Saturday, December 27, 2014


This message is from a highly capable high school senior,
Class of 2015 (name withheld)

Digital Side Effects:

In my opinion, technology’s place is not in the classroom, at least not for the most part. Sometimes it is necessary, but most of the time, it only serves as a distraction and offers activities that inhibit productive, successful learning.

At my school, students are allowed and actually supposed to use laptops to take notes during each class, unless the teacher specifically instructs otherwise, which they rarely do. Sitting in class, I often see other students’ laptops open to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, celebrity gossip websites, even Hulu, a website for watching TV shows. Then, a few days later when we have an assessment, students will anxiously ask a number of questions on the material taught in class while they were surfing the web. The entire class is slowed down, everyone’s time is wasted, teachers are disrespected, students come to value web surfing over learning, students retain less information which then makes for a shakier foundation for learning more in the future, and students learn to prefer cramming, or come to see cramming as the only way to prepare for assessments.

Additionally, technology can help students get out of doing assignments in the way that will most benefit them. For example, students will look up how to solve a chemistry or a math problem, rather than completing it themselves independently. Students will look up summaries of English texts to avoid having to actually read the full work. Students will look up translations of Spanish assignments to avoid having actually to read the full text in Spanish. Perhaps, using technology, students can still temporarily do well on in-school assessments, but in the long term, which truly matters, students will not be prepared for the challenges in their future and their career.

Many middle-school-aged boys, such as those at my younger brother’s school, are addicted to video games. After being introduced to video games, often through their classmates at school, these students cannot stop thinking about the games. Perhaps their parents and teachers will impose restrictions on when and how long they can play the games, but the entire time they are not playing games, they are probably thinking about, and looking forward to playing, the games. In that sense, the video games distract them almost all the time and have a large negative impact on their lives, especially their academic lives.

In the summer of 2013, I attended a math research summer program where instructors created made-up names for math theorems, concepts, and conjectures they were explaining, so that students would not be able to search for them using technology and thereby escape the crucial learning process. Overall, the program was a success largely, or at least partly, because of that practice, and students were able to learn much more, develop their math skills more, and discuss much more as a result.

Monday, December 1, 2014


The Concord Review—Varsity Academics®

        I am happy to send along this letter describing both “logistical” and pedagogical dimensions of how I have used The Concord Review in class since employing the first class sets in the 1988-89 academic year. You know from the fact that we have expanded our class subscription “coverage” from all U.S. History classes to all U.S. History and World History since 1500 classes that we have been very satisfied with the Review. In fact, I am glad to say that, due to an expanding school enrollment, our class set for this year will number about 80 subscriptions. 

        In terms of “logistics,” the system we have employed here has been simple and consistent with the way we deal with texts in all disciplines. Our students purchase their texts, so as students move through our bookstore before school opens, they mark the texts they need on a list, and the above-noted classes simply have The Concord Review listed as a text.

       Pedagogically, I (or other appropriate instructor) view each issue with an eye toward an article or articles which are appropriate for any part of the material under current or imminent study. Because of the wide range of subjects and chronological eras covered in each issue, it is pretty easy to discern immediately one or more articles which will be applicable and useful. I do not feel compelled to put the Review in student hands the day the issues arrive, but rather plan ahead. For example, I might be covering mid-19th century reform in U.S. History when new issues arrive, but will hold off until we are doing the Civil War to distribute the Reviews and assign an article on some phase of the Civil War. The girls are told to treat each issue of the Review as an extension of their texts, meaning that they must hold on to each issue, for additional articles may be assigned from a given issue later in the year. Again, given the wide range of topics and eras covered in the typical issue, it is not unusual for me to be able (again, as an example) to assign an article from one issue on the Civil War in December, then go back to the same issue in April for an article on some portion of mid-20th century History. Students have been great about this, and are thus prepared throughout the year.

        As to the articles themselves, I have found several uses for them. An obvious advantage of the articles in the Review is that they are scholarly and informative, and, as my students have noted, a refreshing break from the text (this is a comment I frequently hear). Secondly, the articles, in addition to being scholarly, are readable, and the “right size,” and thus readily accessible to high school students. Even “popular” history, such as found in American Heritage [now gone] and the like, can be “too much” for high schoolers, as the articles can be too long or presume too much a priori knowledge. The articles in The Concord Review are substantial and appropriately challenging, yet “intellectually digestible” for all students, not just the gifted few in an AP section, for example.
        In addition to providing excellent reading, allowing for deeper exploration and discussion of some aspect of history, the Review provides an excellent methodological model. All students in History at Santa Catalina must write research papers based on both primary and secondary sources, with the length and quality expectations of the papers escalating appropriately from freshman to senior year. Sometimes, as you well know from your own teaching experience, explaining “arcane” items like where to put footnotes, etc. to students can be like trying to explain what “pink” looks like to a person who has never been able to see. The Review puts in students’ hands excellent History, not only in terms of content, but in terms of methodology as well: footnotes, bibliography, placement, and all the other details. I have found it helpful not only to have students read an article for its content, but then to dissect it methodologically, asking my students (as appropriate to their level) to identify primary as opposed to secondary sources, to suggest what other sources might have been helpful, which sources might have the most credibility, and so on. We can thus effectively and efficiently combine quality reading with critical thinking/analysis and a methodology “practicum.” 

