Monday, December 21, 2015


Diane Ravitch's blog
A site to discuss better education for all

Will Fitzhugh: 

Why Students Should Read a Work of History in High School

By dianeravitch    December 20, 2015 //12

Will Fitzhugh is the tireless publisher and editor of The Concord Review. He taught history in a public high school for many years, then stepped away from teaching to found The Concord Review. (1987) TCR publishes student work in history, original research papers that are well-written and reflect deep study. It has subscribers all over the world and submissions from students from many countries (41). It is a fine publication that recognizes the value of excellent historical studies in high school. But Fitzhugh has struggled throughout the life of TCR to keep it alive. He has applied to and been rejected by every foundation and government agency that he could think of. The journal gets plaudits from all who see it, but Will Fitzhugh has exhausted his savings keeping it alive. He is a man with a mission. Please consider subscribing to TCR and make sure that your history students are aware that they can submit essays for possible publication. If you happen to have a foundation, please consider subsidizing this wonderful publication so it will survive. TCR “is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic research papers of secondary students.” It should be in every high school.

Will Fitzhugh wrote a guest post for this blog in December 2015:

“When teachers say they have to spend so much time preparing for math and reading tests that they cannot give any attention to history, I always want to suggest that if they give their students history to read, they will not only get practice in reading, they will learn some history, too.

“When some argue that only in literature can one find good stories of human fears, troubles, relationships, hopes, competition, and accomplishments, I have to believe that reading history was not a big part of their education.

“I was a literature major in college, and only came to read history seriously afterwards. No one emphasized the benefits of history when I was in school. And I realize that the appreciation of history is a bit cumulative. That is, when a student first reads history she doesn’t know who these people are or what they are doing or why that might be important to know.

“Teachers have to assume some responsibility for expressing their assurance that history is not only interesting but also essential—that is, if they are aware of that themselves. Things go slow in learning any new language. Students can’t love French poetry or Chinese philosophy right away. They have to work to learn the language basics first.

“That goes for history as well. But after reading history for a few years, people and events come to be more familiar, and the chronology turns out to be no more difficult and perhaps even more interesting than irregular verbs.

“People rightly defend the stories in literature. But history is nothing but stories, too, with the difference that they are true stories, about actual people, who faced and coped with real problems of very great difficulty, with varying degrees of wisdom and success.

“These are the people and the stories who form the basis of the civilization the students have inherited, and neglecting them does indeed rob students of an important part of their birthright.

“I believe high school students in particular, with whom I am most familiar, having taught in high school for ten years, should read at least one complete history book a year. After all, many of these students are reading Shakespeare plays, studying calculus, and perhaps Chinese and chemistry, so a good history book should be easy, and perhaps a bit of a break for them as well. And not only would they learn some history in the process, but they would experience some exemplary nonfiction writing at the same time. All our students deserve such opportunities. And most are now denied them.”

The Concord Review

Friday, December 11, 2015


Choosing a Topic for The Concord Review
The Beyond English Approach

by David Scott Lewis, Qingdao, CHINA

Much has changed at Beyond English since I wrote my last piece for the The Concord Review blog two years ago. These days, our program tends to be far more focused on issues related to public international law, international relations, ethics, and moral philosophy. We now also place greater emphasis on our three core Advanced Placement courses (aligned to match the "redesigned'' SAT), as well as the over twenty other AP courses that we offer. While the essays that my students generate through our Beyond English Capstone project—like all those essays published in TCR—all exceed a high school performance level, they vary broadly in topic and complexity level.

TCR has published several superb essays on court cases, such as Loving v. Virginia and Tape v. Hurley. I encourage my students to follow in the footsteps of these laudable authors by crafting theses related to court cases, yet I diverge in one essential way: my students must consider cases pertaining particularly to international law. No Roe v. Wade or Plessy v. Ferguson for my students, only international cases, such as the trial of Charles Taylor or the Tokyo Tribunals.

I advise my best students to address cases that are familiar to practitioners within specific areas of international law like international humanitarian law, but that are not necessarily notable in the broader field of international law. Thus, cases such as those involving executive powers, refugees, and asylum seekers—certainly a relevant topic these days—prove suitable. The critical thinking required is akin to the scholarly work produced by a Master of Laws (LLM). These students write and think at such an advanced level that they might easily skip undergraduate coursework altogether and go directly into law school; after all, an LLM program follows a JD (United States) or LLB (United Kingdom). Such students would excel in undergraduate law studies at Oxbridge, for example.

Some students will choose to address topics that require a slightly lower level of research and writing ability; after all, not every high school student is ready for direct entrance into an elite law school. Such students consider cases that have broader applicability and are well known to the majority of international lawyers. Yet, the typical attorney working in a local or national context would likely remain unfamiliar with such cases. A case at this level might include an International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecution. Such cases often have wide-ranging impacts and much broader relevance than the aforementioned specialized cases. In general, I tend to recommend these cases to my more advanced students instead of the aforementioned specialized cases since those cases might require an exceedingly high level of background knowledge. This type of international law essay is similar to the work required of second- or third-year law school students (2Ls or 3Ls), and comprises major writing projects only differentiated from those of law students by their shorter length. Accordingly, Beyond English has adopted a process for selecting substantial writing topics that was originally developed at NYU Law.

At the next level down, one finds topical essays related to public international law. Fitting examples of subjects at this level include a biography of Hugo Grotius or an essay on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The problem with these more general topics is that their popularity often makes it difficult for students to develop novel ideas and innovative theses. The complexity of these essays makes them comparable to those developed at an advanced undergraduate level, such as senior theses.

