Monday, December 31, 2012

THE MIND OF STUDENTS; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin


 Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
31 December 2012

What is on the minds of our students? We mostly have no idea. The Edupundits all seem to agree that the most important variable in student academic achievement is teacher quality. But isn’t the most important variable in student academic achievement really student academic work in the end?

The teacher can know a lot about her subject, can speak well, tell wonderful stories, have good control over the class, and so on, but if the student is thinking about something else, what is the result?

I have known first-rate teachers whose students didn’t do any work academically and mediocre teachers who had some students who achieved a lot academically.

All those hundreds of people spending many millions of dollars and countless months of effort on teacher assessment never seem to wonder what is going on in the minds of our students in a given class. How many times has an evaluator, visiting a class to judge the work of a teacher, ever thought to ask a few students, in those moments, what they know about the current subject, or even what they are thinking about at the time?

The Hindus say the mind is like a drunken monkey, and even a sober mind is pulled in many directions at once, by memories, worries, ideas, desires, impressions of all kinds, and even, occasionally, by the subject matter of the class the student is sitting in. But the point is that while we are teaching, even though we may get a student question from time to time, or we may ask a student for a comment from time to time, during the vast majority of the time we spend teaching, we have not the slightest insight into what is occupying the minds of almost all of our students while we are teaching our brains out.

A recent study found (mirabile dictu) that students who don’t come to class learn less than students who do. But the fact is that even when students do come to class, their attention and their minds may very well be absent from class. There are countless objects of interest to distract the minds of students from the current work of any class as presented by the teacher.

This is not to say that wonderful teachers cannot draw and hold the attention of almost all the students in their class for amazingly long stretches. But students have many concerns, both personal and academic. Not only the next athletic event, or personal relationship, but even the subject matter of the next class or the last class may occupy the minds of some or many of our students while we teach.

Teaching and learning are at least as subtle and complex as brain surgery, and the surgeon has one single anaesthetized patient, and the help of four or five other professionals, while the teacher may have thirty conscious high school students and no one to watch for signs of student distraction, if any...As every teacher knows it is ridiculously easy for a student to show every sign of serious attention while their mind is actually kilometers away on some other matter entirely.

Stitching knowledge and ideas into the existing mental and memory frameworks of students is a lot more difficult and intricate an undertaking than most of those designing teacher assessment projects even want to think about, but it is the actual daily venture of our teachers.

My main interest and experience are with history at the high school level, so I am not sure what bearing my suggestions would have for calculus, chemistry, or Chinese language courses. But I believe that the attention of our history students can be captured and rewarded by asking them to read at least one good complete history book each year, and to write one serious Extended Essay-type history research paper each year while they are in high school.

If they read and report on a good history book, the chances are that they will have given it their attention, and learned some history from it. If they write a 6,000-word history research paper (and I am regularly publishing 8,000-15,000-word papers by secondary students from 46 states and beyond), they will clearly have had to give the historical subject of their research their attention, and they will have learned some history (see: student academic achievement) in the process.

Of course, we should continue to try to recruit and retain the top 5% of college graduates as our school teachers, and we should encourage them to teach their hearts out. But unless we begin to look more closely in an effort to discover what, academically, is going on in the minds of students, we will continue to ignore the main engines of academic work in our schools. I hope one or two of our more elite and well-funded Edupundits may give this idea a passing thought or two.


“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, December 4, 2012

UNMENTIONABLE; Madison, Wisconsin; Houston, Texas


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
4 December 2012

Since the disaster of the Marxist/Victims-history standards produced by UCLA in 1996, which were censured by a vote of 99-1 in the United States Senate, (the one negative voter thought the “standards” were even worse), History has become, in the comment this year of David Steiner, former Commissioner of Education in New York State, “so politically toxic that no one wants to touch it.”

This situation has developed in part because every tiny little multicultural group in the country is outraged if their history does not receive equal (or better) treatment in any history textbook, and in part because the late Howard Zinn’s proudly Marxist textbook of United States History has sold more than 2 million copies (not bad for an anti-capitalist who believed “private property is theft”).

Most of those who write about the dashing new nonfiction reading suggestions of the Common Core lament the altered and unreasonable burdens on English teachers, and they all seem to have forgotten that most of our high schools have both History departments and History teachers as well. But it seems to be inconceivable and unmentionable that our History teachers might dare to assign history books (nonfiction) and history research papers (nonfiction writing).

The story of how all reading and writing became the complete monopoly of the English Departments is surely a long and complicated one, but however it developed, it seems clear that our History departments have given away any responsibility for assigning books and research papers they may once have owned to the English teachers.

In an October 24, 2012 article in the Wall Street Journal, Michael S. Malone argues that even tech company CEOs are now looking for people who can tell stories (about their enterprise, their product, etc.), and so Mr. Malone of course looks to the English departments to offer the needed expertise in storytelling:

Could the humanities rebuild the shattered bridge between C.P. Snows two cultures and find a place at the heart of the modern world's virtual institutions? We assume that this will be a century of technology. But if the competition in tech moves to this new battlefield, the edge will go to those institutions that can effectively employ imagination, metaphor, and most of all, storytelling. And not just creative writing, but every discipline in the humanities, from the classics to rhetoric to philosophy. Twenty-first-century storytelling: multimedia, mass customizable, portable and scalable, drawing upon the myths and archetypes of the ancient world, on ethics, and upon a deep understanding of human nature and even religious faith.

The demand is there, but the question is whether the traditional humanities can furnish the supply. If they cant or wont, they will continue to wither away. But surely there are risk-takers out there in those English and classics departments, ready to leap on this opportunity. Theyd better hurry, because the other culture wont wait.

Where did we lose the understanding that History is all storytelling, with the additional benefit that it is based on evidence, which is not always so important with fiction? Mr. Malone mentions English and classics departments (“classics to rhetoric to philosophy”), but perhaps for him History has lost its membership in the Humanities? He wants “imagination, metaphor and most of all, storytelling...and myths and archetypes of the ancient world,” but he leaves unmentioned the sources of the greatest true stories (nonfiction) ever told in the world—our Historians.

Nevertheless, he is in the mainstream of those who, when asked to think, talk and write about reading and writing in the schools, faithfully and regularly default to the work of the English department and its wonderful world of fiction as the only place to introduce nonfiction!

When did the ideas of having our high school students read an actual complete History book or two and write an actual History research paper or two disappear into the woodwork? The result is that our students arrive in college poorly prepared to read nonfiction books and to write the required term papers, not to mention their inability to do any research.

Neil Postman tells us that “Cicero remarked that the purpose of education is to free the student from the tyranny of the present.” That freedom seems more and more out of reach among those who cannot even think about History, which has made History the most unmentionable among all the necessary academic subjects in our schools.

