Friday, April 16, 2021

WILLIAM HARVEY

Living in Vein
Remember the man who invented modern medicine.


review of William Harvey A Life in Circulation
by Thomas Wright, Oxford, 2013


Joshua Gelernter
The Weekly Standard, September 16, 2013, Vol. 19, No. 2

Science doesn’t make a splash in the news too often. But a year or so ago, when the CERN labs announced that they might have observed the “God particle,” everyone got very excited. A year of peer-review later, it appears they were right: After a 50-year search, the Higgs boson has been found. 


“God particle” is a silly, press-hype sort of name; but finding the Higgs boson is, genuinely, a big deal. It confirms the existence of the Higgs field, the hitherto-theoretical field that imbues objects with mass. Understanding mass will help us understand gravity and time, and all the other sundry, interconnected pieces of physics. It’s a big step towards understanding why the world works the way it does.

 
Finding the Higgs boson means that the knowledge-for-knowledge’s-sake reservoir is filling up. And the reservoir’s high-water mark is owed mostly to the accumulated work of a few dozen big minds belonging to men everyone’s heard of: Newton and Einstein, Mendel and Darwin, Watson and Crick, and so forth. But none of their discoveries would have happened if controlled-experiment, cause-and-effect science hadn’t taken over from the Aristotelian method of anecdotal deduction. That switch happened 300 years ago, when a man named William Harvey discovered that blood circulates—and accidentally invented hard science. 


Harvey was born in 1578 to Thomas Harvey, a yeoman landowner in Kent, England. The elder Harvey’s ambition in life was to have successful sons, so he packed his firstborn William off to Cambridge to become a physician. College life around the turn of the 17th century was no picnic: Harvey slept in an unheated attic with three other students and was roused by a bell at 4 a.m. so that he could be at church by 5, at class by 6, and in class till 10 at night. 


Despite the conditions, Harvey thrived as a student and won the Matthew Parker Scholarship, the first medical scholarship ever awarded in England. It required its beneficiary be “able, learned, and worthy” and not be “deformed, dumb, lame, maimed, mutilated, sick, invalid, or Welsh.” Harvey advanced rapidly, excelling in his studies and dominating the thesis-defense shows called “disputations.” At disputations, teams of students would debate each other in “smooth, vivid, masculine” Latin. Harvey was the master arguer of his college and sometimes ended his matches by shouting “Tuo gladio jugulabo!” (“Now I will slit your throat with your own [rhetorical] sword!”) The crowds that turned out to watch these disputations would cheer him like a king returning from victory. After a few terms embarrassing his Cambridge peers, he set off for Europe’s finest school of medicine, the University of Padua.


Padua was a big change from the stringency of Cambridge. In the early 1600s, Englishmen regarded Italy as the world capital of atheism and debauchery; Padua worked hard to prove them right. Hordes of students waded through the manure-filled streets to duel each other, Tybalt-style. Drunken doctoral candidates would rampage through shops and monasteries, smashing things; monks and shopkeepers would riot and try to set the university and its students on fire. Even the anatomy lectures that had drawn Harvey from Cambridge were in on the chaos, featuring dissections of freshly killed Paduans pilfered from open-casket funerals.
 

Despite the anarchy, the university assembled a faculty featuring some of the generation’s great minds (Galileo was head of the mathematics department), and the experience set Harvey down a path that would change the world of science. And the world, generally.


In Harvey’s time, all medicine was based on the work of the Greek philosopher Galen, who had been dead for 1,400 years. Galen believed that health depended on the balance of the four humors—yellow and black bile, blood, and phlegm—and that the heart’s role was to keep the humors regulated. Blood, he thought, came from the liver. Doctors disputing Galen’s work were rare: Contradicting Galen was a good way to get blacklisted, and inductees of the College of Physicians in London swore an oath never to speak disrespectfully of him. But at wild and crazy Padua, one of Harvey’s teachers cut open a heart and observed that Galen had made a mistake in describing one of the chamber walls as porous. A small mistake, it appeared, and Galen’s reputation at large remained untarnished. In Harvey’s eyes, however, the veneer of infallibility had been cracked.