The papers that require the least amount of effort and thought for my students are those that relate to extremely broad topics in public international law. In such cases, students are generally not attempting to present innovative ideas but to instead raise awareness about topics that have never previously been addressed in The Concord Review. Some examples of this type of paper include essays on the history of the ICC or the International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda. A fine line exists, however, between papers of this type and the slightly more difficult papers discussed in the preceding paragraph. The complexity of this type of essay may be evaluated at a senior high school or freshman undergraduate level. Furthermore, these papers tend to be shorter, generally fewer than 6,000 words, and yet still exceed the AP Capstone and IB Diploma extended essay requirements. While shorter, these topics often provide an essential advantage over the standard fare of many IB Diploma extended essays by demonstrating a higher level of maturity. Take, for example, an essay on the Special Tribunal for Cambodia (officially the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia) that investigated the mass atrocities and crimes against humanity committed by the Khmer Rouge in their infamous ''Killing Fields.'' In my opinion, such a topic should be considered more mature than most of those addressed in IB Diploma or AP Capstone extended essays.

To date, the majority of my students have chosen to write topical essays; the highest-level papers this year were written on international law in the Qing dynasty (Zihang Liu), the history of Amnesty International (Yingying He), and, my favorite, the territorial history of the South China Sea (Yuren Pang). The final topic is particularly relevant given current disputes over sovereignty in the South China Sea. (Spoiler alert: The claims made by Beijing are not supported by history.) In my opinion, if a student is not referencing at least fifteen books and a few dozen peer-reviewed journal articles, they have not done their homework.

There are two key reasons for requiring that my students engage with legal texts, whether case law or law review articles. First, such engagement develops a student’s critical thinking skills. Second, such a level of study greatly enhances a student’s vocabulary. In an age when global education is so highly regarded, it is essential that students exceed the standard fare of typical cases covered in AP U.S. Government & Politics (a Beyond English core AP) and develop topics with a greater international focus. Abortion, civil rights, and same-sex marriage are important topics; however, in this author's opinion, the issues addressed in such cases pale in comparison to cases regarding genocide, crimes against humanity, and state-sponsored rape. Think The Prosecutor v. Omar Hassan Ahmad Al Bashir. Mature topics related to international law provide far richer areas for research that enable students to demonstrate the highest level of critical thinking.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015


Math and Reading:
A Lament for High School History and Writing

Historically Speaking, Winter 2006, The Historical Society

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review

    Many of the educators, especially at the elementary level, who are subject to the provisions of the No Child Left Behind Act, complain that because they are forced to spend all that time on math and reading, they have no chance to display their creativity or to teach the social studies, including history. No one seems to have entertained the possibility that by having students read history, as they used to do in the McGuffey’s Readers, they could not only improve their ability to read, they could also improve their knowledge of history at the same time. Joy Hakim’s History of US is very good reading for younger students of history.

    Later on in high school students are assigned chapters in history textbooks, mostly written by committees, and in some cases selected readings, but it seems very likely that the majority of U.S. high school students are never asked to read one complete history book during their four years. In many cases the history they do read is social history sprinkled with a few historical figures, facts and dates, but the history that is omitted often includes military, diplomatic, political, legal, and economic history.

    The way to learn and to enjoy history is to read it, and that is not allowed in most of our schools. An additional way to learn and to enjoy history is to write it, that is, at the school level, to do research on a historical topic and to write about it as well as possible. Most public high schools, even including some elite exam schools such as Boston Latin School, no longer assign the “traditional history term paper.” In fact, in most public schools, writing is under the control of the English department.

    The English department, for a variety of reasons, has chosen personal and creative writing as its favorite kinds, along with the occasional five-paragraph essay. While the English department does assign complete books, of course they are fiction. Fiction, indeed, is all that many high school students have heard of. Some even think that history books are correctly referred to as novels, because they haven’t heard anyone speak about nonfiction books. Some infamous historians have introduced fiction into their history books, but that news is not really current at the high school level. I recently heard a high school teacher, in a Teaching American History seminar, ask an eminent historian what made him write his “novels.”

    College professors almost universally bemoan the poor preparation of their students in reading and writing. A recent Chronicle of Higher Education survey found that nearly 90% of college professors interviewed thought their students were not well prepared in research, reading or writing. And what have they done about it? They complain. It is interesting to me that students can pass their state high school graduation tests, for example the MCAS in Massachusetts, and then find that they must take remedial courses when they get to college. The Boston Globe reported last year that of those students who graduate from Massachusetts high schools and go on to community college, 65% are in remedial courses, and of those who go on to the state colleges and universities, 34% are in remedial courses. Am I the only one who thinks the college assessment people and the high school assessment people may not be talking to each other?

    But while college professors of history take zero interest in the academic work of high school students of history, unlike the serious interest their coaching colleagues take in the athletic achievement of high school student prospects, there is not too much they can do about high school instruction in history and in academic writing. Of greater concern is the fact that the majority of high school history teachers did not major in history and 12% of them majored in physical education. This may have more to do with 57% of high school students scoring “below basic” on the most recent National Assessment of Educational Progress U.S. History test. For those who do not know, “below basic” means the student may have entered their name, but they probably misspelled it.

    One of the reasons coaches are given history teaching assignments is that they can’t teach physics, Russian, or math, and another is that it really isn’t history that they are teaching. Too often it is social studies, and too often that means, as I like to call it, after Flip Wilson, “The History of What’s Happening Now.” For those social studies teachers who are left over from the 1960s, “Now” includes Vietnam, Watergate, and Woodstock, and not much else. Even the ones who know that there were French student riots in the late 1960s as well as American student riots, most do not know, and do not want to know, that much more barbarous “student uprisings” were going on at the very same time in Mao’s Great Cultural Revolution in China.

    Nevertheless, even high school “tenured radicals” could ask their students to read history books and write history research papers, but most do not. For some of them time stopped in 1970 or so. I remember, ten years ago, I heard a woman who had been a nurse in the Vietnam War saying she had been a guest speaker in an elementary classroom, and one of the students said: “The Vietnam War! My grandfather fought in that!” Clearly the historical time warp almost caused her to faint away. 