Monday, December 3, 2012

Master of None

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

In 1968, the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts, awarded me a degree, saying I was a Master of Education. In those days, it was possible to get such a degree at the age of 22 or 23, after a year of course work. Now, what does that mean: “Master of Education”?

Michelangelo finished his immortal Pietá at the age of 21, so perhaps he was a Master of Sculpture at that age, but it is said that he was around marble dust even as an infant, and he had been carving sculptures in marble for many years by the time he was 21.

My understanding is that in Medieval guilds, it took some time to be acknowledged as a Master in any of the crafts. One had to serve a number of years as an apprentice, then some years as a journeyman, then, if ready to do so, it was necessary to offer a “Master–Piece” of work, which, if accepted by the other Masters of the guild, could earn for the craftsman the rank of Master in that craft. Of course these days we throw around the term “masterpiece” without much thought of what it meant, just as we can call something a “classic” when it is brand new, or even a soft drink. J.S. Bach’s “Goldberg Variations” is a classic, but then these days so are one version of Coke, and the Army/Navy game.

The degree of Master has to be earned over time even now in other fields as well. The one best thing for me that came out of my time at the Harvard Ed School was the recommendation by my advisor, a kindly professor of statistics, that I read Professor Eugen Herrigel’s book, Zen in the Art of Archery. This fine book lead me to a lifelong interest in Zen and related subjects. But I have to say that one cannot become a Zen Master of Archery, or of any of the arts, not to mention meditation itself, by the age of 23 after one year of study.

But surely there are better parallels to the Master of Education. What about earning one’s Master's license in the Merchant Marine? No, that takes a long time and a lot of hard work, too. What about becoming a Master Sergeant, for instance in the United States Marine Corps? Well, no, that takes quite a while and a lot of experience and knowledge as well.

I worked with a high school student once on the Boston’s North Shore, who needed to graduate early because she had been accepted in a Master Class with the violinist Fritz Kreisler. Turned out she had been flying very early in the morning twice a week to study violin at Julliard in New York. She had been invited to join that small Master Class, but it was a chance to study with a Master, not a quick trip to a Master’s Degree of her own in Music.

There is a famous story around now, speaking of Master musicians, of a teacher in Los Angeles, I believe, who took his class to hear a Master cellist in concert and to meet him afterwards. The story says that one of the students asked him how he came to be such a good musician. And the cellist said, after a pause, “Well, first, there are no shortcuts.” But then he was not talking about the path to a degree as a Master of Education, on which, I would argue, shortcuts are the order of the day, and have been for many decades.

Some academic Master’s programs try to redeem their right to the name by requiring a thesis (a modern imitation of the Master–Piece). Perhaps in physics or in molecular biology, such a thesis could really demonstrate mastery of the subject. But my Master’s program in Education did not require a thesis, and the general opinion is, I understand, that most theses written in the field of Education do not rise to the level of mastery required in the hard sciences by any stretch of the definition.

I would conclude with a couple of suggestions. First, when educators who are Masters of Education, including me, talk about educational mastery, it might be useful to retain some skepticism over whether they know much about mastery of any kind in any field. Second, we might consider whether to try to make a Master’s Degree in Education mean something one day.

And finally, I have to confess that, after nearly thirty-five years of work in education, I have come to the view that Mastery in education is very hard to achieve. If we pretend otherwise, by passing out meaningless degrees, we end up by avoiding most of the many serious questions about how we might actually get better at educating the children in our charge.


Wednesday, October 24, 2012


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
24 October 2012

I may be one of a tiny minority who think that schools are for student academic work.

Of course, sports, concerts, social programs, dances, and all sorts of other youth activities are important, but students don’t need schools to do them in.

My view is that without student academic work, all the buildings, bond issues, budgets, school boards, teacher unions, superintendent and teacher training programs, Broad/Gates/WalMart grants, local-state-federal education departments, NCLB, RTT, CC, CCSSO,  Schools of Education, standards projects, legislation, regulations, and all the rest of the Adults Only paraphernalia surrounding education in this country these days are just a waste of money and time.

The Education Punditocracy, including blogs, magazines, newspapers, foundations, Finn/Hess/Petrilli, etc., and even my friend and inspiration, Diane Ravitch, among hundreds and hundreds of others, are completely preoccupied with and absorbed in their consideration of what Adults are doing in education. The actual academic work of students takes place at much too low a level to attract their notice. They seem to be making the assumption that if they can just fix all the Adults Only stuff, then somehow student academic work will take care of itself. But they don’t pay any attention in the meantime to whether students are actually doing any academic work or not. And they have not learned that the students, and the students alone, have the power to determine whether they will do any academic work, and also what its quality will be.

To reiterate: without student academic work, all the rest of the bustle, noise, commentary, and the hundreds of billions of dollars spent will amount to nothing, so it should be important to pay attention to student academic work, should it not?

I came to understand this because for the last 25 years in particular, and for about 10 years before that, I have been fully engaged in efforts that completely depend upon good student academic work, and I have been fascinated to discover how few Education people (I’m not talking about actual teachers) seem to be involved with that, and that just about every one of them, though laboring away quite seriously and conscientiously, seems to spend all their time on the Adults Only matters, and to have almost no interest, other than to give it lip service and quickly move on, in the serious academic work of students.

If that should somehow change, and if student academic work were to become the central focus of what we pay attention to in education, there is a chance we might see more of it, and that its quality might improve too. But if we continue to ignore it and focus on Adults Only, that most assuredly is not going to happen. As the Hindus say: “Whatever you give your Attention to grows in your life,” and we have been giving, IMHO, far too much attention (almost all of it) to the Adults Only aspects of education and far too little to student academic work.

To test what I am saying, if a kind Reader would go back over articles, books, blogs, and speeches on education in recent years, please do let me know if you find any that talk about student science projects, the complete nonfiction books they are reading, or the serious history research papers they are writing. I believe if you look closely, almost all that you find will show people caught up in what Adults Only are doing, should do, will do, must do, or might do, and there will be little to no attention to the actual academic work of students in our schools. But please prove me mistaken, with evidence, if you would be so kind.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
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™

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Scholars or Customers?

Scholars or Customers?; Houston, Texas
October 16, 2012
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Diane Senechal, Ph.D., has written a book (The Republic of Noise—2012) about the virtues of solitude for young people living in our mad, mad, Wireless World.

I fear she may be insufficiently aware that every moment one of our high school students spends in reflection, musing, thinking, contemplation, meditation or indeed in solitude, unless those moments are product-focused, can grow, over time, into a huge barrier to sales of computers, software, games, and other products of our marketing efforts in educational technology. After all, the business of education is business, right?

To put it plainly, thinking, and other sorts of reflection, constitute a serious threat to all efforts to meet hardware/software sales quotas, especially in the huge and growingly lucrative education market.

