Tuesday, May 27, 2014


Jessica Li  (Class of 2015)
High School Junior, Summit, New Jersey
24 May 2014
[6,592-word paper on Kang Youwei
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize 2014]

[I asked her about some of her experiences with math and history. Will Fitzhugh]

My interest and involvement in mathematics was inspired by my family and my own exploration. My family instilled in me a strong love of learning in general but especially of mathematics. In elementary and early middle school, I mostly participated in various smaller math contests, practiced contest and advanced math on my own, and took higher-level math classes in school. In late middle school and high school, I first began to see the true beauty of mathematics when I began reading pure and applied math research papers written by graduate students and professors. At first, these papers were, of course, very difficult to understand. But gradually, through persistence and great effort, I began to understand them more and enjoy reading them more.

Before high school, especially in early middle school, my parents had provided more assistance in extracurricular academic pursuits, specifically giving me suggestions about what programs I should look into, what books I might want to read based on my interests, helping me through some challenging problems, etc. Around the beginning of high school, my involvement in mathematics became more independent of my family. They certainly supported me in everything I did, but I began to find my own route and chart my own path. Through participating in summer programs, contests, and online courses I found, I built a network of like-minded peers who shared more information with me about other math-related opportunities. Specifically, in summer 2012, I attended AwesomeMath Summer Program where I met International Math Olympiad participants, medalists, and coaches as well as many other talented young mathematicians.

In summer 2013, I attended the Hampshire College Summer Studies in Mathematics, a six-week math research program with interesting seminars and courses on a variety of different topics including 4D geometry, theoretical computer science, complex analysis, algebraic topology, set theory, graph theory, group theory, and more. For several years, I have participated in the American Mathematics Competition, American Invitational Mathematics Exam, the United States Mathematical Talent Search (where I received a Gold medal), and Math Madness (where I was in the top four in the country). I have written for Girls' Angle Bulletin, the journal of Girls' Angle. I recently conducted my own research and placed in the top three of my category and won a special computing award at the North Jersey Regional Science Fair and was published in the Journal of Applied Mathematics and Physics. Earlier this year, I was accepted to the MIT PRIMES-USA program, a year-round research program with MIT. Only thirteen students in the nation were accepted this year. Last week, I presented my research at the MIT PRIMES Conference.

I try my best not to take all of these wonderful mathematical opportunities for granted. I realize that many other students of all ages do not have the same opportunities as I do to explore mathematics. I have created programs for underprivileged students to learn contest mathematics and showcase their abilities.

In my school, I have worked to involve more girls in mathematics and get more girls interested in the subject through making presentations, suggesting programs, organizing contests and research courses, leading the Mu Alpha Theta research team, giving project ideas and research guidance, sharing posters and math games, etc. This summer, I will be traveling to different states to present at local schools about snowflake and virus symmetries, a main focus of my MIT PRIMES-USA project. The puzzles I designed and 3D-printed to share information about snowflake and virus symmetries will be featured in the Museum of Mathematics in New York City and hopefully other museums as well. My MIT PRIMES-USA project was featured at the Undergraduate Research Symposium at the Illini Union and in a presentation to the head of the Illinois Geometry Lab. My school, specifically the entire mathematics and science departments, honored me with the Rensselaer Medal for Mathematics and Science for my mathematics and science accomplishments in contests, research success, and for involving other students in math.

I have also used my mathematical knowledge and abilities in my other STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) activities. I have used statistical analysis in my environmental engineering projects on microbial fuel cells, cellulosic ethanol, and invasive species control. I also used the leadership skills I gained from getting more people, especially underprivileged students and girls, interested in mathematics to involve students worldwide in environmental engineering and research through a nonprofit organization I founded.

Though I have not used much math in computer science, my interest in math led me to study Java, Matlab, and C/C++ on my own. I have created a number of apps to help clean-water charities and the blind.

My typical family vacation has always been centered around museums. For as long as I can remember, I have loved visiting museums, reading the books about the museum exhibits and artifacts before and after the visit, listening to the tour guides, doing my own research on related topics, etc. I did not, however, conduct my own historical research and write a paper on my research until tenth grade. In my history 10 course, each student was required to write a research paper on a topic of their choice based on a relevant book. I had always been interested in Chinese history, because of its close connection to my family history and my roots. So, I read The Chinese in America by Iris Chang, an author who I was already familiar with after reading The Rape of Nanking. My paper focused on a comparison of the challenges faced by Chinese immigrants in mainland China and in America during the mid 20th century. I loved completing the project. Even though I was only required to write a four-page paper, I wrote twenty pages including a poem from the point of a view of a Chinese immigrant. I also used my computer science skills to create a game that teaches others about the information I learned from my research.