        The fact that teenagers are always highly interested in what other teenagers are doing is helpful, for the articles hold something of a natural attraction to the students. In addition, they are always impressed that students like themselves can produce such high-quality work. Many teens are used to hearing how poorly their age group is doing academically, but The Concord Review is refreshing proof that such is not universally the case!

        I could go on anecdotally for quite a while, but I think that would result in an excessively long epistle! Suffice it to say that my students (yes, even those who don’t “like History”) find the Review informative, accessible, and instructive, not only in terms of material they are learning, but also in terms of critical thinking and mastery of historical methodology. In a time when those of us who teach History frequently find ourselves hard-pressed for classroom time in meeting our goals, the Review is truly “triply rewarding” for students and instructors. I cannot imagine a junior high or high school History course which could not benefit immediately and tangibly from having its students use The Concord Review.
December 2002, Broeck N. Oder
Chair, Department of History, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, California 93940

The Concord Review 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, MA 01776;

Wednesday, November 5, 2014


Page Per Year Plan©
Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review
5 November 2014

Diane Ravitch not long ago pointed out that, “the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a  steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent  reading; thoughtful writing; research projects.”

It is clearer and clearer that most high school students, when they do read a book, read fiction. The College Board’s Reading List of 101 Books for the College-Bound Student back in the day included only two works of nonfiction: Night and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Nothing by David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, James McPherson, or any other great contemporary historian was suggested for the “College-Bound Student.”

The SAT, ACT, and NAEP writing assessments, and most state writing standards, require no prior knowledge and challenge students to write their opinions and personal stories in 25 minutes. Unless college history professors start assigning term papers by saying: “‘History repeats itself.’ See what you can write about that in 25 minutes and turn it in six weeks from now,” our high school graduates will continue to find that they have been sadly misled about the demands of academic writing they will face after high school.

A unique national study done for The Concord Review in 2002, of the assignment of high school history term papers, found that 81% of public high school history teachers never assign a 20-page paper, and 62% never assign a 12-page paper any more, even to high school seniors. The Boston Latin School, a famous exam school, wrote that they no longer assign the “traditional history term paper.”

One reason for this, I believe, is that teachers find that by the time their students are Juniors and Seniors in high school, they have done so little academic expository writing that they simply could not manage a serious history research paper, if they were asked to do one.

For several years, I have suggested, to those who doubt the ability of U.S. high school seniors to write academic history research papers, that schools should start on our Page Per Year Plan©, which would work as follows:

Each first grader would be required to write a one-page paper on a subject other than herself or himself, with at least one source.

A page would be added each year to the required academic writing, such that, for example, fifth graders would have to write a five-page paper (five sources), ninth graders would have to write a nine-page research paper, with nine sources, and so on, until each and every senior could be asked to prepare a 12-page academic research paper (twelve sources), with endnotes and bibliography, on some historical topic, which the student could choose each year.

This would gradually prepare students for future academic writing tasks, and each senior could graduate from high school knowing more about some important topic than anyone else in the class, and he/she might also have read at least one nonfiction (history) book before college. This could reduce the need for remedial instruction in writing (and perhaps in remedial reading as well) at the college level.

At each grade level, teachers would need more time to help students plan their papers and to evaluate and comment on them when the papers came in, but with our Page Per Year Plan©, all students would be likely to graduate from U.S. high schools with better academic expository writing skills and better reading skills.

In our public schools, the power over reading and writing belongs to the English Department, and many social studies and history teachers, perhaps especially those who are preparing students for AP exams, do not believe their students have the time to read a history book or write a history research paper.

While this is the rule, there are exceptions, and I have been glad to publish many history papers written by AP history students in the last 27 years of The Concord Review. But all too often, those exemplary papers were written by students putting in the extra time and effort to do an independent study, of the sort that Diane Ravitch believes is now in steady decline in our schools.

Of course it is rewarding for me to receive letters from authors, like the one from Shounan Ho when she was at  Notre Dame Academy in Los Angeles, which included a comment that: “I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. 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 myself and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.” She became a John Jay Scholar at Columbia University, and it seems likely she found that she had prepared herself well for college work.

But what about those students who depend on educators to set academic standards which will prepare them for the reading and writing tasks ahead? For those students, I recommend that teachers consider the Page Per Year Plan© to help their students get ready. Again, this plan would also make it somewhat more likely that our high school graduates would have been asked to read perhaps one (1) complete history book before they leave for college or for work.

