Friday, November 29, 2013


                                The Extended Essay: 
      A Life-Changing Project at “Beyond English” in China

                    by David Scott Lewis, Qingdao, China

I'm delighted that Will Fitzhugh has given me this opportunity to write a guest post, to talk a bit about “Beyond English,” our after-school enrichment program for high school students in China, and about the extended essays written by my students.  Our program focuses primarily (but not exclusively) on philosophy, law and history, more specifically on ethics and moral philosophy, public international law and conflict studies, and classical antiquity and the American republic through the Civil War. 

Our students take courses which range in difficultly from “101” courses to a graduate-level course taught at the Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, “Central Challenges of American National Security, Strategy, and the Press,” HKS211x (two of my high school students, Kun Pang in Singapore and Xinhe Zhang in Qingdao, were among the 500 competitively selected for this
Harvard course among 50,000 applicants).  The courses serve to expose high school students to subjects they've never encountered. 

My approach:  Hybrid learning combined with the Harkness Method, with a greater emphasis on blended learning as “Beyond English” expands beyond Qingdao, China into Singapore, Seoul, Hong Kong and Bangkok. Enter the extended essay.  It's usually after taking a course that my students choose their substantial writing topic (as it's called in law school).  But that's just the first step.  Imagine the difficultly in writing a 10,000-plus word essay (in your second language) on a topic in which you have absolutely no background, not even cultural background.  Not to belabor this point, but how much do you really think Chinese students know about democracy (as one example)?

We help our students with other activities as well.  I like to think of us as the best of Phillips Academy and Roxbury Latin “after school” enrichment programs, but with Chinese characteristics.

Two of my top students, Yueyi Li and Meicen Meng, chose their majors based upon the work they did for their extended essay.  This shouldn't be understated.  Yueyi Li wrote a 14,000 word essay on Rawlsian distributive justice.  Some of the comments she received from her National Writing Board [] evaluation:  “Well-researched!  A very good and thorough job, indeed!  It reminds one of the work of an advanced graduate student.”  “You have an exceedingly bright academic future ahead of you.”  Meicen Meng wrote a 23,000 word (“23,000” is not a typo) extended essay on the intellectual history of Just War Theory.  Some of the comments she received:  “Yours is a mature and demanding subject.  Your work is both convincing and authoritative, and your research is first class.”  “There are flashes of genuine distinction in all you do.  Congratulations.”  The personal impact on Yueyi Li is that she wants to study pre-law/justice and Meicen Meng wants to study philosophy; both want to go to law school for their graduate studies.  And another student, Wenbin Gao, who wrote a paper on Chinese liberalism, received some absolutely phenomenal comments:  “Your work is mature, persuasive and truly inspirational. It was a privilege to read and critique your paper.  Many, many congratulations.  Be sure to thank your parents for their support and for a wonderful gene pool.  As you think on that, please extend the most vocal kudos to your sponsoring teacher.”

It's important to consider that my students do not attend an international school or a school offering an IB Diploma; they attend a public high school, Number 2 Middle/High School (in Qingdao, China), a school where only the English class is taught in English!

We've had ten essays submitted to the National Writing Board. Frankly, not all were excellent or even good essays.  But every student improved their critical reading skills, honed their writing skills, both in a way simply not possible in SAT preparation courses. So even if their efforts didn't result in a “4” or “5” (equivalent to AP scoring), they still learned a lot in the process of writing their essays. This is an important point, because it's not just about the score, it's about a learning process.  And determination.  And perseverance.

Essay topics for evaluation in 2014:  History of democracy (Zheng Xu), the international human rights movement (Ling Yi), an analysis of the conflict between China and Japan in the East China Sea (using English-, Chinese-, and Japanese-language sources (Bowen Li)…and a biography of Shakespeare (Jiahao Bian).  Should be a fascinating year.

Thursday, November 14, 2013


The Concord Review offers young people a unique incentive to think and write carefully and well…The Concord Review inspires and honors historical literacy. It should be in every high school in the land.”

Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Historian


-------- Original Message --------
Subject:     Feedback
Date:         Wed, 20 Sep 2006 12:40:57 +0800
From:         Bill Rives
To:             William Fitzhugh
CC:            Rick Bisset

Hi, Will:

I think you will enjoy getting this quick piece of feedback on our new set of journals, which have just arrived. Thanks.