William Harvey, M.D., left Padua in 1602, returned to England, joined the College of Physicians, took the respect-for-Galen oath—and began to conduct private experiments in a home laboratory. His curiosity had been roused: It was time, he decided, to reexamine the heart’s functions, through a series of impartial, Galen-free experiments.

 
According to Galen, the heart, after receiving blood from the liver, heated and distributed it throughout the body, where it was absorbed by muscle. But when Harvey began vivisecting animals, he noticed that the heart wasn’t so much receiving blood as it was sucking it in with forceful expansions. And he noticed—in his eureka! moment—that the heart pumps out a whole lot of blood—much more, he was certain, than the body could possibly absorb. If the blood wasn’t being absorbed, it was being recycled; so blood wasn’t being distributed and used up, it was being circulated. Harvey was forced to conclude that the world of medicine—the entire philosophy of the humors—was based on a false premise.


Of course, since no one wanted to hear that every physician in Europe misunderstood the human body (and no one was willing to take Harvey’s word over Galen’s), Harvey had to make his conclusions undeniable. So, in effect, he went on tour, performing experiments for everyone to see. It took 10 years to perfect the demonstration, but he made his point, and changed medicine. He also made a bigger point that changed science: The way to prove something is to show it to be true. Reproducible, Harvey-style experimentation has been the standard ever since.


And for all his hard work, courage, and brilliance, which shaped the modern world and gave birth to the practice of medicine that has prolonged millions of lives, William Harvey is remembered today by just about no one. He is not revered, like Einstein and Darwin; he is never mentioned in high school curricula; and no one would credit him as the ancestor of the Higgs boson discovery. But William Harvey: A Life in Circulation is an important step towards setting this injustice straight.




Friday, April 9, 2021

SECRET POLICE

Throughout 1945 and 1946, the Eastern European coalition provisional governments would therefore try, more or less, to create economic policy in tandem with other politicians. They would try, more or less, to tolerate the churches, some independent newspapers, and some private business, all of which were for a time allowed to develop spontaneously and idiosyncratically. But there was one glaring exception to that tolerance. Everywhere the Red Army went, the Soviet Union always established one new institution whose form and character always followed a Soviet pattern. To put it bluntly, the structure of the new secret police force was never left up to chance, circumstance, or local politicians to determine. And although there were some differences in timing and style, the creation of the new secret police forces followed remarkably similar patterns across Eastern Europe.

    In their organization, methods, and mentality, all of the Eastern European secret police forces were exact copies of their Soviet progenitor: Poland’s Secret Police (Urzad Bezpiecżeństwa, or UB), Hungary’s State Security Agency (Államvédelmi Osztály, or ÁVO), and East Germany’s Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit, or later Stasi, the name by which it is now best known). So was Czechoslovak State Security (Státní bezpečnost, or StB). The latter was organized, in the words of the Czech communist leader Klement Gottwald, so as “to best make use of the experience of the Soviet Union.” The same could be said of every secret police force in every country in Eastern Europe.

Anne Applebaum, (2012). Iron Curtain: The Crushing of Eastern Europe, 1944-1956 (66). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, April 1, 2021

POSTMODERNS

 VII Postmodernist History 

For the historian, as for the philosopher, the quarrel between the Ancients and the Moderns is being superseded by a quarrel between the Moderns and the Postmoderns. If the great subversive principle of modernity is historicism—a form of relativism that locates the meaning of ideas and events so firmly in their historical context that history, rather than philosophy and nature, becomes the arbiter of truth—postmodernism is now confronting us with a far more subversive form of relativism, a relativism so radical, so absolute, as to be antithetical to both history and truth.*For postmodernism denies not only suprahistorical truths but historical truths, truths relative to particular times and places. And that denial involves a repudiation of the historical enterprise as it has been understood and practiced until very recently. 