    People who are not familiar with what students are not doing academically in school ask me why students are not writing term papers, because they know students will have to do it in college and may very well have to write something at their jobs later. It is hard to explain how full the school day can be and still have no time for real academic work, at least in history. Teachers assign reading in the textbook, and the students don’t do it, so the teacher spends the class time going over the reading, and the same pattern is repeated again and again. 

    Teachers used to assign book reports, but the students didn’t do them, so the teachers stopped assigning them. Some teachers are given 150 students. If they assign them a 20-page paper, then when the papers come in they will have to read and comment on 3,000 pages on their time outside the classroom. This is unrealistic. When I was teaching at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts, I didn’t have that many students and the papers were not that long, and I still called in sick for a couple of days, so I could read them at home. 

    Those who say students should learn to write academic papers in high school, and not many do, do not allow teachers time to assign the papers, and guide students through the research process, or to do a decent job of assessing them when they are turned in. Some private school teachers have more time, and some of those spend more than most. A history teacher I know, with a Ph.D. in history, teaching at a private school across the street from CalTech, checks every endnote of every paper that comes in. Not many do that.

    Lots of public high school teachers who are assigned social studies classes never read a history book themselves and never had to write a serious academic research paper themselves, certainly not if they went through the usual Social Studies Educator degree program. It is hard to convey either the excitement of history books or the satisfactions of work on a long serious academic paper if you have never read the one or written the other.

    Time to bring out the silver lining. International Baccalaureate students have to write a 4,000-word Extended Essay for the Diploma. Some high school students read nonfiction books on their own, for some reason. David McCullough reported that Harry Truman read scores and scores of history books not assigned in class, and almost unthinkably in this politically correct day and age, Truman said (and found that):

“...‘Reading history, to me, was far more than a romantic adventure. It was solid instruction and wise teaching which I somehow felt I wanted and needed.’ 

He decided, he said, that men make history, otherwise there would be no history. History did not make the man, he was quite certain. His list of heroes advanced. To Andrew Jackson, Hannibal, and Robert E. Lee were added Cincinnatus, Scipio, Cyrus the Great and Gustavus Adolphus, the seventeenth-century Swedish king. No Jeffersons or Lincolns or Leonardos were part of his pantheon as yet. Whatever it was that made other boys of turn-of-the-century America venerate Andrew Carnegie or Thomas Edison, he had none of it. The Great Men by his lights were still the great generals...”  

                               —David McCullough, Truman, 1992, p. 58

    When I was on sabbatical from teaching history at the high school in Concord, Massachusetts in 1986/1987, I considered that a few of my students had written much longer and better history papers than they had to for my classes. It seemed reasonable to assume that in the 25,000 U.S. high schools, 3,500 Canadian high schools and in other high schools in the English-speaking world, there would be more diligent students of history. I thought that if I offered a quarterly journal of essays to these students they might send me their best work. So, in June of 1987, I incorporated The Concord Review, Inc., and that summer sent out a brochure calling for papers to all the high schools in the United States and Canada and 1,500 overseas.

    By the time I had finished paying back for my sabbatical by teaching another year, I had papers from many schools and even subscribers from 14 states and 4 other countries. I donated my last $100,000 to get started, assuming that (1) many more good research papers would come in and (2) enough schools would subscribe to meet expenses. 

Assumption one was spot on. We have now published 748 [1,176] exemplary history research papers by high school students from 44 states and 33 [40] other countries. Assumption two was way off. Schools which could see the benefit of having students published could not see the benefits of having their students read the essays written by their peers. There are exceptions. Santa Catalina School in Monterey, California has had class sets of the journal since the first issue in Fall 1988, and this year, Singapore American School signed up for 50 subscriptions. One of the teachers there said:

“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...”

    But so few schools did subscribe that I worked for 14 years without a salary or benefits, and in the process of seeking support, I was turned down by more than a hundred foundations, and the Department of Education and the National Endowment for the Humanities (several times). I had to suspend publication twice for lack of funds, in 1991 and 1995. Enough support did come in to resume after that, and I am now working on the 68th [107th] issue. We publish eleven essays in each issue and we accept about 5% of the ones we get.

    Still and all, the major organizations concerned with writing in the schools, such as the College Board, the National Commission on Writing in the Schools and numerous Literacy Initiatives have such low and nonacademic standards for writing that they really do more harm than good. Much has been written about the superficiality of the SAT Writing Test, on which facts are not considered important, and for which tens of thousands of students pay services to help them prepare essays in advance. 

    Even though some high school students, for whatever personal reasons, continue to read history books and write serious history research papers (we get a lot of independent study research papers, some inspired by our journal), the Educators hold almost all students down to reading fiction and writing personal stuff and the five-paragraph essay. I suppose if Educators were limiting all students of math to fractions before college there would be an uproar, but similar astonishingly low expectations for reading and writing are in place, with nary a murmur from the general public or from nearly all of the Edupundits.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015


"The State of the Term Paper"  
January 16, 2002, pp. 35, 37

Education Week (Commentary)

by Will Fitzhugh, 

Editor, The Concord Review

It seems likely that the history research paper at the high school level is now an endangered species. A focus on creative writing, fear of plagiarism, fascination with PowerPoint presentations, and too little time to meet with students to plan papers and to read them carefully when they are turned in, along with the absence of a concern with term papers in virtually all the work on state standards, means that too many students in high school in the United States do not get to do the reading or the writing that a serious history paper requires. As a result, students come to college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors, and employers of college graduates, for instance at Ford Motor Company, have now had to institute writing classes for them before they can produce readable reports, memos, and the like. 

A few years ago, the Fordham Foundation did a study of the state English and social studies standards across the country, and term papers were not included in any of them. The Pew Charitable Trusts have funded the Standards for Success program, which is working on high school/college articulation of standards and expectations and term papers are not included. The American Diploma Project in Washington, DC, now working to define academic expectations among high schools, colleges and employers, has also not found a place for history research papers yet in its deliberations. One problem, of course, is that serious term papers cannot be assessed in a one-hour objective test.

