the Texas Public Policy Foundation reported in the September 2006 School Reform News, “Nearly 50 percent of Texas college freshmen require remedial or corrective courses.” Of course some of this remediation is in math, but a large share is in reading and writing.

The powers that be in college freshman composition courses are not doing much to raise standards for academic writing in the high schools either. Nancy Sommers, the director of Expository Writing at Harvard, told a Chronicle of Higher Education colloquium on writing that she was grateful to the high school teachers who had prepared students for Harvard by having them work on the five-paragraph essay.

Some Harvard students don’t see that as great help in preparing for college. Laura Arandes, Harvard Class of 2005, wrote, in a letter to me, that she was shocked by how poorly her public high school in California had prepared her for college papers. She had never been assigned anything more than a five-paragraph essay, at which, she said, she was quite good.

She commented: “This lack of forethought on the part of high school educators and administrators is creating a large divide among college graduates—and it's one that helps neither the students nor their alumni institutions. Modern public high schools have an obligation not simply to pump out graduates at the end of the year, but also to prepare their students for the intellectual rigors of college.”

Many forces are at work in dumbing down writing (and nonfiction reading) in our high schools. Teachers are too busy, most favor creative or personal writing, and nonfiction books are no longer assigned. Students have little to write about, and major organizations, like the National Commission on Writing in the Schools, have a lot of money and publicity, but serious nonfiction academic writing is not one of their goals for high school students.

The Concord Review has very little money and too few subscribers, and its funding future is always in doubt. I met with the Director of Education Programs at the National Endowment for the Humanities a couple of years ago and he told me that while he thought all of our efforts were truly wonderful, NEH could not provide any funding for us, and that has been the case at scores of other foundations over the years.

People are accustomed to thinking of high school student academic work, especially in history, as being of no value. I started The Concord Review in 1987 not only to recognize exemplary papers by high school students of history, but also to distribute them as widely as possible to give lots of other students a chance to read some history and to see what some of their diligent peers have been able to do.

A few teachers, like Broeck Oder at Santa Catalina School in Monterey, California, and Bill Rives, at the Singapore American School, have bought class sets, to make sure their history students see this good work, but most high school teachers seem to have neither the time nor the inclination to let their students know that some of their peers are meeting much higher expectations than they are. Their students will find that out soon enough in college, perhaps.

• Mr. Fitzhugh, a Harvard graduate, and one-time high school history teacher, is the founder and editor of The Concord Review.

Saturday, April 30, 2011


"The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning.
Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously."

New York Times, June 3, 1990
Where We Stand
by Albert Shanker
American Federation of Teachers

History By and For Students
The Concord Review

People who are hungry for a little good news about what U.S. schools and students are achieving—and that’s most of us—should take a look at The Concord Review. The Review publishes history essays written by secondary students from all over the English-speaking world [945 from 39 countries so far], but most are from the U.S. and fully half are by students attending public schools.

If you picked up a copy of the Review and started reading, you probably wouldn’t realize that its lively and substantial articles come from students in high school—or even junior high. An eighth-grader contributed the readable discussion about the future of Richard Nixon’s reputation to the Winter 1989 issue. And in the same issue, the balanced treatment of 19th-century theories about African-Americans that contributed to the founding and development of a society to return former slaves to Africa came from a student in grade ten. The essays in The Concord Review suggest what students can do when they find a subject that engages them and they are encouraged to run with it.

Will Fitzhugh, a former high school history teacher who used his own savings to found The Concord Review in 1987, sees the journal as a way of recognizing—and fostering—achievement. When a student writes an outstanding essay, the only reward a teacher can offer is a top grade. Like many good teachers, Fitzhugh felt that the grade was somehow not enough. So he designed the Review as an extra recognition—a history’s student’s equivalent to winning a varsity letter or getting a prize in a science fair. But of course it does much more...