Will Fitzhugh (founder)
The Concord Review (1987)
National Writing Board (1998)

TCR Academic Coaches (2014)
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, MA 01776 USA

(978) 443-0022;

Tuesday, October 21, 2014


“Even though she had a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke and a doctorate from Wisconsin, Miss Garey was the low person in the department pecking order. And physically she was a lightweight—she could not have stood more than 4-foot-10 or weighed more than 100 pounds. But she had the pedagogical mass of a Sumo wrestler.”

"Bend it Like Truman"
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
21 October 2014

In the United Kingdom the number of reports of the verbal and physical abuse of teachers is growing at a sad and steady rate. In the United States as well, a number of fine teachers say that they are leaving the profession primarily because of the out-of-control attitudes and behavior of poorly-raised children who will not take any responsibility for their own education and don’t seem to mind if they ruin the educational chances of their peers.

David McCullough tells us that when Harry Truman took over the artillery outfit, Battery ‘D’, “the new captain said nothing for what seemed the longest time. He just stood looking everybody over, up and down the line slowly, several times. Because of their previous (mis) conduct, the men were expecting a tongue lashing. Captain Truman only studied them...At last he called ‘Dismissed!’ As he turned and walked away, the men gave him a Bronx cheer....In the morning Captain Truman posted the names of the noncommissioned officers who were ‘busted’ in rank...the First Sergeant was at the head of the list...Harry called in the other non-commissioned officers and told them it was up to them to straighten things out. ‘I didn’t come here to get along with you,’ he said. ‘You’ve got to get along with me. And if there are any of you who can’t, speak up right now, and I’ll bust you back right now.”

Now, I do realize the classroom is not a military unit, and that students cannot be busted back to a previous grade, however much their behavior suggests that they don’t belong in a higher grade. But Truman realized poor discipline would endanger the lives of the men in his unit, and teachers, no matter how much they yearn to be liked, relevant, and even loved, need to realize and accept that poor discipline in their classes will destroy some of the educational opportunities of their students. As it turned out, his unit respected and loved Truman in time, and they lined Pennsylvania Avenue for his inauguration parade.

For years, the Old Battleaxe was offered as a stereotype of the stern, demanding teacher who represented the expectations of the wider community in the classroom and required students to meet her standards.

In The Lowering of Higher Education, Jackson Toby quotes the experience of one man with an Old Battleaxe:

“Professor Emeritus of Religion at Hamline University in St. Paul, Minnesota, Walter Benjamin, wrote about a demanding freshman English teacher, Dr. Doris Garey, whose course he had taken in 1946, in an article entitled ‘When an ‘A’ Meant Something.’ Professor Benjamin praised the memory of Dr. Garey and expressed gratitude for what her demanding standards had taught him.

‘Even though she had a bachelor’s degree from Mount Holyoke and a doctorate from Wisconsin, Miss Garey was the low person in the department pecking order. And physically she was a lightweight—she could not have stood more than 4-foot-10 or weighed more than 100 pounds. But she had the pedagogical mass of a Sumo wrestler. Her literary expectations were stratospheric; she was the academic equivalent of my [Marine] boot camp drill instructor...The showboats (other instructors) had long since faded, along with their banter, jokes and easy grades. It was the no-nonsense Miss Garey whose memory endured.’”

In my view, too many of our teachers have been seduced by the ideas that they should be making sure their students have fun, and that their teaching should include “relevant” material from the evanescent present of her students, their egregiously temporary pop culture, and from current events of passing interest.

Once discipline and student responsibility for their own learning is established and understood, there can be a lot of interesting and even entertaining times in the classroom. Without them, classes are in a world of trouble. Samuel Gompers used to read aloud for their enjoyment to a room full of employees making cigars, but they continued to make the cigars while he did it.

In education reform discussions in general, in my view practically all the attention is on what the adults are and/or should be doing, and almost no attention is given to what students are and should be doing. Leaving them out of the equation quite naturally contributes to poor discipline and reduced learning.

A suburban high school English teacher in Pennsylvania wrote that: "My students are out of control," Munroe, who has taught 10th, 11th and 12th grades, wrote in one post. "They are rude, disengaged, lazy whiners. They curse, discuss drugs, talk back, argue for grades, complain about everything, fancy themselves entitled to whatever they desire, and are just generally annoying." And one of her students commented: "As far as motivated high school students, she's completely correct. High school kids don't want to do anything...It's a teacher's job, however, to give students the motivation to learn."

As long as too many of us think education is the teacher’s responsibility alone, we will have failed to understand what the job of learning requires of students, and we will be unable to make sense of the outcomes of our huge investments in education.

Sunday, September 21, 2014


"But we do have an example of the kind of approach to standard-setting I admire that should be getting much more attention than it has yet received: the work of Will Fitzhugh, publisher of The Concord Review”—It was [is] the examples, not the declarative statements of the standards, that really 'set the standard.’"