In the early 1980s, when I was teaching United States History to Sophomores at the public high school in Concord, Massachusetts, each student had to write a biographical paper on one of the presidents. One boy managed to get JFK, and I loaned him a copy of Arthur Schlesinger’s One Thousand Days. He took a look at that large book and told me, “I can’t read this.” I said, “Yes, you can,” and for some reason he did it. Five or six years later, out of the blue, he called me when he was a Junior at Yale. He said he wanted to thank me for “making him” read that book, as it was the first serious nonfiction book he had ever read and it did something for his confidence that he was able to do it. Of course he had made himself read it, but it points up one of the advantages of the history term paper. Such an assignment is often the first time a high school student finds out she/he can read a nonfiction book on something important.

I used to be an alumni interviewer for Harvard College, and once I was asked to talk to a boy at one of the local suburban high schools. I interviewed him and asked him, among other things, what he thought he might major in. He said history. He did not know anything about me other than that I was an alum, and I had said nothing about my own interest in history. But when he said this, I asked him what was his favorite history book. It became clear that while he had good grades, AP scores and the like, he had not read anything but the textbooks as he went along in history, and no one had ever handed him a history book and encouraged him to read it. It seems likely that he never had to do a serious history paper either, or he would have had to read a history book or two.

Victor Henningsen, head of the history department at Phillips Academy at Andover, said (quote from Education Week article “Respected Journal Rates Student History Papers” 3/14/2001)...“There’s no substitute for the thrill that comes from choosing a topic of your own, and wrestling with a mass of evidence to answer a question that you’ve posed to craft your own narrative and your own analysis. We’ve been teaching kids to write research papers here for a long time. Kids don’t remember the Advanced Placement exam, but they do remember the papers that they’ve written, and so do I.”

Since 1987, I have been the editor of The Concord Review, a quarterly journal of history research papers by high school students. We have published 528 [1,176 in 2015] papers (average 5,000 words with endnotes and bibliography) [2015 averaging 7,400 words] by students from 42 [44] states and 33 [40] other countries. During that time, out of some 22,000 public and private high schools in the United States we are sent about 600 essays a year from which we publish eleven in each of four quarterly issues. That means that more than 21,000 high schools do not send even one history essay for consideration. While this does not prove that good long history essays are not being written at those schools, which may not know about The Concord Review, it is not an encouraging sign, in my view.

 I have only anecdotal evidence for what teachers are expecting in their high school history classes instead of research papers. I met once with the head of a history department at a public high school in New Jersey, who is very active in the National Council for History Education, and I asked him why he never sent in papers from his best students. His reply was that he didn’t have his students do history research papers any more. He had them do PowerPoint presentations and write historical fiction instead. I asked the now retired head of history at Scarsdale High School in New York why, when he had three subscriptions to The Concord Review, he still never sent any papers to be considered. He said that he didn’t assign history research papers any more, but after the AP History exam he held the Trial of James Buchanan for his part in the coming of the U.S. Civil War, and then had the students write their responses to that instead. A valedictorian (first in her class) at a high school on Long Island wrote me, when I published her essay on the Women’s Christian Temperance Union, to say that she felt weak in expository writing, because, in her words, “I attend a school where students are given few opportunities to develop their talents in this field (it is assumed students will learn how to write in college).”

I feel quite confident in saying that on the college side there is the expectation that students will learn at least the rudiments of a research paper while they are still in high school, and college humanities professors are routinely surprised (slow learners) when they find that this has not happened for their students.

Creative writing now rules at the high school (and earlier) levels in many cases. The director of the Expository Writing Program at Harvard College has said she thinks in fact that high school students do not get enough chances to write about their feelings, relationships, anxieties, hopes and dreams and that they really shouldn’t be pushed to work on history research papers until college. The National Writing Project at Berkeley, which teaches hundreds of teachers how to write about themselves each year, teaches a postmodern approach to what they call “literatures” (their quotes) and never comes within a mile of considering that students could use some work on their research skills or their nonfiction expository writing.

I have actually seen what high school students can do, and it is more like the following excerpt from an essay published in the journal (more examples are at (2015 current average length 7,400 words):

This passage concluded an essay written by a Junior in a public high school. She went on to major in civil engineering at Princeton, got a Ph.D. in earthquake engineering at Stanford and is now an assistant professor of engineering at Cornell:

                 “As is usually the case in extended, deeply-held disagreements, no one person or group was the cause of the split in the woman suffrage movement. On both sides, a stubborn eagerness to enfranchise women hindered the effort to do so. Abolitionists and Republicans refused to unite equally with woman suffragists. Stanton and Anthony, blinded for a while by their desperation to succeed, turned to racism, pitting blacks and women against each other at a time when each needed the other’s support most. The one thing that remains clear is that, while in some ways it helped women discover their own power, the division of forces weakened the overall strength of the movement. As a result of the disagreements within the woman suffrage movement, the 1860s turned out to be a missed opportunity for woman suffragists, just as Stanton had predicted. After the passage of the 15th Amendment, they were forced to wait another 50 years for the fulfillment of their dream.”

 The final point is that high school kids are fully capable of writing long serious history papers and they will get a lot out of doing so, both in reading nonfiction and in learning to write nonfiction. These days too many students are not being given the chance, and colleges continue to have to do what they see as remedial work in nonfiction expository writing.

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Tuesday, September 22, 2015


Studying History through the lens of The Concord Review research papers

I homeschool my son in California.  Our family has been reading and enjoying The Concord Review (TCR) History research papers for nearly two years now. This year, my son (who is a History buff) asked if he could use TCR for his History studies.  I was surprised at first but quickly realized that this would help him customize his study.

The Concord Review has published more than 1,000 serious History research papers, on a very wide variety of topics, by high school students from 44 states and 40 other countries since it started in 1987.

During the summer of 2015, I started looking at the myriad History study choices we had in the form of TCR research papers from various time periods of History. My son picked his top ten favorite research papers from the truly amazing TCR list and we were ready to roll.