Postmodernism (or poststructuralism—the terms are by now used interchangeably—or “porno,” as it is familiarly called in academic circles and computer networks) is best known as a school of literary theory. But it is becoming increasingly prominent in such other disciplines as history, philosophy, anthropology, law, and theology (and in architecture, where it has a more specialized meaning). Its forefathers are Nietzsche and Heidegger, its fathers Derrida and Foucault; that the latter have vigorously disputed each other does not diminish the enthusiasm of disciples who find them equally congenial and compatible. From Jacques Derrida postmodernism has borrowed the vocabulary and basic concepts of “deconstruction”: the “aporia” of discourse, the indeterminacy and contrariness of language, the “fictive” and “duplicitous” nature of signs and symbols, the dissociation of words from any presumed reality. From Michel Foucault it has adopted the idea of power: the “power structure” immanent not only in language—the words and ideas that “privilege” the “hegemonic” groups in society—but in the very nature of knowledge, which is itself an instrument and product of power. 

The combined effect of these doctrines is to impugn traditional rational discourse as “logocentric,” “phallocentric,” “totalizing,” “authoritarian.”* In literature, postmodernism amounts to a denial of the fixity of any “text,” of the authority of the author over the interpreter, of any “canon” that privileges great books over lesser ones.

In philosophy, it is a denial of the fixity of language, of any correspondence between language and reality—indeed, of any “essential” reality and thus of any proximate truth about reality. In law (in America, at any rate), it is a denial of the fixity of the Constitution, of the authority of the founders of the Constitution, and of the legitimacy of law itself, which is regarded as nothing more than an instrument of power. In history, it is a denial of the fixity of the past, of the reality of the past apart from what the historian chooses to make of it, and thus of any objective truth about the past. 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.

Gertrude Himmelfarb, (2010). On Looking Into the Abyss: Untimely Thoughts on Culture and Society (Vintage) (Kindle Locations 2188-2215). Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, March 25, 2021

CHURCHILL 1938

All is over. [1938] Silent, mournful, abandoned, broken, Czechoslovakia recedes into the darkness. She has suffered in every respect by her associations with France, under whose guidance and policy she has been actuated for so long….

I find unendurable the sense of our country falling into the power, into the orbit and influence of Nazi Germany, and of our existence becoming dependent upon their goodwill or pleasure. It is to prevent that that I have tried my best to urge the maintenance of every bulwark of defence—first, the timely creation of an Air Force superior to anything within striking distance of our shores; secondly, the gathering together of the collective strength of many nations; and, thirdly, the making of alliances and military conventions, all within the Covenant, in order to gather together forces at any rate to restrain the onward movement of this power. It has all been in vain. Every position has been successively undermined and abandoned on specious and plausible excuses.

I do not grudge our loyal, brave people, who were ready to do their duty no matter what the cost, who never flinched under the strain of last week, the natural, spontaneous outburst of joy and relief when they learned that the hard ordeal would no longer be required of them at the moment; but they should know the truth. They should know that there has been gross neglect and deficiency in our defences; they should know that we have sustained a defeat without a war, the consequences of which will travel far with us along our road; they should know that we have passed an awful milestone in our history, when the whole equilibrium of Europe has been deranged, and that the terrible words have for the time being been pronounced against the Western democracies: “Thou art weighed in the balance and found wanting.” And do not suppose that this is the end. This is only the beginning of the reckoning. This is only the first sip, the first foretaste of a bitter cup which will be proffered to us year by year unless, by a supreme recovery of moral health and martial vigour, we arise again and take our stand for freedom as in the olden time.