For the Common Core, A Different Sort of Benchmark
By Marc Tucker on September 4, 2014 1:08 PM
National Center on Education and the Economy

Years ago, when we were putting our New Standards project together, Phil Daro, the director of New Standards, and the standards design team, headed by Ann Borthwick, decided to do something very important.  They built the standards around examples of student work that met the standards.  We had statements of the usual sort—the student should know this and be able to do that—but they felt that these statements were necessarily abstract.  To know what they really meant, both student and teacher would need examples of work that actually met the standards.  

Ann had previously directed the effort to build the famous Victorian Certificate standards in Victoria, Australia, which peppered their standards document with examples, but New Standards was the first to make the examples the very heart of the work.  

Our standards consisted mainly of a series of performance tasks given to students and, for each task, an example of exemplary student work (actual student work, in fact).  Each piece of student work was annotated to show which piece of the student work illustrated the relevant standard, with a note about why the work met the standard.  Any given piece of student work would typically contain sections illustrating several different standards.

Both students and teachers would look at our standards books, and, say, over and over again, "Oh, now I know what they mean.  I can do that."  Or, they might say, "I cannot do it yet, but now that I know what is wanted, I know what I have to do to meet the standard."  Teachers would post examples of work that met the standards on classroom walls.  Students would critique their own work in relation to the examples.  It was the examples, not the declarative statements of the standards, that really "set the standard."

In a way, there was nothing new in this.  For many years prior, most of the top performing countries had issued their standards and then published—nationally, sometimes in the newspapers—both the questions asked—all of them—and the highest scoring responses, often in the form of short essays, because all or most of the questions demanded essays or worked out problems, not checked boxes in multiple choice format.  Both teachers and students in those countries routinely pored over the answers with the best marks to understand what the people scoring the tests were looking for.  Because of the way the questions were asked and the kind of constructed response that was required, there was no way to "test prep" for these exams.  The only way to succeed on them was to demonstrate real command of the material and be able to respond with the kind of analysis, synthesis and just plain good writing that was called for.

I was very disappointed when I saw that the Common Core did not follow the New Standards example.  Like the Victorian Certificate, some examples were included, but the standards were not built around them.  Most important, I see that, although the two consortia building tests set to the Common Core will be releasing sample questions, most of the prompts will call for choices among multiple choice responses.  There will be many fewer performance tasks calling for open-ended responses of the kind just described than they had promised when they began their work.  I do not doubt that their tests will be much better than the vast majority of the tests that states have been using for accountability purposes, but they will still, in my opinion, fall well short of what they could and should have been had it not been for federal policy that requires far more testing than will be found in the any of the high performing countries.

But we do have an example of the kind of approach to standard-setting I admire that should be getting much more attention than it has yet received: the work of Will Fitzhugh, publisher of The Concord Review, a journal of high school student history essays refereed by Fitzhugh.  I say "refereed" because Fitzhugh's standards are very high and the quality of the essays is consistently remarkable.

The Concord Review is arguably the world standard for history writing at the high school level, a true benchmark.  Fitzhugh has published standards for the essays that appear there, but the published essays themselves really set the standard.  Students and teachers know that, and they study the essays hard to understand what it takes to get an essay published in the journal.  I might say that the standard is not just a standard for history writing, but, at the same time, a standard for writing.

If you have read what I have written here with a note of skepticism, perhaps you will believe the testimony of a high school history teacher, John Wardle, head of the history department at Northern Secondary School in Toronto, Ontario (I forgot to mention that publication in The Concord Review is open to high school students all over the world, which it why it can reasonably claim to set an international benchmark for the quality of high school history writing).  Here's what Wardle had to say in a letter to Fitzhugh:

"Please find enclosed four essays for your consideration.  All of these girls were students in my Modern Western Civilization class here at Northern Secondary School. 

I would also like to compliment you on the consistently high standards of The Concord Review. Our collection of them has proven to be a terrific tool for my senior students.  For a few, it gives them ideas for topics of their own.  For many more, it provides outstanding material for their own research.  

For all of them it is the benchmark against which they can measure their own writing and historical skills.  Since we began setting aside class time for reading them, student essay writing has improved considerably.

From a teacher's point of view, it is tremendously rewarding to see students get engrossed in topics of their own choosing, enthusiastically pursue them and then produce strong, correct papers.  The discussions before, during and especially after this creative process are always memorable.  Almost without exception, the students feel that, by the end, they have gained a solid understanding and mastery of a particular aspect of history.

  By producing first-rate work, they also know they are ready for, and able to handle, post-secondary education.

When I returned their essays this year, for example the first question they posed each other was not 'What was your mark?' but rather 'Can I read your paper?' They spent the entire 76 minute period sharing essays, exchanging thoughts and genuinely learning from each other.  I merely watched and listened. Professionally, it was a wonderful experience. As a catalyst, The Concord Review deserves a great deal of the credit for this kind of academic success.


For years, Fitzhugh has been trying to find a foundation that would supply him with the modest amount of money needed to find a successor to run The Concord Review when he retires, which will happen rather sooner than later, as Fitzhugh is getting on in years.  So far, there have been no takers.  Which is deeply puzzling to me.  