Instead of learning History by Empire or Nation or even time period, my son wanted to conduct a comprehensive study by reviewing TCR articles in addition to reading the primary sources mentioned within the TCR research papers.

For my part, I chose to support his love for History by pairing his beloved TCR papers with podcasts, documentaries, museum visits etc.

I do not know how this experiment will play out but I do know that it is entirely kid-driven and we’re both excited to dive into it wholeheartedly. If you would like to contact me about this exciting TCR-focused course of study, please feel free to email me at

I would like to take this opportunity to thank Will Fitzhugh for his enthusiastic support and commitment to TCR. [;]

Arvinder Oswal

Wednesday, September 9, 2015



Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
9 September 2015

The College Board and Atlantic Magazine, recently joined their forces to lower standards for academic expository writing in the English-speaking world. Although their efforts did not match in scope and daring those of groups like InBloom, Amplify, and others, they persuaded 3,000 secondary students to meet their contest guidelines. They asked for papers of less than 2,000 words, on a single document, and published the “winner,” a piece from a student in New Zealand on the benefits of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech for better relations with the Maori.

High School students interested in being published in The Concord Review—the only journal in the world for the history papers of secondary students—must understand that their serious academic history research papers could not meet the guidelines for The College Board and Atlantic Magazine. Essays in the Fall 2015 issue, for example, (#106), averaged 7,400 words in length, with endnotes and bibliography, not on one speech, but on dozens of sources—books, articles, and others. Their topics included the Tape v. Hurley case in California, Abraham Lincoln’s changing attitudes about Christianity, Margaret Sanger’s fights with feminist groups of her day, Augustus’ imperial cult in Rome, varying identities among the Manchus in the Qing Dynasty, the records of women in combat in ancient Greece and China, relations among Nietzsche, Wagner and Mahler, the influence of Friedrich Hegel, Footbinding in China, the denial about AIDS in the South African government, and the development of the Socialist Parties in France.

Clearly, they were not limited to a single document or prevented from writing a paper longer than 2,000 words, as The College Board and Atlantic Magazine demanded for their submissions. Some years ago one of The Concord Review’s authors wrote:

"I am extremely honored in having my paper on Chinese Communism published in the The Concord Review. I truly thank you for providing the wonderful opportunity and motivation for students like me passionately to pursue research and history.

"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 and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.]

"Choosing the topic of Chinese Communism was not difficult. As I briefly mentioned in my biographical information, my own Chinese heritage greatly influenced me to study this subject. My own family past has been touched by the often scarring effects of Communism. For instance, my paternal great-grandmother—the wife of a landlord—was a victim of the Communists’ “authorized” land redistribution. Like many members of China’s property classes, she and my grandmother were thrown off their land and survived the next few years by begging on the streets. From the chaotic Cultural Revolution to the outrageous Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, I have often been told firsthand of the devastating effects of Communism. From all of these background experiences, a singular and upsetting question emerged in my mind: if Communism has had so many damaging effects on the Chinese people, why and how did it succeed in taking over the country in the first place? As in many cases, only the past provided the answers. It was the determination to find them that empowered me to write this paper.

"Furthermore, by choosing a topic so intimate to my own family background, I was able to experience history on a new and more exciting level. Exploring places and events which once had involved my own ancestors gave history an almost magical sense of life and vivacity. All in all, writing this paper has definitely been a rewarding experience in every way. By exploring China during the 1930s and 1940s, I am now better able to understand and bond with my grandparents (who have been constantly impressed—and a bit surprised—that their American granddaughter can tell them the exact route of the Long March).

"Next year, I will be attending Columbia University as a John Jay National Scholar—an honor given to incoming students who demonstrate a variety of achievements and independence in thinking. I plan to major in Economics-Political Science and/or East Asian Studies. Given Columbia’s excellent humanities departments, I cannot imagine a better choice for me. Needless to say, I am very excited about starting my college career, one that will no doubt be happily filled with many history classes and continued research."

Fortunately, this young lady was better prepared for college because she did not have to shrink her research and her academic expository writing in history to the dumbed-down requirements of The College Board and Atlantic Magazine. Nevertheless, by asking for and publishing the short paper they made their “winner,” these two organizations have only limited the academic horizons of the many secondary students they have been able to reach with their “contest.” Other students have been able to read, see, or hear of The Concord Review, and they know there is a place with the high academic standards that more than 1,000 of their peers from 41 countries have met since 1987, and quite a few of them still decide that they would like to meet those standards for themselves.

Will Fitzhugh

Friday, August 21, 2015


     You may have seen the movie, Babette’s Feast, about the Frenchwoman in difficult financial circumstances who has to leave Paris and seek lodging with two older sisters in a small village, for whom she agrees to cook. One of the sisters is patient enough to teach her how to soak in water the dried fish which is the staple of their diet, explaining kindly, while showing her the technique, “Soak, soak.”

    And you know that at the end it becomes apparent, thanks to the accident of Babette winning a lot of money in the lottery, that this boarder who has been trying in little ways to vary the diet of the sisters, has in fact been, in happier times, the head chef at one of the principal restaurants in Paris, famous for her dishes among those who know fine dining in that city of gourmands. 

    As she uses her winnings to prepare one last elegant meal that none of them will ever forget, we can’t help but be reminded of those early days, in which, without any comment, she accepted the instruction set: “Soak, soak...”

    I thought of this the other day when I read about students in summer programs at the Johns Hopkins Institute for the Advancement of Academic Youth in Baltimore. In The Boston Globe the article said: “Students from 21 states and 15 foreign countries—some as young as seventh grade—devour full-year high school courses in the arts, history, math, science and languages in only three weeks. For a rare few, a normal nine-month curriculum is absorbed in seven days.”

    These students are our Babettes, perhaps, and when they return to our regular classrooms, they will not be surprised to hear us say, in a nice way, “Soak, soak,” as we try to help them stand a two-semester curriculum that some might be able to master fairly easily in a week. 