This should make it clearer why the companies which are the commercial engines of our economy, especially the technology companies which are concentrating on education for a large portion of their consumer marketing and sales, are so opposed to having students read actual nonfiction books or spend time working on history research papers while they are in high school.

While it is true that having students read one or more complete history books while they are still in high school may not only teach them some history, but will also help them to get ready for the nonfiction books they will be asked to read in college, and that any work they do in high school on serious history research papers will better prepare them for college writing tasks, it must be borne in mind that both of those activities can seriously cut into their use of social media and associated products, and limit the time they will spend buying and using video games and other important products!

We have to decide if we want our high school students to be scholars or customers! Apple Computer did not spend $650 million or thereabouts to persuade our students to read books and write papers to further their education, but instead to buy iPhones and iMacs to help distract them from homework and other obstacles to buying products. As Mark Bauerlein noted in The Dumbest Generation, one sign in an Apple store promised that the MacBook would be “the only book you will ever need.”

There has been attention recently given to the disadvantages of colleges inflating grades and doing other things in their attempts to attract paying customers, because treating students as customers interferes with the essential responsibility of Upper Education to serve and challenge them as students.

But even in Lower Education, the multi-multi-billion-dollar market in digital equipment and software has employed major efforts to induce students to spend 53 hours a week with electronic entertainment media, according to the Kaiser Foundation, while most of them spend no more than 3 or 4 hours a week on homework.

There are always a few people who don’t get the Word to
dumb it down!! Since 1968, the International Baccalaureate Program has required a 4,000-word (16-page) Extended Essay for candidates for the Diploma, and that may very well have resulted in some students reading complete nonfiction books.

In addition, the Advanced Placement Program of the College Board, while it has not yet managed to include a serious term paper (a small pilot experiment is now underway), nevertheless has not exiled some teachers who go ahead and assign them anyway, a good number of which have been published in The Concord Review since 1987. In fact a special issue of AP history essays was published by The Concord Review in 1995, and this issue is available on the website at But those teachers (and students) have always been outside the mainstream with their efforts.

A few high school students, in some cases inspired by the exemplary work of their peers published in The Concord Review have worked to read for and write their serious history term papers as independent studies, some ranging from 8,000 words (32 pages) up to 15,000 words (60 pages), but with no encouragement from the electronic entertainment, computer/software, and STEM communities, these scholarly “mountaineers
  have not been numerous over the years.

If we continue to value hardware and software sales over education for our students, we will sell a lot of products, but we will also naturally continue to have students in need of extensive remediation, and to produce unemployable graduates. However, if we decide to relax our visa barriers for skilled immigrants, we may continue to count on them to carry our civilization forward or at least keep it going by making use of the benefits they bring with them from the non-commercial educations still available in other countries in South Asia, East Asia, and elsewhere.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012


The Atlantic
Thursday, September 27, 2012

[William Hughes Fitzhugh is the editor of The Concord Review, a unique international academic journal that publishes history research papers by high school students.]

Why Are We Afraid to Show Off Our Brightest Students' Work?

By William Fitzhugh

[High school athletes are the pride of their communities. But if we want to inspire kids to write well, we should be putting the exemplary work of our best young high school scholars on display.]

As the editor of The Concord Review, I have been glad to publish more than 1,000 exemplary high school history research papers (average 6,000 words) by students from 46 states and 38 other countries since 1987. Yet I have long been aware that little “personal” essays have killed off academic expository writing in most of our schools.

For generations, American children in our schools have had their writing limited to short pieces about themselves, from primary school up through their “college essays” (those little 500-word “personal” narratives). As long as English teachers have borne all the responsibility for reading and writing in the schools, the reading has been fiction, the writing personal and “creative.” Lately a genre has emerged called “creative nonfiction,” but that turns out to be just more solipsistic autobiography.

Most of our students never read a single history book and they very rarely write a serious term paper before graduating from high school. They learn to write without learning anything beyond their own feelings and the events of their present lives, and their teachers are able to grade that work without knowing much either.

Marc Tucker, president of the National Center on Education and the Economy, put it very well in August this year: “The single biggest complaint from college teachers and employers is that high school graduates cannot write as well as they need to.” As a result, the member companies of the Business Roundtable have been saddled with a $3 billion bill for remedial writing courses every year, not only for their hourly hires but for their current and new salaried employees.

There are a few exceptions, of course. For decades, the International Baccalaureate has required a 4,000-word (16-page) Extended Essay for the Diploma, and thousands of American students have done that. Even the College Board has begun to think of a small new pilot program on term papers as well.

The New Common Core standards, a set of reforms that will soon be applied by most states, talk about nonfiction reading, but that category seems to include more memos, short speeches, brochures, and technical articles than anything like a complete history book. The standards also mention something about nonfiction writing, but all of the examples in the Appendix seem to be only more two-page efforts that will far from challenge the capability of our students in academic writing.

By publishing Peg Tyre’s story “The Writing Revolution,” The Atlantic is doing a great service for our students who need to learn to do some serious academic expository writing while they are still in high school. However, I would add that students really do benefit from reading exemplary academic expository papers written by their peers.

At The Concord Review, I’ve seen many examples of first-rate academic writing on historical topics. Students are startled, challenged, and inspired when they see this kind of work by people their own age. “When I first came across The Concord Review, I was extremely impressed by the quality of writing and the breadth of historical topics covered by the essays in it,” one New Jersey public school girl wrote to me. “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.”

It may be objected that this is a letter from a good student. Where are the letters from struggling students? I would respond that in sports, we are quite happy to present other students with the very best public performances of their most athletic peers. But when it comes to academics, we seem afraid to show students the exemplary work of their peers, for fear of driving them away. This dichotomy has always seemed strange to me.

Of course we must pay attention to our least able students, just as we must pay attention to the those who have the most difficulty in our gym classes. But it would’t hurt, in my view, to dare to recognize and distribute some of our students’ best academic work, in the hopes that it may challenge many others of them to put in a little more effort. Surely that is worth a try.

“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®

Monday, October 1, 2012



Summit Country Day School senior Theresa Rager’s research paper on the history of tuberculosis research and its effects on the development of the medical field has been chosen for publication in The Concord Review. It will be published in the quarterly’s Winter Issue.

Theresa is only the sixth student from the Cincinnati area to be published in The Review in the 26 years that the publication has been in existence. Including Theresa, four of those six published Cincinnatians were Summit students.

Summit Country Day School Senior
Theresa Rager, seated, with Dean
of Students Kelly Cronin.