If I were a foundation that had expressed an interest in doing whatever is necessary to bring American education up to a world standard, especially if I were interested in promoting what has come to be called "deeper learning," I do not think I could find a more productive use of my funds than to invest them in the preservation of this treasure, truly a global benchmark not only in the field of history but in the kind of disciplined inquiry and first class writing that ought to be the hallmark of high standards everywhere."

Follow NCEE @CtrEdEcon.
The Concord Review——

Thursday, September 4, 2014


The Core Knowledge Blog
Knowledge for What?
by Guest Blogger
August 28th, 2014

By Will Fitzhugh

Will Fitzhugh is the founder and editor of The Concord Review, a [unique international] scholarly history journal for well-researched essays by high school students [from 40 countries so far]...

Education is an important issue these days, which is both good and bad. Good, because we need to pay more attention to the work of our schools, and not so good, because lots of people who know all about convertible debentures, initial public offerings, etc., think they must know a lot about teaching and learning as well.

There is prolonged debate about the role of education in promoting citizenship, character, lifelong learning (try living without learning sometime), career readiness, environmental awareness, respect for diversity, and on and on.

What I find missing most of the time is any suggestion that after an education (and during an education) it might be nice to have gained some knowledge. “How did so many countries and peoples get involved in World War I?” for example. “How did Jefferson feel when he had to change his mind about presidential prerogatives under the Constitution when the Louisiana territory came up for sale?” “What was the crucial insight that led Watson and Crick to the understanding of the double helix?”

When people raise the question of “Knowledge for What?” my response is usually: for its own sake. E. D. Hirsch and others have shown that having knowledge is what makes it possible to gain more knowledge. And being able to gain more knowledge is really necessary in life, I would agree. In addition, perhaps this is just my bias as an editor and publisher of interesting history research papers, I also feel that gaining knowledge is really one of the essential pleasures in life. Jefferson said: “I could not live without books.” I don’t think that was only because some books could aid him in the many architectural and agricultural innovations he cared about.

James Madison wrote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives….What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

I have been told that Jefferson may even have been able to play some of Mozart’s new work on his violin, and it seems likely he valued that, whether or not he could prove it made him a more efficient farmer, or a more productive President.

Sometimes, I would suggest, in our vigorous (frantic) pursuit of the practical, we skip over some of the things that are of the greatest (practical) value. Once Sir Alexander Fleming was given a tour of the brand-new gleaming headquarters of the Salk Institute by an eager young Ph.D. After the tour, the guide could not help but say: “Just think what you could have discovered if you had only had this state-of-the-art equipment!?!” And Sir Alexander Fleming said, perhaps kindly, “Not penicillin.”

So, by all means, let us introduce more computer technology, more vocational training, more college- and career-ready standards for critical thinking, textual analysis, deeper reading and all of that. But let’s also remember that one of the goals of education must be the acquisition of knowledge, including knowledge of history. We can never be completely sure, at the time we acquire it, when or in what ways some knowledge may be useful in itself in our brief lives as human beings.

Monday, August 25, 2014


Pushing American History as a Long Tale of Oppression

[Nash vs. Cheney Revisited...]

August 22, 2014

Peter Wood; National Association of Scholars

This article originally appeared on Minding the Campus on August 19th, 2014.

The Republican National Committee adopted a resolution on August 8 criticizing the College Board’s new Advanced Placement U.S. History (APUSH) course and exam. The RNC called for the College Board to “delay the implementation” of APUSH for one year and convene a committee to draft a new framework “consistent with” the traditional mission of the course, state history standards, and the United States’ “true history.”

The resolution quickly caught the attention of the left-of-center media. MSNBC leaned in; The Daily Beast growled; Right Wing Watch glared; TalkingPointsMemo repeated; and Wonkette sassed. A good time was had by all. Doktor Zoom’s report on Wonkette epitomized the spirit of the left’s response. The good Doktor explained that in the eyes of the RNC, the new “exam framework doesn’t even say that America is the Bestest, Freest, Most Wonderfullest Republic that ever existed in the world, and it also completely fails to say that Jesus handed the Constitution to George Washington.”  Newsweek, on the other hand, took the trouble to explain the opposition to APUSH—though its headline, “What’s Driving Conservatives Mad about the New AP History Course,” assumes that the opposition is primarily conservative.

Making sure that the Advanced Placement U.S. History course is reasonably comprehensive, fair-minded, and accurate ought to concern people across the political spectrum, not just conservatives.  However, the decision by the Republican National Committee to weigh in with a resolution “condemning” APUSH (as the headline in Education Week put it) ensures that partisans of all sorts will pile in.