    If the most gifted students can finish a full year’s high school course in seven days, and the next brightest in three weeks, we might wonder whether even some of our slower students are being unduly restrained in their seats by our need to fill 180 school days with something to keep them off of the streets and generally out of trouble...

    We could stand to admit that the ways in which we dumb down and slow down our curriculums in fact do a lot to cause the excess boredom, tardiness, absences, and even dropping out that we see too frequently in our high schools, not to mention the students who decide that they want to stay in school but, given the glacial mindlessness of the challenges presented to them, they can easily work 30 hours a week, get paid, and waste their money (and their time) on CDs, video games, clothes, cars, and shoes...

    How much are we doing to drive all of our students, not just the gifted (unusually bright) ones, to distraction because we have done so much to lower our expectations for them? The United States Marine Corps has, for many years, working with some of these same teenagers, managed to convince them that both the curriculum and the Drill Instructor merit their very closest attention and their very best efforts, and many high school coaches achieve a similar degree of focus among their charges.

    In our classrooms, however, most researchers now report finding disaffection, anomie, boredom, napping, efforts to change the subject, and other evidence of the absence of real challenge for our students. The teachers often do feel challenged, sometimes even overwhelmed, but that is not really the point of the exercise. 

    Albert Shanker liked to tell the following story about Jaime Escalante (The Best Teacher in America): It appears that after Mr. Escalante moved to Sacramento from East Los Angeles where he had made his name, the local press was very interested in the success of this teacher about whom a movie had been made. They were thrilled to find a ninth-grade girl who said he was a bad teacher. “Tell us!” said the media. And she reported that when she had a problem with something in algebra and went to him, he kept her after school for several days and brought her in on a Saturday morning. “And what happened!?” said the media. “Well, I finally got how to do it,” she said, “but he didn’t teach me anything. All he did was make me work!”

    How many Babettes do we face who would like us to make them work and let them shine?   

[Will Fitzhugh]

Thursday, July 30, 2015


Education News, Houston, Texas

Philologisticalistic Experts (HS English Departments)

July 30, 2015 by Will Fitzhugh EducationViews Contributor

When it comes to Words, our High School English Departments are the Rulers. They dominate reading and writing, partly because the other departments—including the History and other Social Studies departments—don’t want to assign book reports or term papers and they certainly don’t want to read and grade them.

The English Word Experts are supported in this by the K-12 Literacy World, which never saw a student history research paper they could not ignore. Everywhere you look, reading and writing mean fiction, and for fiction, the Literacy World is adamant that the responsibility for that belongs to English (English Language Arts) Departments. 

College professors and employers, with near unanimity, complain about the nonfiction reading, research, and writing abilities of the young people they work with. Talking to the schools and/or the Literacy World about their concerns is just exactly like talking to a dead phone. They cannot hear what they are being told.

Students are not lobbying, in most cases, for the chance to write a serious 5,000-6,000-word term paper, and only later will they face the consequences of their lack of preparation. 

Since 1987, The Concord Review has published 106 issues, with 1,165 history research papers by secondary students from 44 states and 40 other countries. The average length of the eleven papers in the Winter issue last Fall was 7,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography. Some of those papers came from International Baccalaureate schools, which still require an Extended Essay for the full Diploma. Some came from private schools, where faculty (and parents) still expect students to write at least one serious term paper before college.

Many of the papers lately have been from an Independent Study, or from Summer programs, like the Stanford Summer Humanities Institute and the TCR Summer Program for high school students ( But in general, our public high schools, in my experience, even including an exam school like Boston Latin School, not only do not assign serious term papers, they also do not even want students to see the exemplary work that has been published by their peers, so that they cannot be inspired by them to work harder on reading history and on writing research papers themselves.

Thanks to the Web, more and more students are finding such examples anyway, and they take advantage of them. (e.g. One example of hundreds:


   “Thank you so much for publishing my essay on the Irish Ladies’ Land League in the Spring issue of The Concord Review. I am honored that my writing was chosen to appear alongside such thoughtful work in your journal.

    “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. A week before a paper was due, I would visit the local university library, check out all available books on my assigned topic and write as articulate a summary as possible. Such assignments are a useful strategy for learning to build a coherent argument, but they do not teach students to appreciate the subtleties and difficulties of writing good history. Consequently, few students really understand how history is constructed.

    “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? In the words of Carl Becker, 

History in this sense is story, in aim always a true story; a story that employs all the devices of literary art (statement and generalization, narration and description, comparison and comment and analogy) to present the succession of events in the life of man, and from the succession of events thus presented to derive a satisfactory meaning.
    “Flipping through my note cards, the ideas began to fit themselves together in my mind. I was not certain, but there was an excitement in being forced to think rigorously; in wrestling with difficult problems I knew I could not entirely solve. 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.”

Emma Curran Donnelly Hulse
[North Central High School, Indianapolis, Indiana
and Columbia University]


Let’s do make an effort to free our high school students from the English Department/Fiction-Only Monopoly, and allow them to be inspired, by the serious academic expository writing of their peers, to attempt real term papers themselves, before they go on, as most now do, to find themselves both unprepared and a Literacy Problem for their professors and their future employers.

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review

Monday, July 27, 2015


He had a term for people like this: temporal provincials—people who were ignorant of the past, and proud of it. Temporal provincials were convinced that the present was the only time that mattered, and that anything that had occurred earlier could be safely ignored. The modern world was compelling and new, and the past had no bearing on it.

Studying history was as pointless as learning Morse code, or how to drive a horse-drawn wagon. And the medieval period—all those knights in clanking armor and ladies in gowns and pointy hats—was so obviously irrelevant as to be beneath consideration.

Yet the truth was that the modern world was invented in the Middle Ages. Everything from the legal system, to nation-states, to reliance on technology, to the concept of romantic love had first been established in medieval times. These stockbrokers owed the very notion of a market economy to the Middle Ages. And if they didn’t know that, then they didn’t know the basic facts of who they were. Why they did what they did. Where they had come from.