Theresa’s 50-page research paper, “The History of Biomedical Research on Tuberculosis,” was a year-long project in Honors Research Seminar in Social Studies taught by Summit Dean of Students Kelly Cronin. Theresa, who is one of three Summit students in the Greater Cincinnati Health Council’s 2012 TAP MD program, has an interest in becoming a physician. “She combined her interest in science with history.” says Ms. Cronin. “She was taking AP Biology at the same time. Her research project was equivalent to work done by an undergraduate history major. Students in Honors Research Seminar start out studying research methods, then select a topic for research and spend the rest of the year researching and writing a paper. Theresa shortened the paper she wrote in Ms. Cronin’s class before sending it to The Review.

The Concord Review selects only about 3% [6%] of the papers that are submitted,” says Ms. Cronin. “It is harder to get published in The Concord Review than it is to get accepted into Harvard [6%].” Even Harvard acknowledges how prestigious the publication is. In a recent New York Times story, William R. Fitzsimmons, Dean of Admissions at Harvard University, said he keeps copies of The Concord Review in his office to inspire applicants. Being published in The Concord Review is impressive, like winning a national math competition, he says.

The Concord Review
champions exemplary history essays by English-speaking high school students. As of the Fall 2012 issue, the Review had published 1,033 research papers—averaging 6,000 words each, complete with endnotes and bibliography—from authors in 46 states and 38 other countries. The Concord Review is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students of history.

Dr. Terrence Malone, Summit’s Upper School Director, credits The Summit’s signature Writing Program with Summit’s success in The Concord Review. The Writing Program culminates in the Upper School with the writing of major research papers in several different areas of the curriculum. “The volume of writing that students undertake here at The Summit makes a difference in how well prepared our graduates are,” he says. “We hold our students to a high standard. We have a high expectation for their performance and the quality of the written word. In our most advanced classes, students are doing college-level writing and we’ve heard from some alumni that their first writing assignments in college were easier than the work they did here.”

The three previous Summit students to be published in The Concord Review also were students in Ms. Cronin’s courses. They were:

•Jane Abbottsmith’ 08. Her paper, “Religion and Nationalism in Ireland in the Late 19th and Early 20th Centuries,” was first published in the Spring of 2009 during her senior year. It subsequently received The Concord Review’s Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize and was republished in 2012 The Concord Review Readers Series, Emerson Prize Issue 1. Jane received a bachelor’s degree in religion magna cum laude, with a certificate in Values and Public Life, from Princeton University. A Gates-Cambridge scholar, she is now pursuing a master’s degree in theology and religious studies at Cambridge University in the U.K.

•Nick Corser ’08. His paper, “The Burning Times: The Role of the Catholic Church in the European Witch Trials,” was published in the Winter of 2006 during his sophomore year. Nick received a B.A. in political science and history from Vanderbilt University and is now attending Emory University School of Law.

•Dr. Margaret (Niehaus-Sauter) Fuchs ’03. Her paper, called “The Role of Music in the Life of the North American Slave,” was published in the Fall of 2002 during her sophomore year. Dr. Fuchs received a bachelor’s degree in molecular biology from Kenyon College and a medical degree from The Ohio State University (OSU). Dr. Fuchs is a second-year internal medicine/pediatrics resident at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center.

The Summit Country Day School serves students from age two through grade twelve in a coeducational setting. The Summit combines the academic excellence and one-on-one guidance of a top-tier independent school with the servant leadership and character building environment that are hallmarks of a Catholic education.

Thursday, September 20, 2012


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; Ph.D. in Economics at MIT], will still be available for them. Among those opportunities, of course, is The Concord Review. Twenty or twenty-five years from now, I will be looking for it.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2012


Adolescent Literacy Flim-Flam
Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review

There is no question that lots of people around the nation are concerned about the literacy of American adolescents. They must be worried about the ability of our students to read and write, one would assume. It might also seem reasonable to take for granted that professionals interested in teen skills in reading books and writing papers would give close attention to those students who are already reading a fair amount of nonfiction and writing really exemplary research papers at the high school level.

At this point, expectations need to be altered a bit. No doubt coaches of Adolescent Sports have a tremendous fascination with the best teen athletes in the country. There are lots of prizes and even scholarships for high school students who perform very well in football, soccer, basketball, baseball, etc., and there are even college scholarships for good teen cheerleaders. We might think it odd if all high school coaches cared about was physical education classes and even in those, only those student/athletes who were most un-coordinated and incompetent. Not that it is unimportant to worry about teens who are overweight and cannot take part in sports, but nevertheless, coaches tend to focus on the best athletes, and colleges and the society at large seem to think that is fine for them to do, and is even their job, some would say.

But when it comes to students who read well and write good term papers, the Literacy Community has no interest in them. It is only able to focus on the illiterate and incompetent among Adolescents, and their professional peers seem to think that is fine for them to do, and is even their real job. And it surely is important for them to help those who need help. They should do research and develop curricula and programs to help teens become more literate. They have been doing this for many decades, and yet more than a million of our high school graduates each and every year are in remedial (non-credit) courses when they are “admitted” (conditionally) to colleges around the country.

Perhaps the current approach to literacy training for young people might deserve a second look. The Chronicle of Higher Education surveyed college professors, 90% of whom reported that they thought the freshmen in their classes were not well prepared in reading, doing research, or writing term papers. Their high school teachers had thought they were well prepared, but college professors didn’t see it that way.

No doubt many of those students had the benefit of the Adolescent Literacy Initiatives of, National Council of Teachers of English, National Writing Project, Young Adult Library Services Association (YALSA), Alliance for Excellent Education, Partnership for Reading, National Adolescent Literacy Coalition, Learning Point Associates, Education Development Center, Council of Chief State School Officers, Scholastic, Adolescent Literacy Coaching Project (ALCP), National Governors’ Association, Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy, Adolescent Literacy Research Network, Adolescent Literacy Support Project, WGBH Adolescent Literacy website, and the International Reading Association, not to mention the many state and local literacy programs, and yet our students’ literacy still leaves a lot to be desired, even if they can graduate from high school.

To me it seems that, unlike coaches, the literacy pros are almost allergic to good academic work in reading and writing by our teens. I am not really sure why that would be the case, but in the last 25 years of working with exemplary secondary students of history from 46 states and 38 other countries, I have not found one single Literacy Organization or Literacy Program which had the slightest interest in their first-rate work, which I have been privileged to publish in 94 issues of The Concord Review so far. They have heard about it, but they don’t want to know about it, as far as I can tell.

It does seem foolish to me, that if they truly want to improve the reading and writing of adolescents, they don’t take a tiny bit of interest in exemplary reading and writing at the high school level, not only in the students’ work, but even perhaps in the work of the teachers who guided them to that level of excellence, just as college coaches are interested in the best high school athletes and of course in their coaches as well.

They could still spend the bulk of their time on grants given them to do “meta-analyses” of Literacy Strategies/Rubrics and the like, but it seems really dumb not to glance once or twice at very good written work by our most diligent teens (the Literate Adolescents).