In the middle of tenth grade, I heard about The Concord Review through a friend who knew about my interests and abilities in history and suggested that I may be interested in submitting a research paper to the journal. I was very interested in taking on the challenge to improve my reading, writing, and research skills and to share my work with high school history students, teachers, and other historians. I had some difficulty deciding upon a topic to research.

Around this time in my history 10 class we were learning about the Opium War. After some thought, I decided to complete my research paper on Chinese modernization. I was fascinated by the progress China had made in terms of modernization in the last century and was interested in investigating further. I wanted to shed light on this topic that is not so well known to high school students and others. Before beginning my research paper when I asked teachers, other adults, and friends for advice, they all emphasized the importance of reading other history research papers on similar topics.

Not only would I learn more information relevant to my topic of choice but I would also be more familiar with the style of academic writing featured in high-level, very well-respected journals such as The Concord Review, which is unique at the secondary level. I spent the winter and spring of tenth grade in the library, reading dozens of books and papers on Chinese modernization. In the early spring, I finalized my topic—the rise and fall of Kang Youwei, a prominent reformer in the late Qing Dynasty who is little known, yet had a tremendous influence on Chinese modernization. For the rest of the spring, I focused on reading literature specifically about Kang and those movements and figures related to him and his effects.

I began writing my paper in the beginning of the summer and focused on editing and rewriting for the remainder of the summer. My history 10 teacher found time in her summer to help edit my paper and provide helpful suggestions for improving it. Finally, in August, I was ready to submit my (6,592-word) final paper to The Concord Review. My paper was accepted for publication later in the Winter 2013 issue. I was so excited and honored to be able to share my work with The Concord Review subscribers and others worldwide.

Even though I am not working on a new history project right now, I have continued pursuing my interest in history through reading papers and books and completed a shorter project this year on mental hospitals. I look forward to continuing my history studies and research in college and beyond. Before conducting my own history research, and writing history research papers, I never thought I would continue to study history after high school because I had always thought my main interest would be in math and engineering. But now, I realize the value of history research and academic writing in any career and life path I choose, and also simply to satisfy my curiosity about the past, the present, and the future.

“I am simply one who loves the past and is diligent in investigating it.”

K’ung-fu-tzu (551-479 BC) The Analects

Friday, May 23, 2014


The Acting Superintendent of the Boston Public Schools denied this today [read here], saying History is NOT being folded into the English Department. Stay tuned...5-23-2014...But Humanities will be the new Common Core Umbrella....


Boston Public Schools to Eliminate 
History and Social Science Departments

Joseph J Ferreira, Jr.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

It was announced today that the Boston Public School department is “reorganizing” by eliminating all Departments of History & Social Sciences in all schools and folding the departments into the Department of English Language Arts as a “Humanities Department” with the curriculum determined by the ELA Common Core Standards. Certified history department heads/chairs are being laid off and, apparently, no certified history specialist will be hired to replace any of these teachers. 

This essentially eliminates history and the social sciences as one of the core academic departments in the Boston Public Schools and subordinates HSS to ELA. This appears to be the first major metropolitan school district to reduce history and the social sciences to merely a supporting role in the education of students.

As it might appear to be a political issue, I will leave it to H-High-S network members to research this issue and the various petitions, political issues, etc. that are circulating about this matter, but as this addresses a core element of our network’s raison d’etre, history education, I hope this will generate both interest and discussion.

Friday, May 9, 2014


NAEP and The Concord Review

By Walt Gardner on May 9, 2014 7:34 AM; 

Education Week
"Reality Check"

Elitism is a dirty word in education in this country.  Just why, I don't understand because supporting students with academic ability is as important as supporting students with special needs. 

I thought of this as I read the news about the latest NAEP results ("US 'report card': stagnation in 12th-grade math, reading scores," The Christian Science Monitor, May 8).  The closely watched report showed that high school seniors did no better in reading and math than they did four years ago. The head of the National Assessment Governing Board, which was created by Congress in 1988 to create and measure standards for student performance, warned that too few students are achieving at a level to make the U.S. internationally competitive.

I urge him to look over the index of The Concord Review from 1988 to 2014. For those readers not familiar with TCR, its founder and publisher is Will Fitzhugh.  He has provided a forum for essays written overwhelmingly by high school students in this country (and to a small extent by those abroad) on a wide variety of subjects. They range from ancient history to modern issues. I've read many of them.  They are not only meticulously researched but gracefully written.