Why We Should Delay the New APUSH

In truth, I would rather see this matter resolved at the level of good historical scholarship.  Is the new APUSH a good history course?  Does it present a thorough and systematic account of the developments that brought our nation into being?  Does it trace the conflicts, recognize the principal persons, grapple with the ideas, and come to terms with the triumphs and failures of the American experiment in self-government?  Does it give a clear picture of the profound economic changes that led from us from being a collection of mainly agrarian colonies on the east coast to the world’s most prosperous nation?  Does it teach students to be mindful readers of history—students who are capable of reading original documents with unbiased eyes, and who are likewise capable of catching the ideological purposes to which history is often put?

Those are questions in which the new APUSH, as I read it, doesn’t fare very well.  It seems to be an American history curriculum that views the European settlement of North America as mainly an act of dispossession of the native peoples followed by many further acts of oppression.  It tells a story beginning with pre-contact Native Americans in 1491 that is overwhelmingly materialist.  Food production, human labor, environmental factors, population movement, and so on count heavily; but ideas, beliefs, and aspirations play a secondary role, or in some cases no role at all.  The development of the nation as having a genuine common culture, an order based on evolving principles of law, and enriched with religious aspiration is left to the margins or pushed off stage.

But I don’t wish to claim a final word on such matters.  History standards and curricula, and the textbooks and documents used to teach courses such as APUSH are complicated things.  And it would be best if we heard from a broad spectrum of American historians who have had the chance to read the APUSH materials carefully.

In that light, the RNC’s call for a year-long delay strikes me as a very good idea.

Some of the other critics of APUSH have done a good job in noticing particular things—especially people—that APUSH leaves out.  John Winthrop, the first governor of Massachusetts, is missing.  Benjamin Franklin, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison have faded into APUSH obscurity.  Even the Reverend Martin Luther King, Jr. is mysteriously absent.  We can be sure that none of these figures was overlooked by accident.  They are left out because they do not fit the story that the architects of APUSH want to tell.

That story is fairly easy to grasp:  the history of the United States is a history of expropriation, imposed suffering, forced labor, exploitation, environmental heedlessness, class oppression, racism, sexism, and the rule of the privileged few over everyone else.  These themes can be magnified in the hands of teachers who are convinced that they amount to the whole story, or they can be diminished a bit by teachers who have reservations, but they are the chief substance of the new APUSH. There’s really no way around them.

The University Scene

This is not to say that APUSH is drastically out of step with what college history professors now teach.  Two years ago the National Association of Scholars published a study of 85 freshman history courses taught at Texas A&M and the University of Texas at Austin.  In Recasting History:  Are Race, Class, and Gender Dominating American History? we reported that 50 percent of the teachers of these American history courses at Texas A&M devoted half or more of the content of their courses to race, gender, and class, and 78 percent of their counterparts at UT Austin did the same.  Moreover, the younger portion of these faculty members were overwhelmingly self-declared specialists in race, gender, class history.  Among those who received their Ph.Ds in the 1990s or later, 90 percent of the Texas A&M historians were race, class, gender specialists; and among the UT Austin cohort, 83 percent were.

Recasting History provoked a furious response from the American Historical Association and many other apologists for the “new” social history.  Few, if any, denied the accuracy of our data or the substance of our analysis.  Rather, we were taken to task for our finding fault with something that these historians now regard as a positive good.  Teaching against the old “pieties” of American exceptionalism is regarded in these quarters as a combination of joy and duty, and emphasizing the story of America as a saga of unending oppression is seen as nothing but the plain truth.

In that light, APUSH is likely to find many supporters among academic historians.  And academic historians who are skeptical about the APUSH approach have become a beleaguered minority.  As this battle over APUSH proceeds, the critics of APUSH shouldn’t count on robust support from university history departments.  By and large they are the source of the problem, not the last redoubt of sensible scholarship.

Apprentice Skeptics

APUSH also sets out, quite emphatically, to turn students into “apprentice historians.”  This has a certain cart-before-the-horse quality.  How can a student acquire the sensibility and tools of a historian without first gaining a fairly full grasp of historical narrative?  We generally need a context before we can plunge deeper into analysis and re-consideration.  The APUSH emphasis on making students into “apprentice historians” is, I suspect, a roundabout way of expressing the goal of making students into hardened skeptics toward anything that suggests American exceptionalism.  If the students are “apprenticed” to the preferences of politically progressive historians, they will quickly get the idea that American exceptionalism is nothing but the lies and excuses the rich and the powerful use to cover up their depredations.

Again, I don’t insist this is the last word on what APUSH is up to.  The whole thing is put in such opaque ways that it is hard to tell for sure.  But surely we would do better to wait until we have heard from historians who were not part of the College Board team that created APUSH.

So again, the RNC’s call for a year-long delay seems like a constructive suggestion.

Nash vs. Cheney Revisited

Those whose memories extend back to the 1990s will no doubt recall that we have been through something like this before. In 1992, Congress appointed the National Council on Education Standards (NCES), a project approved by President George H.W. Bush, funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Department of Education.  NCES was co-chaired by Charlotte Crabtree and Gary Nash, though in the ensuing controversy it became mainly associated with Professor Nash.  The Standards were released in November 1994 and immediately set off a furor; Lynne Cheney, who had been head of the National Endowment for the Humanities when the project started, repudiated the results.  She began an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal, “Imagine an outline for the teaching of American history in which George Washington makes only a fleeting appearance and is never described as our first president. Or in which the foundings of the Sierra Club and the National Organization for Women are considered noteworthy events, but the first gathering of the U.S. Congress is not.”