Of course, I am biased. I believe that showing teachers and students the best term papers I can find will inspire them to try to reach for more success in literacy, and some of my authors agree with me: e.g. “When a former history teacher first lent me a copy of The Concord Review, I was inspired by the careful scholarship crafted by other young people. Although I have always loved history passionately, I was used to writing history papers that were essentially glorified book reports...As I began to research the Ladies’ Land League, I looked to The Concord Review for guidance on how to approach my task...In short, I would like to thank you not only for publishing my essay, but for motivating me to develop a deeper understanding of history. I hope that The Concord Review will continue to fascinate, challenge and inspire young historians for years to come.” Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse, Columbia Class of 2009; North Central High School (IN) Class of 2005......“The opportunity that The Concord Review presented drove me to rewrite and revise my paper to emulate its high standards. Your journal truly provides an extraordinary opportunity and positive motivation for high school students to undertake extensive research and academic writing, experiences that ease the transition from high school to college.” Pamela Ban, Harvard Class of 2012; Thomas Worthington High School (OH) Class of 2008...

But what do they know? They are just some of those literate adolescents in whom the professional adolescent literacy community seems to have no interest.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.
455 East 51st Street
New York, NY 10022

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

24 August 2000

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

    All hail to The Concord Review—for two reasons in particular.

    First, The Concord Review offers young people a unique incentive to think and write carefully and well. I know how exciting it is when you first see your writings in print. Many years ago, St. Nicholas, a favorite children’s magazine, regularly printed youthful contributions. Among the kids who first saw their words in print in St. Nicholas were Scott Fitzgerald, Samuel Eliot Morison, Ring Lardner, Eudora Welty, Henry R. Luce, E.E. Cummings, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Montgomery Clift and many others (including me). The historian Henry Steele Commager even edited a St. Nicholas anthology. In the same way today, The Concord Review, by providing an outlet for youthful talent, recognizes, stimulates and rewards excellence in writing.

    Equally important, The Concord Review specializes in that most central and vital of subjects, history. As I have written elsewhere, history is to the nation as memory is to the individual. Individuals deprived of memory become disoriented and lost, not knowing where they have been or where they are going; so a nation lacking a sense of its past will be disabled in dealing with its present and its future. History, with its eye cast on a longer past and a longer future, is the best preparation for citizenship, and it is the best preparation for making sense out of this dark and stormy world.

    The Concord Review inspires and honors historical literacy. It should be in every high school in the land.

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr.

Friday, August 24, 2012



Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
24 August 2012

The New Common Core Standards call for a 50% reduction in "literary" [aka fictional noninformational texts] readings for students and an increased to nonfiction informational texts, so that students may be better prepared for the nonfiction they will encounter in college and at work.

In addition to memos, technical manuals, and menus (and bus schedules?), the nonfiction informational texts suggested include The Gettysburg Address, Letter from Birmingham Jail, Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address, and perhaps one of the Federalist Papers.

History books, such as those by David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, David McCullough, Paul Johnson, Martin Gilbert, etc. are not among the nonfiction informational texts recommended, perhaps to save students from having to read any complete history books while they are still in high school.

In the spirit of Turnabout, let us consider saving students time from their fictional noninformational text readings (previously known as literature) by cutting back on the complete novels, plays and poems formerly offered in our high schools. For instance, instead of Pride and Prejudice (the whole novel), students could be asked to read Chapter Three. Instead of the complete Romeo and Juliet, they could read Act Two, Scene Two, and in poetry they could read, instead of a whole sonnet, perhaps just alternate stanzas could be assigned. In this way, they could get the "gist" of great works of literature, enough to be, as it were, "grist" for their deeper thinking skill mills.

As the goal is to develop deeply critical analytic cognitive thinking skills, surely there is no need to read a whole book either in English or in History classes. This will not be a loss in Social Studies classes, since they don't assign complete books anyway, but it may be a wrench for English teachers who probably still think that there is some value in reading a whole novel, play or poem.

But change is change is change, as Gertrude Stein might have written, and if our teachers are to develop themselves professionally to offer the new deeper cognitive analytic thinking skills required by the Common Core Standards, they will just have to learn to wean themselves from the old notions of knowledge and understanding they have tried to develop for students in the past.

As Caleb Nelson wrote in 1990 in The Atlantic Monthly, speaking about an Older Common Core at Harvard College:

"The philosophy behind the Core is that educated people are not those who have read many books and have learned many facts but rather those who could analyze facts if they should ever happen to encounter any, and who could ‘approach’ books if it were ever necessary to do so…."

The New Common Core Standards are meant to prepare our students to think deeply about subjects they know practically nothing about, because instead of reading a lot about anything, they will have been exercising their critical faculties on little excerpts amputated from their context. So they can think deeply about Abraham Lincoln's Second Inaugural Address while knowing nothing about the nation's Founding, or Slavery, or the new Republican Party, or, of course, the American Civil War.

Students' new Common academic work with texts about which they will be asked to Think & Learn Deeply, may encourage them to believe that ignorance is no barrier to useful thinking, in the same way that those who have written the Common Core Standards believe that they can think deeply about and make policy in our national education system, without having spent much if any time teaching themselves or even in meeting with teachers who have the experience they lack.

It may very well turn out that ignorance transfers from one domain to another much better than deeper thinking skills do, and that the current flight from knowledge and understanding, while clearly very well funded, has lead to Standards which will mean that our students will need even more massive amounts of remediation when they go on to college and the workplace than are presently on offer.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

DEEPER IGNORANCE; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin

Skip the Knowledge!

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
August 11, 2012

Poor James Madison, back in the day, spending endless hours reading scores upon scores of books on the history of governments, as he prepared to become the resident historian and intellectual “father” of the United States Constitution in the summer of 1787 in Philadelphia! If he had only known what we know now thanks to the new Common Core, he could have saved the great bulk of that time and effort—if he had only acquired some Thinking Skills instead!

Our schools of education have long understood that if a student teacher [sideguider] can acquire enough pedagogicalistical sophistication and the right Thinking Skills, she will be able to teach [sideguide] anything, from Mandarin to European History to Calculus to Home Economics, to classes with any number of students.

The Harvard College faculty wasted many hours in the 1980s trying to derive a Common Core of knowledge which every undergraduate ought to acquire. No one on the faculty wanted to allow any other member of the faculty to tell her/him what knowledge students needed to learn at Harvard, and none wished to give up teaching what he/she was currently studying to devote any time to a survey course in the general knowledge of their field or any other field. So they agreed, thirty-odd years ago, on a Common Core of Thinking Skills instead.(1)

It is not clear whether the knowledge-free curricula of the graduate schools of education, or the Core experiences at Harvard College, in any way guided the authors of our new Common Core in their achievement of the understanding that it is not knowledge of anything that our students require, but Thinking Skills. They took advantage of the perspective and arguments of a famous cognitive psychologist at Stanford in designing the history portion of the Core. Just think how much time they saved by not involving one of those actual historians, who might have bogged down the whole enterprise in claiming that students should have some knowledge of history itself, and that such knowledge might actually be required before any useful Thinking Skills could be either acquired or employed. If we had followed that path, we might actually be asking high school students to read real history books—shades of the James Madison era!!