I realize that the students who have been published in TCR constitute only a tiny percentage of high school seniors in this country.  But I maintain that far more students are capable of writing informative and lively papers than we believe. As much as I respect NAEP, I submit that the essays in TCR are better indicators of the highest academic ability than scores on NAEP.  Read some of them to see if you agree.

I don't know if the almost total focus on students below average is the result of anti-elitism or of sheer ignorance.  But TCR serves as compelling evidence that we are squandering talent.  Many of these students will go on to make a name for themselves in their various fields of specialization. They're the ones who can make the U.S. highly competitive in the global economy. Yet we feel extremely uncomfortable supporting them.

We don't have to choose democratization or differentiation.  There is room for both in our schools.  But so far, most of our resources are earmarked to achieve the former. Only in the U.S. does that happen.  Most countries have no compunction about identifying and nurturing their academically gifted students.


“Teach with Examples”
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
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®

Thursday, May 1, 2014


EducationViews.org; Houston, Texas
SchoolInfoSystem.org; Madison, Wisconsin

School Reform News; Chicago, Illinois
TheReportCard.org; St. Augustine, Florida

Rate Buster

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review 

1 May 2014

Back in the day, when Union contracts specified the number of widgets each worker was expected to produce during a shift, that number was called “the rate.” Anyone who produced more than that number was called a “rate-buster,” and was subjected to pressure, sanctions, and the like, from fellow union members, until the production was once more within the agreed rate for that job.

There are “rates” in education as well, for students. In general, when they are assigned nonfiction papers, even many high school students are asked to write 3-5 pages. The International Baccalaureate asks for Extended Essays of 4,000 words (16 pages) at the end of a candidate’s time in the program, but that is quite out of the ordinary.

Recently a Junior at one of the most prestigious (and most expensive) New England preparatory schools expressed an interest in preparing a paper to be considered by The Concord Review, where the published history research papers average 6,000 words (24 pages), but she was concerned because her teachers limited history papers at that school to 1,000 words or less (4 pages).

When The Concord Review started calling for history research papers by secondary students in 1987, the suggestion was that papers should be 4,000-6,000 words (or more), (16-24 pages) and students have been sending in longer papers ever since. One 21,000-word paper on the Mountain Meadows Massacre (c. 80 pages) was submitted by a nationally-ranked equestrienne, who later went to Stanford. When she asked her teacher if it was OK that her paper would be quite long, he said, “Yes.”

But she (and he) are rate-busters, who are willing to go beyond the common expectations for what high school students are capable of in writing serious history research papers. In his introduction to the first issue of The Concord Review, (1988) Theodore Sizer, former Dean of the School of Education at Harvard, and former Headmaster at Andover, wrote:  

“Americans shamefully underestimate their adolescents. With often misdirected generosity, we offer them all sorts of opportunities and, at least for middle-class and affluent youths, the time and resources to take advantage of them.

We ask little in return. We expect little, and the young people sense this, and relax. The genially superficial is tolerated, save in areas where the high school students themselves have some control, in inter-scholastic athletics, sometimes in their part-time work, almost always in their socializing.”

Not much has changed since Dr. Sizer wrote that in 1988. Teachers and others continue to find ways to limit the amount of nonfiction writing our students do, with the result, of course, that they do not get very good at it. But no matter how much college professors and employers complain that their students and employees can’t write, our “union rules” at the k-12 level ensure that students do very little serious writing.

This is not the result of a union contract on rates, but it does come in part from the fact that, for instance in many public high schools, teachers can have 150 or more students. This provides a gigantic disincentive for them in assigning papers. They must consider how much time they have to advise students on term papers and to evaluate them when they are submitted. But the administration and the school committees do not want nonfiction writing to get, for example, the extra time routinely given to after-school sports.

In addition, some significant number of teachers have never written a thesis, or done much serious nonfiction writing of their own, which makes it easier for them to be comfortable in limiting their students to the minimum of nonfiction writing in school.

The Concord Review has published 101 issues with 1,110 history research papers by secondary students from 46 states and 39 other countries, so there are some “rate-buster” teachers out there, even in our public high schools. It is even clearer, from the number of excellent “independent study” papers we receive, that many more students, when they see the exemplary work of their peers, follow the rule that says “Where there’s a Way there’s a Will,” and they take advantage of the fact that the journal not only does not tell them what to write about, it does not limit the length of the papers they want to write. When we see the number of these fine nonfiction papers, it should make us regret all the more everything we do to press our potential student “rate-busters” to do less than they could. We don’t do that in sports. Why in the world do we do it in academics?

“Teach with Examples”
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
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®