The Nash-led NCES Standards began a subject of anguished national debate which culminated in the publication in 1996 of a heavily revised version of the standards.  Nash wrote a book, History on Trial: Culture Wars and the Teaching of the Past (1997), recounting with considerable bitterness his showdown with Cheney.  As the historian Sean Wilentz saw it, the whole thing was about the effort of professional historians to incorporate into American schools the emphasis on “social history” that had come to dominate the field since the 1960s.  Wilentz thought Nash and his collaborators “na├»ve” in thinking they could do this without provoking a “political response.”

To a fair extent, the APUSH controversy is Gary Nash 2.0.  Many historians were disappointed that the 1994 National History Standards survived only in compromised form.  They wanted the new “social history” straight up.  And they understood that the “social history” Nash had fought for wasn’t just a matter of including the stories of ordinary people who were ignored by previous forms of history writing.  “Social history” is code for history that deconstructs the ideals and the “myths” of the nation.  The Founders are put in their place as patrician slave-owners or propertied men who benefited from other oppressive privileges.  “Manifest Destiny” was a slogan used by rapacious colonizers to justify genocide.  The “Wild West” wasn’t “tamed” but plundered.  Every story “valorized” by older historians had to be unwoven and discredited by the new history.

The Zinnification of American History?

In its most unabashed and vulgar form, the new history is what Howard Zinn served up in his ever-popular A People’s History of the United States.  Nash and his collaborators on the National History Standards were several steps up from Zinn, but aboard the same ideological escalator.

The new APUSH is somewhere in this vicinity as well, but the new tactic seems to be to avoid head-on challenges to the mythos of American history—all the people and events that made us foolishly think America was different and special—and focus instead on telling the alternative story of racism, despoliation, and oppression.

Thus, APUSH doesn’t attempt to debunk the American Founding.  It just pushes it aside.

I should add that when I refer to the “mythos” of American history, I don’t mean a collection of falsehood, noble lies, or one-sided distortions.  When we anthropologists speak of mythos, we mean the essential truths that form the vital core of a people’s shared identity and without which we dissolve into disparate parts.  The American Founding is part of our mythos—maybe the most important part, but definitely not the whole.  And a mythos is by no means a story compounded of self-glorifications, as Doktor Zoom at Wonkette seems to think (“America is the Bestest, Freest, Most Wonderfullest Republic that ever existed in the world”).  It is a story that includes failures, ignominies, and tragedies, as well as hard-won triumphs, and it has plenty of room for ambiguities in between—of events like the Civil War that are both triumph and tragedy.

The Challenge

Judging by the responses to the RNC resolution, we are in for a season of slippery misrepresentation.  Critics of APUSH will be caricatured by the left as cultural ignoramuses in search of something to get mad about.  And the College Board’s protests of innocence will be taken at face value.  Already the Daily Beast has blandly reported that College Board’s explanation that the new APUSH exam is meant to be “more flexible” than the old one and that the APUSH framework “has not changed” since 2012.

The idea that the new test will be more “flexible” may be a way of saying that in the new test “facts” matter less than facility in “interpreting” material into the right ideological silos.  But much remains to be seen on that score.  What we have so far is the detailed standards and only a model test.  As for APUSH not having changed since 2012, that’s an impressive bit of stagecraft.  Yes, the current APUSH was finished in 2012, but it was released so quietly that virtually no one outside the charmed circle of APUSH advocates knew about it.  Only in the last few months with the actual rollout of the course scheduled for this fall has APUSH come to public notice.

My guess is the College Board was well aware of what happened in 1994 when the Gary Nash version of National History Standards was released and provoked immediate and harsh pushback.  To avoid that, the College Board attempted a stealth rollout.  That tactic has clearly failed, so it is on to the next tactic, which consists of well-choreographed displays of wounded innocence performed to the tub-thumping music of MSNBC and TalkingPointsMemo.

None of this would matter if APUSH was some obscure academic course, but it is in fact the gateway course on American history for most of America’s most talented high school students.  As the RNC noted, nearly half a million high school students take it each year.  And to that I would add that for many of those students, APUSH will be the last course surveying American history they will ever take.  The partisan view of American history it presents is likely to leave some lasting impressions.  And worse still, the absence of a more abiding vision of American aspiration is likely to leave a lasting emptiness.

Tuesday, August 5, 2014


Academic Incentives & Rewards for Secondary Students
Heartland Institute
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
2 July 2014

In their new book, Rewards: How to use rewards to help children learn—and why teachers don’t use them well, Herbert Walberg and Joseph Bast point out that “research makes clear that reward systems can significantly raise academic achievement levels....for adolescents.”