Just think of all the time and effort that was expended by Professor Hirsch and all those who worked to develop, and are now working to offer, a Core Knowledge curriculum to thousands of our students. If they had only had had the benefit of the cognitive psychology undergirding at least the history portion of the new Common Core, they could have skipped all that and gone straight to the Core Thinking Skills now being promoted across the country.

The whole idea that knowledge is so important, or should precede thinking about anything, is so antedeluvian (which means—oh, never mind—just more of that knowledge stuff!). What is the value of being 21st Centurians and right up-to-date, if we can’t ignore the past and skip over its history?

Our advance into the brave new world of thinking skills was anticipated by the Harvard Graduate School of Education, which, as far as I can tell by looking over the research interests of the faculty, long ago left behind such mundane matters as the chemistry, foreign languages, history, literature and mathematics that students used to (and some still do, I suppose) study in our high schools. The Education faculty has moved boldly on beyond all that academic knowledge to, in addition to lots of psychology/diversity/poverty/sociology/disability studies, the new bare essentials of Thinking Skills.

During the discussions over Harvard’s Common Core decades ago, one physics professor pointed out that in order to think like a physicist it is important to know quite a bit of physics, but then, he would say that, wouldn’t he? He had spent his whole career in the pursuit of a knowledge of physics, so naturally he would think that knowledge is more important than Thinking Skills, or, at least, should come first in the study of physics or anything else.

We have finally come to realize that, after all, Google has all the knowledge we will ever need, and so, with keyboarding skills, and some time in Common courses on Thinking Skills, our students will be well prepared to launch their careers as ignoramuses, and make their own unique contributions to the disappearance of knowledge, understanding and wisdom in the United States, and to the decline of our civilization (which means—oh, never mind—just look it up!).

Let those history-minded Asian countries continue to ask their students to acquire lots of knowledge. Our students will have their new Common Core Thinking Skills, and all the pride and self-esteem that the ignorance we have given them can support.

(1) Caleb Nelson, Harvard Class of ’88 (Mathematics) “Harvard’s Hollow Core,” The Atlantic Monthly, September 1990

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

READING REFORM; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin

A Review by Will Fitzhugh of
Sunday is for the Sun; Monday is for the Moon
Sandra Priest Rose and Glen Nelson
New York: Reading Reform Foundation, 2012

There seems to be a growing frustration and concern, among Upper Education professors, and many teachers in Lower Education as well, with the poor reading and writing abilities of our students. If they cannot read, they cannot understand the material being assigned, and their academic writing has discouraged many educators from even trying to assign term papers.

This book, by Sandra Priest Rose and Glen Nelson, explains the thirty-year effort of the Reading Reform Foundation to ensure that at least some students in New York learn to read well early, and so to enjoy the knowledge and understanding they can get from reading with ease. It should be widely read and its programs sought out by educators all over the country who want to do more to introduce their students as soon as possible to such success.

I did not learn to read in the first grade. When I brought home an “F” in reading, it is not too much to say that my mother (Wellesley BA, Radcliffe MA, in English Literature) was not happy. That summer she taught me (unrelentingly) to read phonetically. When my first report card came back from second grade (the school had let me advance) it showed a “D”in reading. My mother went to the school and said “What is this? He is an excellent reader!” The problem, as it turned out was that I “would not stay with the rest of the class”—that is, when the class started a story, I finished it by myself—thus my grade of “D.”

That was probably in 1942, so I am not sure whether I was being offered the “look-say” method in my first school year or not, but my mother’s phonics instruction was very helpful to me in my reading at Harvard and later at Cambridge University, again in English Literature.

This new book about the reading program of the Reading Reform Foundation is not just about the essential value of phonics. It also takes the now unorthodox view that there are obvious connections between reading and knowledge, between knowledge and understanding, and between understanding and writing.

Over the last thirty years, for about 2,000 students a year in New York, the Reading Reform Foundation has offered 160 hours of teacher training, 60 visits a year by a mentor for each participating teacher, and an engaging curriculum to immerse young students in the excitement of sounding out words, and discovering not only their meaning, but very soon the meaning of the reading material in which they appear.

More than 14,000 teachers have attended the annual conferences of the Reading Reform Foundation over the years, and the Program is now at work in 75 New York classrooms each year.

This book includes the results of a study conducted by the City University of New York into the work of the Reading Reform Foundation. They may mean more to those who got a better grade in Statistics in graduate school than I did, but they look very encouraging to anyone concerned over the slow progress in reading of too many of our current youngsters who don’t have explicit phonics instruction on their side.

One of the authors, Sandra Priest Rose, has been a supporter of The Concord Review for years, and is assuredly one of the small group of dedicated people who have enabled the Reading Reform Foundation to serve students and teachers for thirty years with only 20% of their expenses coming from the schools which participate.

For those with an English major Wellesley graduate at home, learning to read phonetically (after school) may not be a problem. For all other elementary students, and especially for their teachers, I recommend the Reading Reform Foundation’s program. Jeanne Chall’s idea that after third grade students will be “reading to learn,” will not come true for too many students if they don’t have the benefit of a vigorous and engaging reading and writing program like the one offered by the Reading Reform Foundation in New York.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

DOWN IN LOWER EDUCATION; Madison, Wisconsin; Houston, Texas

Down in Lower Education

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
17 July 2012

In 1893, when the Committee of Ten published its recommendations for high school education, Upper Education and Lower Education academics were still talking to each other. Harvard president Charles William Eliot was the chairman, and the committee, Diane Ravitch reported in Left Back (Simon & Schuster, 2000), included four other college presidents, three high school principals, and a college professor. In 1918, when the NEA Commission on the Reorganization of Secondary Education issued its report, the chairman was, as Diane Ravitch wrote, “Clarence Kingsley, a former social worker, former teacher of mathematics at Brooklyn Manual Training High School, and—at the time of the report—supervisor of high schools in Massachusetts.” (Ravitch, pp. 42,123)

The main objectives for high school students in the NEA report were: “1. Health, 2. Command of fundamental processes, 3. Worthy home membership, 4. Vocation, 5. Citizenship, 6. Worthy use of leisure, and 7. Ethical character.” These “became famous among educators as ‘the Seven Cardinal Principles,’ the seven objectives based on the needs of life.” (Ravitch, p. 124)

With this new set of objectives in view, and with the transformation of the Normal Schools into psychobabbling Graduate Schools of Education hostile to academic content, perhaps it is not surprising that college professors and other academics were increasingly estranged from the goings on in Lower Education. What professor of history or physics or Romance languages or nanotechnology could find common ground with those at the Lower Level who were dedicated to teaching secondary students the “worthy use of leisure”?

