Thursday, October 17, 2013

Madison, Wisconsin

History Scholar

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

College scholarships for specific abilities and achievements are not news. There are football scholarships and volleyball scholarships and music scholarships and cheerleading scholarships, and so on—there is a long list of sources of money to attract and reward high school students who have talent and accomplishments if those are not academic.

Consider an example: there was a high school student in Georgia, in an IB program, who spent a year and a half working on an independent study of the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. This paper, a bit more than 15,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography, was published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic history research papers of secondary students, and it earned the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. (He went to Christ Church College, Oxford.) If he were an outstanding baseball player, a number of college baseball coaches would have heard about him, and would have done what they could to persuade him to accept an athletic (baseball) scholarship to their colleges.

But suppose he were not a HS athlete, but only a HS history student of extraordinary academic promise at the high school level. Would college professors of history have known about and taken an interest in his work? No. Would there have been college history scholarships competing for him? No. Would his teacher, who worked with him on his independent study, have attracted attention from his teaching peers (professors) at the college and university level? No.

I hope I am wrong, but based on what I have found out so far, there are no college scholarships available specifically for outstanding secondary students of history. There is abundant moaning and gnashing of teeth by EduPundits and professors about the widespread ignorance of history among our young people, but when someone shows unusually strong knowledge of history at the Lower Education Level, no one pays any attention at the Higher Education Level.

In 26 years of working to publish 1,077 history research papers by secondary students of history from 46 states and 38 other countries in The Concord Review, I have not learned of a single instance of an author being offered a college scholarship based on their exemplary academic work in history.

When we lament that our adolescents seem more interested in sports than in academics, we might consider how differently we celebrate and reward those activities. High school coaches who are well known to and almost treated as peers by their college counterparts, receive no attention at all for their work as teachers, no matter how unusually productive that work may happen to be. Higher Education simply does not care about the academic work being done by teachers and students at the Lower Education level.

Behavioral psychology argues that by ignoring some behavior you will tend to get less of it, and by paying attention to and rewarding other behavior you are likely to find that there is more of it.

I know that students are being recruited for college scholarships in cheerleading, and I would dearly love to hear from anyone who can tell me of students being recruited for their specific academic work in a high school subject, like history, literature, physics, Chinese, chemistry and so on.

I realize there are scholarships for disadvantaged students, for students of high general intellectual ability, and the like, but where are the scholarships for specific HS academic achievement? After all, athletic and dance scholarships are not awarded on the basis of general tests of physical fitness, but because of achievement in the actual performance of particular athletic or artistic activities.

It is said that you get what you pay for, and it seems likely that you get more of what you value and reward in academics as well. If we continue to overlook and ignore the academic achievement of our secondary-level scholars of history and other subjects, that does not mean that some students will no longer work hard in their areas of academic interest. There may be fewer of them, and fewer teachers who see the point of putting in the extra coaching time with exceptionally diligent students, but if we continue down this road, at least folks in Higher Education ought to be aware that they are working just as hard to discourage good academic work at the secondary level as anyone, and they should stop complaining about the attitudes toward scholarship of the students in their classrooms, which, after all, are in part a result of their own neglect of and indifference to, exemplary academic work at the secondary (aka “pre-college”) level.

“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 USA
978-443-0022;;; Varsity Academics®