I can reinforce that conclusion from 27 years of publishing exemplary academic history research papers by adolescents from 46 states and 39 other countries in the quarterly journal, The Concord Review. In 1987, when the Review was founded, it was hoped that the prospect of publication could encourage high school students to read more history, which would broaden their knowledge of the world, and to work on serious history papers, which would exempt them from remedial writing courses at college and in the workplace, and give them the communication skills almost all professors and employers now complain about.

The response of students has been impressive. We have received papers of 8,000, 11,000, 13,000, and even 21,000 words—most done as independent studies. Many students have indeed been inspired by the work of their peers to greater efforts of their own. Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse, wrote:

“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. Gradually, I came to understand the central difficulty of writing history: how do you resurrect, in words, events that took place in a different place and time? More importantly, how do you resurrect the past only using the words of someone else?...”

She went from a public high school in Indiana to Columbia University, and in fact many of our authors have sent reprints of their published work to admissions officers and by now, they have gone on to: Brown(27), University of Chicago(22), Columbia(21), Cornell(16), Dartmouth(22), Harvard(125), Oxford(13), Pennsylvania(23), Princeton(64), Stanford(51), Yale(104), and a number of other fine institutions, including Amherst, Bryn Mawr, Caltech, Cambridge, Carnegie Mellon, Duke, Emory, Johns Hopkins, McGill, Michigan, Middlebury, MIT, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Reed, Rice, Smith, Trinity, Tufts, Virginia, Washington University, Wellesley, and Williams.

Walberg and Bast note that “Older children and adolescents are more likely than elementary students to appreciate less-tangible rewards such as honor and attention from people they admire.”

Here again, the experience of our authors support this finding: as Kaitlin Marie Bergan, from a public high school in New Jersey, wrote:

“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.”

One serious problem with external rewards like those at the level of The Concord Review is that most teachers are reluctant to allow their students to see such exemplary academic writing by their peers. There are a number of reasons for this, among them that many history teachers have decided to leave writing to the English department, and student writing then becomes personal, creative, the five-paragraph essay and the 500-word “college” essay, all of which is poor preparation for college writing tasks. Another reason is that, as we found in the only national study done so far [by TCR] on the assignment of term papers in American public high schools, is that teachers do not have the time to ask students to write serious history papers, or the time to guide and evaluate them. When a teacher has six classes of thirty students, it is clear that the system does not think they should be given the time they need to work with their students on serious history research papers.

 The Concord Review

Wednesday, July 16, 2014


July 15, 2014
Hello Mr. Fitzhugh,

I wanted to let you know that received the letter about the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize, and I am very honored that I was chosen for this award. I know how difficult it is even to be published in The Concord Review, so this was some very wonderful news!

I also read about The Concord Review's funding problems in the letter you sent. It made me very sad to hear that an organization such as The Concord Review is suffering financially. My experience with The Concord Review has tremendously improved not only my writing skills but my ability to think critically and see "the big picture." I don't think I could have developed these skills simply by writing relatively short papers for high school classes, and it makes me very concerned that other students may not have this opportunity.

As you know, most universities have seen a drop in the number of humanities majors as a result of the nationwide push to focus on STEM fields (I will be attending Stanford University in the fall, and there are actually a couple of great articles "defending" the humanities in the Stanford Daily. If you are interested I can forward them to you. Two of this year's Rhodes Scholars-elect from Stanford wrote great pieces). I feel very strongly about the need for a broad liberal arts education, even in a world dominated by technology, and if there is anything I can do to help secure the future of The Concord Review, please let me know. I know you are working to raise awareness/funds. I would love to be involved in any way that would help.


Riya Mehta
The Pembroke Hill School, 

Kansas City, Missouri (Class of 2014)
[Published in The Concord Review 
Summer 2014 Issue (#101)
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize 2014
Stanford Class of 2018]

Thursday, June 19, 2014


From LinkedIn; 12 March 2014

[She graduated from St. Maur International School in Yokohama.
Her 9,900-word Emerson Prize paper on the Kamikaze Pilots was published
in the Fall 1996 issue of The Concord Review. She wanted to know why Japanese her age would commit suicide in that way. She spent three years going to every Kamikaze museum in Japan and meeting as many survivor families as she could. Her conclusion after all that work? She said she still didn’t really understand why they did it.] (A HS scholar)....

Mako Sasaki congratulated you on your work anniversary!

Since March 1987—27 years of The Concord Review
"Being published in The Concord Review was perhaps one of the best things that has happened in my life—beats passing the bar by a long shot. It has given me an unexpected journey through young adulthood till today (and counting!), which brought me experiences that I would have never expected when I started writing that essay 21 years ago. Thank you for providing not only the platform to be published, but a tremendous journey in the 18 years that have transpired since then that has truly shaped who I am. Your work influenced my life in more ways than I can express. I hope many more students will have the opportunity I was blessed with to be published in The Concord Review."