Nevertheless, as the number of high schools grew, along with the number of colleges, one Upper Education group formed a growing interest in what people were doing in sports at the Lower Level. This would be college coaches, who saw in the strong interest in athletics at the high school level a vital breeding ground for the athletes they would need to recruit for their college programs. As a consequence, college coaches began to keep track of the progress of especially promising high school athletes in a variety of sports, and in their Lower Education Level coaches. In fact, friendly relations were often formed between high school coaches and college coaches, so that news about really good athletes could get to the Upper Level in time to enable recruiting to begin (now at about the 10th grade).

Coaches in colleges recognized that success in their jobs depended in part on their ability to locate good candidates and persuade them to come to their place of work to be athletes after high school. Lower Education coaches understood that their work and their opinions were valued by those in the Upper Education reaches of their sports.

Meanwhile, among teachers of academic subjects in Lower Education, a very different situation could be found. Teachers who identified and prepared promising students of history or physics or literature realized that their counterparts in Upper Education did not want to know them or to hear about their students. Upper Education professors left recruitment of great candidates in their disciplines completely up to the Upper Education Admissions Committees.

By contrast, Upper Education coaches have decided not to depend on the Admissions people to find the best athletes for them. In fact, they typically bring the Admissions Committees lists of the athletes who they would like to have admitted to meet the needs of their teams. Upper Education professors rarely, if ever, come to the Admissions Committees with names of scholars from the high schools they want admitted to strengthen their academic departments.

Of course there are many differences in the reward systems for Upper Level coaches and for Upper Level professors. If the coaches do not get good athletes they will not be able to win games, matches, or other athletic competitions and before long their jobs will be in jeopardy. On the other hand, most Upper Education professors believe they lose nothing by simply ignoring their Lower Education colleagues, their students, and their curricula. Their jobs depend on their research and publications, for the most part, and they are content to let the Admissions Committees select their students for them. When the students arrive in their courses, they often complain that these recruits are ignorant and unable to do serious Upper Education academic work, but that never seems to increase their interest in meeting Lower Education teachers or finding out what academic work is being done at that Lower level.

One result of this situation is that Lower Education teachers and scholars are aware that Upper Education academics don’t much care about what they do, while Lower Education coaches and athletes (often the same people) are quite sure that Upper Education coaches are very interested in what they are doing, to the extent, in some cases, of forming good relationships between them. It is understood that Upper Education coaches may even wish to visit promising high school athletes in their homes in an effort to recruit them for their programs. It is beyond imagination that an Upper Education professor would do anything like that.

In their battles against anti-intellectualism, Lower Education people can expect little or no interest or assistance from their Upper colleagues, and the professors in Upper Education will no doubt continue to bemoan the level of preparation of their students, especially in reading and writing, without wondering, it seems, if that is the result in part of anything they have failed to do.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

UPPER EDUCATION MYOPIA, Houston, Texas, Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
12 July 2012

Not long ago, an associate professor of Creative Writing (the most popular subject in which is now not Ozymandias or Dover Beach or Westminster Bridge, but “ME”) an Upper Education institution west of the Mississippi wrote an article in The Chronicle of Higher Education, bemoaning the incompetence and/or indifference of her Upper peers in evaluating, correcting or coaching the academic writing of their students:

“...And since there's little room in most graduate curricula to focus on writing, many future faculty members simply never learn. The truth is, everyone thinks whoever went before him or her was responsible for the job of teaching writing: College instructors believe students learned the mechanics in high school; graduate advisers assume their students learned as undergraduates what they needed to know about style and argumentation.

By the time people become professors, they have no one to turn to for help with their writing. Some hope or pray that editors will save them; sometimes that happens. But most acquisitions editors don't have the time or energy to do line-editing, and they assume that the copy editors will clean up the prose...And so, bad prose gets published and bad models proliferate....

...What, then, to make of the political scientist who didn't think he had the expertise to comment on his students' writing? I believe he's shirking an important aspect of his job...If professors don't tell students that the writing matters, who will? If professors don't know what good writing looks like, who does?”

I followed up this welcome interest in academic writing at the Upper Education level by sending her information about The Concord Review, which, for 25 years has been working to encourage, distribute and, with the National Writing Board, to assess, serious academic expository writing by high school students around the world (Lower Education Level).

The replies I got from the Upper Education personage were:

“I got a whole bunch of messages that I don't think were meant for me. You might check your computer for viruses.”

When I sent more information, she replied that she had seen material about these efforts when she was in Admissions at an Upper Education place in the Southeast but:

“What made a big impression on me is that there was (as I recall) a submissions fee. At Duke, I saw a lot of ‘honors’ that came with a price tag. That troubles me.”

So, of course, she never inquired further. (And yes, Duke has an application fee...)

Now, so as not to charge all Upper Education people with having the same dim or poor vision about writing at the Lower Education Level, here is a letter I got from a physicist at the Princeton Institute for Advanced Study...

Einstein Drive, Princeton, New Jersey 08540

22 June 2000

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

Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,

    I recently came across The Concord Review, and I would like to express my appreciation for your leadership role and your continuous dedication to this endeavor. Not only am I impressed with the high quality of the history articles that appear in the Review, but I am also impressed with the very idea of a publication which provides a forum for the academic work of high school students in history.

    As a physicist, I am accustomed to the many initiatives, such as math competitions and physics olympiads, instituted to recognize and promote interest and talent in the sciences among high school students. However, I have always felt that there was no equivalent mechanism to encourage and nurture students in the humanities, and to recognize their accomplishments. The Concord Review strikes me as a simple yet brilliant idea to help fill that gap, and as a very effective way to promote high standards and excellence in the humanities.

Chiara R. Nappi
Theoretical Physicist

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

LEVEL OF EXPECTATIONS; Madison, Wisconsin; Houston, Texas


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
25 June 2012

It has become an educational cliché to say that “students will rise to the level of expectations.” But how do we explain the students whose work rises well above our level of expectations? Mostly, we just ignore them. In the local media, coverage of high school sports “blanks” any and all accounts of exemplary academic work by high school students.

In the mid-1980s, when I was teaching (as I thought) United States History to Sophomores at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, I assigned, following the advice of my colleagues, history papers of just 5-7 pages, but I did tell the students that the title page did not count as one of the pages.