Professor Johnston often said that if you didn’t know history, you didn’t know anything. You were a leaf that didn’t know it was part of a tree.

Crichton, Michael (2003-11-04). Timeline: A Novel (p. 71).
Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.
[Michael Crichton graduated summa cum laude from Harvard College. His MD was from Harvard Medical School]

Wednesday, July 22, 2015


Postmodernist history, one might say, recognizes no reality principle, only the pleasure principle—history at the pleasure of the historian. To appreciate its full import, one should see it in the perspective of what might be called “modernist” history, now generally known as “traditional” history.

Modernist history is not positivist, in the sense of aspiring to a fixed, total, or absolute truth about the past. Like postmodernist history, it is relativistic, but with a difference, for its relativism is firmly rooted in reality. It is skeptical of absolute truth but not of partial, contingent, incremental truths. More important, it does not deny the reality of the past itself. Like the political philosopher who makes it a principle to read the works of the Ancients in the spirit of the Ancients, so the modernist historian reads and writes history in that spirit, with a scrupulous regard for the historicity, the integrity, the actuality of the past. He makes a strenuous effort to enter into the minds and experiences of people in the past, to try to understand them as they understood themselves, to rely upon contemporary evidence as much as possible, to intrude his own views and assumptions as little as possible, to reconstruct to the best of his ability the past as it “actually was,” in Leopold von Ranke’s celebrated and now much derided phrase.

Like modernist literature and art, modernist history is an exacting discipline, requiring a great exercise of self-restraint, even self-sacrifice. The greatest of modernist poets, T. S. Eliot, once said, “The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality.” And so it is with the historian, who strives constantly to transcend his own present in order to recapture the past, to suppress his own personality in order to give life to generations long dead. This self-sacrifice is all the greater because the historian is well aware that his effort will never entirely succeed, that the past will always, to some degree, elude him.

Himmelfarb, Gertrude (12-15-2010).
On Looking Into the Abyss: 

Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society
(Kindle Locations 2213-2228). 

Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, June 22, 2015


Content is History

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review 

22 June 2015

Not too long ago, when people were talking about putting content back into education, so that we would have "content-based" education, I remember wondering at the time, "Who took the content out of education? When did this happen? After it was removed, what was left?" With the new APUSH standards, I now have a better answer to the last question. Skills have taken the place of content. Content, after all, can be such a pain. What if someone asks you something and you don't know what they are talking about? Now you can just say "I was educated in critical thinking skills, and we moved far beyond content in my day." Another advantage is that with the content largely removed, the hard work of choosing what the content of a curriculum should be no longer needs to be faced (addressed).

A couple of years ago, at a Pioneer Institute conference in Boston, David Steiner, then the Commissioner of Education in New York State, responded to a question about History in the schools by saying, "History is so politically toxic no one wants to touch it." This may in part be a legacy of the anti-American UCLA National History Standards back in the day, and the vigorous fight over them, but now I think we are facing a deeper fear of knowledge itself, not just a fear of Historical knowledge.

Who can say any more what History students should know? Doesn't every group, every family, ever person even, have their own History? And aren't they important? So how can we be so discriminatory as to choose to teach some History and not some other History?

Beyond that, the deconstructionists have taught us that we can know nothing anyway, so why try to teach History? I had an amusing experience as a high school History teacher once. I had been saying that I thought we ought to be teaching important events, the accomplishments of great individuals, the pursuit of truth, and like that. My department chairman, a philosophy teacher, later came over to me and said, in the most compassionate way possible: "You know, Will, there is no Truth." This took a while to sink in, and it was only later that I thought I should have said to him: "Is that True?!?"

Trotsky said that you may not be interested in War, but War is interested in you. That might be said of History as well. David Coleman and company are trying their darnedest to turn History in the schools into exercises of the New Criticism, so that, laying aside any Historical context, it becomes possible (and desirable) to study Abraham Lincoln’s speeches, and other passages from History [no one is suggesting that high school students read an actual complete History book—except me], not for their meaning, impact, or relevance at the time, but rather for their tone, metaphor, simile, diction, and other categories of literary criticism. These techniques can be applied, and, it is argued, should be applied, to any Historical document, to relieve students of any need to know any Historical facts, and enable them to enjoy their exercise of the technical skills of New Critical Literary Analysis.

Kieran Egan of Simon Fraser University in Vancouver, BC, in Children’s Minds, Talking Rabbits & Clockwork Oranges, [Teachers College Press, 1999] wrote that: “When history becomes an agent of socializing, it begins to develop a different aim from that which distinguishes history as an academic discipline. The aim of history as a discipline is to come to understand the past on its own terms and, in its uniqueness, as far as possible. However difficult, or indeed impossible, the ideal achievement of this aim, it is what the discipline of history is about...We can’t do anything to history, except not use it....”

So David Coleman et al, taking this as advice not to use history, as it were, decided to limit our students’ knowledge of the History of their country with APUSH, and to mix what they do offer with a general bashing of western civilization, but in spite of their best efforts to perpetuate student ignorance and to teach them to be ashamed of their own country, History isn't going to go anywhere. We are not working for Big Brother, yet.

Often people find that they are more interested in History as they have lived through more of it, and that will not change. The new APUSH standards may sustain the ignorance of many students for a little longer, and may lead many to think, for a while, that they should despise this country, but that effect will wear off as they experience more of life. The College Board can do quite a bit of harm, of course, but it will not last. Curiosity, and History, and even Patriotism (remember that?) will yet have their day here...

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

Interview with Michael Shaughnessy

Samantha Wesner, 21 May 2015

1) Samantha, could you first tell us a bit about yourself, your education and experiences?