The Concord Review deserves support—and contributing a subscription to a local school library might be a good way of showing it. 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.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

HIGHS AND LOWS; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
21 April 2011

It seems that the academic expository writing of our public high school students will rise, or fall, to the level of our expectations. Here are excerpts from narrative essays, written by U.S. public high school students, to illustrate that claim—three have been written to the student’s own high expectations and the other three to our generally low expectations for National Competitions, civics and otherwise:

Excerpt from a 40-page essay written as an independent study by a Junior in a Massachusetts public high school [endnote notation omitted]:

“At first, the church hierarchy was pleased at this outburst of religious enthusiasm and female piety; it was almost a revival. Hutchinson, after all, was a prominent and devout member of the Boston church, and only the most suspicious churchmen found immediate fault in the meetings. But soon, Hutchinson’s soirĂ©es became less innocuous. In response to her audience’s interest—in fact, their near-adulation—and in keeping with her own brilliance and constant theological introspection, she moved from repeating sermons to commenting on them, and from commenting to formulating her own distinct doctrine. As Winthrop sardonically remarked, ‘the pretense was to repeat sermons, but when that was done, she would comment...and she would be sure to make it serve her turn.’ What was actually happening, however, was far more radical and far more significant than Hutchinson making the words of others ‘serve her turn.’ She was not using anyone else’s words; she was preaching a new brand of Puritanism, and this is what is now known as Antinomianism.”


Excerpt from a Grand Prize-winning 700-word essay written for a National Competition by a Junior from a public high school in Mableton, Georgia:

“Without history, there is no way to learn from mistakes or remember the good times through the bad. History is more than a teacher to me; it’s an understanding of why I am who I am. It’s a part of my life on which I can never turn back. History is the one thing you can count on never to change; the only thing that changes is people’s perception of it.

It cannot be denied that every aspect of the past has shaped the present, nor that every aspect of the present is shaping and will continue to shape the future. In a sense, history is me, and I am the history of the future. History does not mean series of events; history means stories and pictures; history means people, and yet, history means much more. History means the people of yesterday, today, and tomorrow. History means me.”


Excerpt from a 30-page independent study by a Junior at a public high school in Worthington, Ohio [endnote notation omitted]:

“Opposition to this strictly-planned agricultural system found leadership under Deng Zihui, the director of rural affairs in the Central Committee of the Communist Party of China (CCCPC). This faction believed that peasants engaged in farming should have freedom in management, and advocated a form of private ownership. To them, peasants should have the power to buy, sell, or lease land, and to manage and employ labor. Zihui saw collectivization as a dangerous and detrimental practice to the Chinese economy. The production-team system that was practiced under collective farming did not maximize agricultural output. Production teams were comprised of around 20 to 30 households in the neighborhood, and net income was based on the performance of the production team as a whole. Individual peasants did not see direct returns for their efforts, and therefore the incentive to work hard did not exist under the production-team system. Consequently, agricultural outputs and farmers’ per capita net income were significantly low; in 1957, each farmer received an average net income of 73.37 yuan.”


Excerpt from a 750-word Grand Prize-Winning essay for a National Competition by a Sophomore from a public high school in Rochester, Michigan:

“Similar to how courage has changed our country, having courage has helped shaped who I am today. When I was in 7th grade, I befriended two boys with autism in my gym class. I fully knew that being friends with them was not going to help me climb any higher on the social ladder, but I did not care. I had the courage to go against what was socially acceptable in order to do what was right. I soon not only played with them in gym but invited them to sit with my friends at lunch too. Someone had to have the courage to say that they deserved to be treated equally.

Equality is a civic value that Americans take pride in, and it needs to be defended.

Courageous people stand up for what is right in order to preserve these civic values.

Courageous acts in American history are what have molded us into the great nation we are today. They are, in large part, the reason why we became an independent nation and also an important reason why we have our first African-American president. Social and political movements in the U.S. began with one courageous person willing to stand up and go against the crowd. Every downpour has to start with one drop of rain.”


Excerpt from a 25-page essay by a Junior at a public high school in Manchester, Massachusetts [endnote notation omitted]:

“Paris was the center of medicine in the 19th century, an age which witnessed a revolt against dogmatism and a new emphasis on scientific thought. As universities were freed of political and ecclesiastic control, more social classes were able to attend, and true scientific thought was encouraged. A new type of clinical observation emerged that focused on active examination and explainable symptoms. Furthermore, laboratory medicine, meaning research-based medicine, gained a foothold. As medicine became more systematic, scientists moved away from the four humors view of the body and began conducting experiments in chemistry, notably biochemistry. In 1838, Theodor Schwann and Malthais Schleidan formulated the cell theory, and in 1854, Hugo von Mohl, John Goodsir, Robert Remak, and Rudolf Virchow demonstrated that cells arise from other cells. These two discoveries make up the modern cell theory and the foundation of all biological advances. With the discovery of cells came new opinions about the origins of disease, reviving interest in microbiology. The most widely accepted theory about how disease was spread was the “filth theory.” According to the filth theory, epidemics were caused by miasmatic hazes rising from decaying organic matter. However, some disagreed with this hypothesis. The idea that epidemic diseases were caused by micro-organisms and transmitted by contagion was not new in the mid-19th century. It had been proclaimed by Fracastorius in the 16th century, Kircher in the 17th, and Lancisi and Linne in the 18th. Opposing the filth theory, Jacob Henle proposed the role of micro-organisms again in 1840. Unfortunately, many of his contemporaries viewed him as old-fashioned until some notable discoveries occurred. Bassi, DonnĂ©, Schoelein, and Grubi each proved fungi to be the cause of certain diseases. In 1850, bacteria, discovered earlier by Leeuwenhoek, were also confirmed as sources of disease. Even though micro-organisms as the source of disease was well documented, many did not accept this theory until about 20 years later. Nevertheless, people knew something was causing diseases, igniting a public hygiene movement in Europe and the dawn of the preventive medicine age.”