One quiet student, who I did not know at all, turned in a 28-page paper on the current balance of nuclear/thermonuclear weapons between the United States and the USSR. He later graduated summa cum laude from Tufts in economics. Why did he do that paper? He didn’t need to, and he didn’t do it for me. He was “rising” to the level of his own expectations. As Laurence Steinberg wrote in Beyond the Classroom: “Within a system that fails (flunks) very few students, then, only those students who have high standards of their own—who have more stringent criteria for success and failure—will strive to do better than merely to pass and graduate.”

In the last 25 years I have published more than 1,000 history research papers by crazy motivated secondary students like that from 46 states and 38 other countries. (I am happy to provide pdfs of some of these exemplary history research papers on request to

Since the 1960s, the International Baccalaureate has been expecting students to complete a 4,000-word Extended Essay to qualify for the Diploma. In 2011, I published an 11,000-word (Emerson Prize) paper on the stagnation in science and technology in China for five centuries after 1500, and the student had to cut it down to 4,000 words to meet the expectations for the Extended Essay and the IB Diploma. ACT and the College Board have not yet included an expectation for that sort of academic expository writing.

Often we work to limit what students do academically. Several years ago, when The Concord Review was receiving submissions of high school history research papers of 6,000, 8,000, and 10,000 words, I asked the Executive Director of National History Day, which has as one option for competitors a 2,500-word history paper, if they had considered accepting essays that were longer. She said that no, they didn’t want any paper that took more than 10 minutes to read.

Recently when I published a 108-page (Emerson Prize) paper on the War of Regulation in North Carolina in the 18th century by a student from an independent school west of the Mississippi, I found out that she had to reduce it to 9 pages, without endnotes, to enable her to win first place nationally in the National History Day competition.

One  student whose (Emerson Prize) work I published went to her teacher and said: “My paper is going to be 57 pages, is that all right?” And the teacher (may his tribe increase) said, “Yes.”

Five or six years ago I received a paper (Emerson Prize) on the history of economic reform in China in recent years from a student at a public high school in Ohio. Like high schools generally, hers expected her to complete their requirements in four years. Instead she did most of it in two and spent part of the next two years as a student at The Ohio State University before applying to Harvard as a freshman. She recently graduated from there with high honors in mathematics, with an economics minor.

I should say that, even though Asian students have the highest academic achievement of any group in the United States, not all of the students I have published have been Asian, nor did the high level of expectations for their own academic work all come from the Confucian influence of their parents.

When it comes to academics, we seem to give the vast majority of our attention to, and spend the bulk of our efforts on, students whose efforts fall far below our expectations, those who, if not among the 25-30% who fail to finish high school, may enter community college reading at the fifth-grade level, and more than half of whom will drop out from there. Naturally we want to help those who are doing poorly in school. Still, we do want our most brilliant students to start companies, become scientists, be our judges, diplomats, and elected officials, teach history, write good books, and otherwise work to sustain and advance our civilization. But our basic attitude is—let them manage on their own.

How different it is for our promising young athletes, for whom we have the highest expectations, on whom we keep the most elaborate statistics, and to whom we dedicate the most voluminous local media coverage, as well as nationally-televised high school football and basketball games.

If we matched for them the expectations we have for our students’ academic work, we might be asking them to run just one lap, do two pushups, and spend most of their time helping out in gym classes, or playing video games, instead of practicing their sport. But our young people, being the way they are, would no doubt “cheat,” as some do in academics, by deriving higher standards from their own ambition and from seeing the achievements of their peers, and the athletes for whom we might try to set such low expectations, like the young scholars for whom we do, would continue to rise above them, and to astonish us with their accomplishments. Dumb Lucky us.

Monday, June 11, 2012

EDUCATION INTERRUPTUS; Houston, Texas; Madison, Wisconsin


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
8 June 2012

Back in the day, it was possible to go to a movie theater and watch the whole movie right through, without having unrelated matter introduced at various times. Now, with 21st Century presentation customs, a movie on television will be broken into a number of times for five or six advertisements for widely unrelated products and services.

This sort of fragmentation is not only present in education, but welcomed as a brave new way of motivating students and trying to retain their attention. A number of experts, seeing the popularity of video games, with their changes in level and constant supply of “rewards,” recommend that the curricula we offer students should benefit from constant interruptions as well. With Milton’s “On His Blindness”—

"When I consider how my light is spent    
E're half my days, in this dark world and wide,    
And that one Talent which is death to hide,
Lodg'd with me useless...."

Deep Reading practice suggests that students should often break into their own reading at some point to “interrogate” the material, asking questions about the relationship of text to text, text to world, text to self, and the like. So, for instance, in starting to read Milton’s sonnet, they might pause to inquire, “Do you know anyone who is seeing-impaired?” “Is there a connection in the text between ‘light’ and ‘dark?’” “How do you feel about the services for the blind in your community?”

"...Though my Soul more bent To serve therewith my Maker, and present My true account, least he returning chide, Doth God exact day-labour, light deny'd, I fondly ask?"

Here again it would be possible to ask “Have you ever been chided for something?” “How did that change your feelings at the time?” “What sort of community service have you been involved in lately?” “What have you made that you feel most proud of?” “Is there a God?” These interruptions are recommended to help retain the students’ attention and to support their motivation to continue reading, which, it appears, John Milton’s sonnet could no longer do without such modern pedagogical aids.

Similarly, other academic matters may be modernized by introducing frequent scores, levels of difficulty, and, of course, extensive visual and auditory stimulation. Modern students who have watched hundreds of thousands of hours of chopped-up television shows, and played hundreds of thousands of hours of fragmented video games  just cannot be expected to pay attention for any extended periods to any “text” or academic task, without the sort of interruptions on which they have become dependent. Alexander Hamilton, Federalist #1

"...It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved for the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force..."

Deep Reading here might lead the student down the “labyrinthine ways” of questions about the use of force in society or the frequency of accidents on our highways?

Some might argue that this history of shattered attention has led to a kind of addiction to interruption which it should be education’s mission to help students overcome. They would point to the research that shows that multitasking means each task will receive less attention and be done less well, and argue that students, instead of being encouraged (required) to break into their own attention with interrogatories, should be shown ways to sustain a focus on the academic works before them.

However, those who believe that nothing in what civilization has to offer can hold the attention of students today without the regular intrusion of pedagogical gimmicks and process techniques to jolt them with scores, questions, rewards, counts of the # of “reading minutes” and the like, might simply say that fragmented attention is not only a good thing, but it must be rewarded so that students will not drop out of school and sit slumped at home watching various media and playing digital games.

The Kaiser Foundation recently found that the average young person in the United States now spends about 53 hours a week with various electronic entertainment activities, so many educators (and hardware and software sales professionals) have come to the conclusion that unless we bring interrupted education into the newly digital 21st Century classroom, we will not have adapted successfully to the scattered brains of our young people today.