I grew up attending public schools in Texas and, after age ten, New York. I learned to read at age four and read rapaciously as a young kid. I read much less after entering a high school whose good academic ratings hinged on a rigorous math and science program. The U.S. history research paper I describe in my guest blog post here was a game-changer—it made me re-evaluate what I, a high school student, wanted to do and could do. In college, I majored in history with a studio art minor, and took enough French to be able to read primary source documents for a senior thesis on Enlightenment France. While a student, I worked at Houghton, Harvard's rare book library. I also worked in publishing before coming to The Concord Review.

2) I understand that you have taken over the editorship of The Concord Review. However did this come about?

I was keen on finding a job where I could do meaningful work, preferably at the intersection of history, publishing, and education. So The Concord Review seemed a good fit. When the job interview ended, I walked away with a copy of the journal in hand. The eleven student essays inside were wonderful. The mission of the Review—to recognize exemplary student work and to promote the history research paper—was beyond exciting for me, a young graduate whose high school history research experience had been formative. I have since become the journal's managing editor while Will Fitzhugh remains its editor.

3) The Concord Review has, for years, produced some of the finest writing from high school students from around the world. How do you hope to keep up the fine work of Will Fitzhugh?

Will Fitzhugh has done incredible work, not least in seeing the need for The Concord Review and establishing it as the standard-bearer for academic writing in high school. The Concord Review invented the niche it occupies in publishing and education. To our knowledge, it is the only journal of its kind in the world. We currently have a steady flow of submissions. Will has curatorial prerogative—after an initial screening, he selects eleven exceptional essays for each issue from a pool of hundreds.

Part of what I personally would like to do is simply to get the word out so more students know of the opportunity. I am confident that there are students out there who might take on the challenge of an in-depth research paper if they knew about The Concord Review. And the experience of seeing an extensive project through to fruition is invaluable to a student whether or not the result is published.

4) On to the writing issue—why is there so little writing expected in the high schools across America?

Writing is not easy. It is time-consuming; it requires focus, effort, and mental stamina. It's also not instantaneously gratifying. Probably one of the most tired clich├ęs out there at this point is that the internet is responsible for shorter attention spans and weakened abilities to focus in those of us who grew up in a digital age—myself included. Whether or not that is true, the rise of 140 characters, Buzzfeed-style lists that staid news organizations have begun to emulate, tl;dr mentality, etc. make your average 6,500-word Concord Review essay look not only prodigious, but academic beyond reach. There’s also a perception that history and academic writing are not as crucial to a student’s so-called career-readiness or even college-readiness as are other fields and skills.

The intractable problem of time and resource allocation is another important factor. Many teachers are already struggling under a heavy load, some with more than 100 students to teach. Many simply do not have the time to read, grade, and give feedback on extensive research papers. Moreover, there is so much history to cover that it’s hard to squeeze a long assignment in without short-changing curricular obligations. Even a writing assignment that receives no written feedback, however, has enormous educational value. And depending on the school district, there might be a space for a research paper if, say, school ends in late June while AP history tests are scheduled for early May. Still, this obstacle is a significant one and cannot be ignored.

5) Even more bluntly, why is there so little writing in colleges and universities?

I don’t think I know enough about the state of writing in colleges and universities to offer an informed answer. I do know, however, that writing experience is cumulative. The more writing students do in high school, the better prepared they are to tackle college writing assignments. So it follows that if writing assignments have fallen out of favor at the high school level, college freshmen are less prepared for college-level writing. Perhaps colleges adjust their course offerings accordingly, or perhaps students are less inclined to take classes in which major term papers will be assigned.

6) I think this is blatantly obvious, but why is a Power Point or Prezi Presentation no substitute for a well written, well researched term paper?

Presentations and papers exercise different skill sets. Both have the potential to prompt deep thinking on a historical subject. In my opinion, having to write a paper often encourages a greater degree of understanding of a topic than creating a powerpoint presentation does. Writing forces the transformation of nebulous thoughts, arguments, and interpretations into coherent sentences in a way that a typing out a bullet point next to an image doesn’t.

A paper takes time to craft. Writing slows things down to a pace at which connections and insights have more of a chance to present themselves. It can keep a student honest about what he or she really understands. A student in the middle of a research paper might think: Hmm, I can’t formulate this sentence in a way that sounds clear. Maybe I’m not understanding this issue as well as I need to. In a powerpoint scenario, the same student might just type out a few words and be done with it. The difficulties would come later, during the presentation, at which point there’s no chance to go back to the research phase and learn more. In writing, thoughts have to go from half-formed to fully-formed.

7) Let's divide up writing and researching. How can schools develop better writers, and how can the schools develop better scholarly researchers?

In terms of research, I would advocate library-class partnerships. Students should have at least a class period devoted to learning about the research tools they can access at the school library, including digital resources. A standard list of resources can give students something to grasp when they’re starting their research. Students should also learn about Chicago or Turabian citations, since if they submit to The Concord Review, or take a history class in college, that know-how will be important. It can be as easy as showing students the Chicago-Style Citation Quick Guide—available for free online at:

As for writing, there is no substitute for practice. But at least a baseline of writing instruction is crucial in that it provides a vocabulary with which to talk about writing—thesis statements, introductions, conclusions, body paragraphs, and the rest. Examples of other students’ writing, whether by way of peer review or sample essays (those published in The Concord Review, for example), are also useful. They can help a student feel less alone in what is a often a solitary endeavor.

8) Where can people get more information? Do you have a web site?

Anyone interested in The Concord Review should stop by our site,, or find us on Facebook. Will Fitzhugh and I also welcome inquiries by email or by phone:;; (978) 443-0022.

If you’re interested in reading the journal or using it with students in the classroom, we offer online and print subscriptions. Our subscribers receive 44 fascinating, in-depth, historical monographs per year, on topics ranging from the Greek lawgiver Solon to the Savoy Ballroom. Individual essays can also be ordered through our website ( Of course if you know a history teacher, be sure to let him or her know about this opportunity for his or her students. And if you are a history teacher, encourage your students to research, write, and submit their history research papers to us!