Excerpt from a First Prize essay by a public high school Sophomore for a National Creative Minds Competition [creative nonfiction writing] organized by the oldest and best-known gifted program in the United States:

“It is summer, one of those elusive, warm days when the world seems at peace. I splash around in the ocean, listening to the voices of the beachgoers mingling with the quiet roar of the waves. When I scoop water into my palm, it is clear, yet all the water together becomes an ocean of blue. Nothing plus nothing equals something; I cannot explain the equation of the ocean. I dip my head under to get my hair wet and to taste the salt once held by ancient rocks. I hold myself up on my hands, imaging I am an astronaut, and explore my newfound weightlessness.

But water is the opposite of space. Space is cold and lifeless, and water is warm and life giving. Both are alien to my body, though not to my soul.

Underwater, I open my eyes, and there is sunlight filtering through the ceiling of water. As I toss a handful of sand, the rays illuminate every drifting grain in turn. I feel as if I can spend forever here, the endless blue washing over me. Though the water is pure, I can’t see very far. There is a feeling of unknown, of infinite depths.

As a little girl, I used to press my face against the glass of my fish tank and pretend I swam with my guppies, our iridescent tails flashing. The world moved so unhurriedly, with such grace. Everything looked so beautiful underwater—so poetic. It was pure magic how the fish stayed together, moving as one in an instant. What was their signal? Could they read minds? how did these tiny, insignificant fish know things I did not?”


The questions suggest themselves: What sort of writing better prepares our students for college and career assignments, and must we leave high standards for high school academic expository writing up to the students who set them for themselves? [The more academic excerpts were taken from papers published in The Concord Review—]

Monday, April 11, 2011

DISADVANTAGED STUDENTS; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
April 11, 2011

The California State College System reported recently that 47% of their freshmen must take remedial reading courses before they can be admitted to regular college academic courses. The Diploma to Nowhere report of the Strong American Schools Project said that more than one million of our high school graduates are in remedial courses at our colleges each year.

Keep in mind that these are not high school dropouts. These are students who did what we asked them to do, were awarded their high school diplomas at graduation, applied to college, were accepted at college, and then told when they got there that they were not well prepared enough by their high schools to take college courses.

The Chronicle of Higher Education did a survey of college professors, who reported that 90% of their freshmen were not very well prepared in reading, doing research or writing.

From my perspective, these students, regardless of their gender, race, creed, or national origin, have been disadvantaged during their twelve years in our public schools. My research indicates that the vast majority have never been asked to do a single serious research paper in high school, and, while I have been unable to find money to do a study of this, I have anecdotal evidence that the vast majority of our public high school students are never asked to read one complete nonfiction book by their teachers during their four years.

Race can be a disadvantage of course, even for the children of Vietnamese boat people, and poverty can be a disadvantage in education as well, even for the children of unemployed white families in Appalachia. But the disadvantages of disgracefully low expectations for academic reading and writing are disinterestedly applied to all of our public high school students, it appears.

Huge numbers of unprepared public high school students provide an achievement gap all by themselves, albeit one that is largely ignored by those who think that funding is the main reason so many of our students fail to complete any college degree.

In that study by The Chronicle of Higher Education, they also asked English teachers if they thought their students were prepared for college reading and writing tasks, and most of them thought their students were well prepared. The problem may be that English departments typically assign fiction as reading for students and the writing they ask for is almost universally personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, supplemented now by work on the little 500-word personal “college essay.”