Rick Bisset, a veteran teacher with lots of previous international experience, including Korea and Malaysia, sent this note to the U.S. History colleagues here. He also updated later to say his class was still going strong with The Review well into the class period, at which point he had to pull them away.

Best Regards,

[Bill Rives,
History Department Chair,
Singapore American School]


From:     Rick Bisset
Sent:     20 September, 2006 10:13 AM
To:         Bill Rives
Subject: The Concord Review

So, I passed out The Concord Review at the beginning of class. I didn’t say anything except “Take a look at this.”

Here it is 10 minutes later, as I type this, and everyone is reading it and not saying a word.  Amazing!  What a powerful tool.  Great idea, Bill.

Regards, Rick

Rick Bisset
Singapore American School
History Department


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

Albert Shanker, New York Times, June 3, 1990

Friday, November 1, 2013


The Report Card; St. Augustine, Florida


Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
1 November 2013

When it comes to working together to support the survival and enjoyment of history for students in our schools, why are history teachers, as a group, as good as paralyzed?

Whatever the reason, in the national debates over nonfiction reading (history books, anyone?) and nonfiction writing for students in the schools, the voice of history teachers, at least in the wider conversation, has not been clearly heard.

Perhaps it could be because, as David Steiner, former Commissioner of Education in New York State, put it: “History is so politically toxic that no one wants to touch it.”

Have the bad feelings and fears raised over the ill-fated National History Standards which emerged from UCLA so long ago persisted and contributed to our paralysis in these national discussions?

Are we (I used to be one) too sensitive to the feelings of other members of the social studies universe? Are we too afraid that someone will say we have given insufficient space and emphasis to the sociology of the mound people of Ohio or the history and geography of the Hmong people or the psychology of the Apache and the Comanche? Or do we feel guilty, even though it is not completely our fault, that all of the Presidents of the United States have been, (so far), men?

I am concerned when the National Assessment of Educational Progress finds that 86% of our high school seniors scored Basic or Below on U.S. History, and I am appalled by stories of students, who, when asked to choose our Allies in World War II on a multiple-choice test, select Germany (both here and in the United Kingdom, I am told). After all, Germany is an ally now, they were probably an ally in World War II, right? So Presentism reaps its harvest of historical ignorance.

Of course there is always competition for time to give to subjects in schools. Various groups push their concerns all the time. Business people often argue that students should learn about the stock market at least, if not credit default swaps and the like. Other groups want other things taught. I understand that there is new energy behind the revival of home economics courses for our high school future homemakers.

But what my main efforts have been directed towards since 1987 is prevention of the need for remedial nonfiction reading and writing courses in college. My national research has found that most U.S. public high schools do not ask students to write a serious research paper, and I am convinced that, if a study were ever done, it would show that we send the vast majority of our high school graduates off without ever having assigned them a complete history book to read. Students not proficient in nonfiction reading and writing are at risk of not understanding what their professors are talking about, and are, in my view, more likely to drop out of college.

For all I know, book reports are as dead in the English departments as they are in History departments. In any case, most college professors express strong disappointment in the degree to which entering students are capable of reading the nonfiction books they are assigned and of writing the term papers that are assigned.

A study done by the Chronicle of Higher Education found that 90% of professors judge their students to be “not very well prepared” in reading, doing research, and writing.

I cannot fathom why we put off instruction in nonfiction books and term papers until college in so many cases. We start young people at a very early age in Pop Warner football and in Little League baseball, but when it comes to nonfiction reading and writing we seem content to wait until they are 18 or so.

For whatever reason, some students have not let our paralysis prevent them either from studying history or from writing serious history papers, and I have proof that they can do good work in history, if asked to do so. When I started The Concord Review in 1987, I hoped that students might send me 4,000-word research papers in history. By now, I have published, in 98 issues, 1,077 history research papers averaging 6,000 words, on a huge variety of topics, by high school students from 46 states and 38 other countries.

Some have been inspired by their history teachers, other by their history-buff parents, but a good number have been encouraged by seeing the exemplary work of their peers in print. 

Here are parts of two comments from authors—Kaitlin Marie Bergan: “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. 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.” 

And 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.”

Lots of high school [and middle school] students are sitting out there, waiting to be inspired by their history teachers [and their peers] to read history books and to prepare their best history research papers, and lots of history teachers are out there, wishing there were a stronger and more optimistic set of arguments coming from a history presence in the national conversation about higher standards for nonfiction reading and writing in our schools.

“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
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