It is hard to conceive of a literacy program better designed to render our public high school students poorly prepared for the nonfiction books and term papers at the college level. Of course, many colleges, eager to fill their dorms and please their “customers” with easy courses and grade inflation, are gradually reducing the number of books students are assigned and the length of papers they are asked to write, but this simply adds to the disadvantages to which we are subjecting our students, all the while charging them large amounts of money for tuition.

Many parents are satisfied when their children tell them that they love their high school, perhaps not fully realizing that the students are talking mostly about their social life and their after-school sports and other activities. They may remain unaware that our students are being prevented from learning to read history books and from writing serious term papers. No one mentions that disadvantage, so no doubt these parents are just as surprised, humiliated, and embarrassed as their children when they are not allowed into regular college courses when they get there.

Americans have big hearts, and are concerned when they are told of the plight of our disadvantaged students who are black, Hispanic, or poor. But they are naturally not really able to summon up much concern over an academic literacy achievement gap which disadvantages practically all of our public high school students, especially if the schools and the Edupundits keep them quite uninformed about it.

Thursday, March 31, 2011

PUSHOUT; Houston, Texas
SchoolInfoSystem; Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
31 March 2011

Several decades ago, the Canadian Army was having a problem with its male recruits. Far too many of them were going Absent WithOut Leave, for various reasons, to various places, for varying amounts of time.

The Army tried giving them punishment laps, kitchen duty, latrine duty, even time in the stockade, but nothing worked—they were still going AWOL.

Finally, someone thought of trying something completely new. They sent the recruit home to his mother, with a note saying he was too immature for Army duty, and would she keep him at home for another year, and then perhaps he could try again. The AWOL problem disappeared.

Something like 50% of new teachers leave the profession within five years, and they don’t, for the most part, go home to mother, but they do leave a hole and a problem in filling their shoes back in the schools.

My guess is that no one conducts serious exit interviews with these teachers, who are perfectly free to leave the profession, for personal reasons, to start a different career, or whatever. But I would argue that a significant portion of them, it would be found if there were serious exit interviews conducted, have actually been pushed out.

People go back and forth arguing whether teaching is a profession or a civil service job like firefighters and police, paid out of municipal taxes.

In general, professionals don’t have clients delivered to them, as students are delivered to teachers, and if a client leaves a lawyer for another lawyer the first lawyer does not call his union representative.

For me, one test of whether a teacher is a professional or not is whether she/he can refuse service to someone. Lawyers who are about to try a case in court before a jury can interview potential jurors and they have, I think, two peremptory challenges, which allow them to say: “This potential juror and that potential juror are excused.” They can exercise this privilege if there are a couple of people they think would prejudice their case or make it harder to win. They don’t have to give any reasons.

A “professional” teacher, on the other hand, is not allowed to look over a class, and say, “This one and that one, I can’t teach.” Even if what it means is if those students stay in their class they may have to give 60% of their time to controlling them, and have only 40% of their time for the other 27 students. And it is worse than that, because the effort to control disruptive students does not come at one time in the class, but is needed to interrupt the rest of the class any number of times.

Teachers are trained and expected not to think about stuff like that. They are taught and expected to believe that it is their job to accept all comers and exercise their “classroom management skills” without being relieved of the burden of any disruptive student, no matter how much damage that student may do to the education of the other students in the class.

So teachers, for the most part, take all students, and their teaching suffers as a result. They are frustrated in their efforts to offer the best that they have to the majority of their students. And, by the way, it is no secret to the students that the school administration doesn’t have enough respect for the teacher’s professional work to remove such a student. And we wonder why people don’t want to be teachers and don’t want their children to be teachers.

Theodore Roosevelt had a guest in the oval office one day, when his daughter Alice came charging through the room screaming. The guest asked the President if he couldn’t control her. TR responded that he could control Alice, or he could be President of the United States, but not both. He was a professional and was treated as such.

I blame teachers for not having the courage to say that if I have to keep this student or that student in my class, the education I am able to offer to the other students will be damaged by 60%. If they did say that, of course they would be judged incompetent in classroom management and probably encouraged to leave the profession.

Many too many do leave the profession, and I believe that many of them were literally pushed out through being prevented from doing their best by the unchecked and disregarded misbehavior of some students. I know that every Nobel Prize winner was once a high school student, but so was every rapist and murderer, and students who cannot conduct themselves as they should must not be allowed to ruin the careers of our teachers. Perhaps such students should be sent home to their mothers, but they don’t belong in classrooms where important professional academic work is going on.