Winston Spencer Churchill (2010-07-01).
The Gathering Storm 1947 (Winston Churchill World War II Collection)
(293-294). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, March 16, 2021

CARRIED AWAY 1993

 

“Getting Carried Away With History”

Marcia Reecer, American Educator, [AFT] Winter 1993/1994, pp. 19-23


“Wanted: Essays for a history quarterly devoted to the work of students.” Will Fitzhugh has been putting out calls like this since 1987 when he embarked on the first issue. One of the few magazines that prints only the work of students—and the only one that specializes in scholarly articles—the Review has published essays from as far away as Tasmania and Singapore, but most come from American high school students.


You might not know this if you picked up the magazine—or read it. It is all type, including the cover, and has the old-fashioned (some might say stuffy) look of a scholarly journal. But there is nothing stuffy about the articles. They are lively, straightforward explorations of ideas and events that obviously fascinated the writers. One of Will Fitzhugh’s favorite stories is about the officer of a foundation who, having turned down the Review’s application for financial support, glanced at one of the essays. Before he knew it, he had read the whole 150-page issue [386 pages in Summer 2020 issue].


Fitzhugh got the idea for The Concord Review when he was teaching history at Concord High School in Concord, Massachusetts. Every year there were a couple of students who really got into the long essays he assigned them. They caught fire, and for these kids, it was no longer a question of how many pages they were supposed to produce or the number of books required for their reference list. The subject took over, and the students were hungry to find out all they could. 


But when the essays came in, Will Fitzhugh was struck by how little he could do to recognize their excellence. Of course, he could give the writers As, and that was important, but it didn’t seem commensurate with what they had accomplished. There must be some other and better way to recognize this kind of achievement. Also, he reflected that if his students wrote essays like this, there must be lots of kids all over the country doing similar things. And so The Concord Review was on its way [1987]. The idea was neat and obvious—the way a lot of the best ideas are: Give high school students a vehicle for publishing their excellent history essays and an audience of their peers. 


What kinds of articles appear in The Concord Review, and who writes them? Fitzhugh asks for 4,000-6,000-word essays, but he has accepted ones that are shorter [and longer ones up to 14,000 words]…Essays are sent in by students from private and public schools (about fifty-fifty), and American history is the most popular subject. Some writers try to answer difficult questions about recent history. For example: Was the United States soft in its treatment of Nazis after World War II? What were the origins of U.S. involvement in Vietnam? Is U.S. immigration policy traditionally racist? Others go for constitutional issues or topics in social history, or the implications of historical movements or events. The essays vary in quality—the way they do in any magazine—but the general level is extraordinarily high. 


It is no surprise that The Concord Review has gotten a lot of praise. Al Shanker devoted two of his “Where We Stand” columns (New York Times) to it, and Will Fitzhugh has gotten warm letters from famous names in education like Theodore Sizer and Diane Ravitch as well as from teachers and students from all over the world. The Review has been called a hopeful sign—in the midst of much gloom—of what our kids can accomplish. And many people have noted its relevance to proposed education reforms. It is right in line with the idea of performance-based assessments. And, at a time when there is talk about setting standards for excellence by locking some people in a room and asking them to define excellence, The Concord Review demonstrates what high standards are in the most concrete way possible: It shows the kind of work that pre-college students can do—and are doing.


Perhaps most important is the assumption it makes about writing. Writing is, or is supposed to be, a way of telling an audience something you want them to know. But it’s all too easy for students to think of writing as an assignment, a sort of trick they perform for the teacher. In fact, the way writing is taught often encourages this attitude, and as John Bruer points out in Schools for Thought, his book on cognitive psychology and learning, even the best students often suffer from it. In making the assumption that students can produce serious and excellent pieces of writing based on intellectual work they have done, the Review demonstrates a simple and elegant way to get around the destructive practice of treating student writing like exercises.


But how relevant is all this to the real world of what goes on in most classrooms? How many American students write long essays? And if they did, how many teachers in this country would have time to grade the essays, much less supervise kids as they did the research and the writing? Unfortunately, there is a lot of substance to these questions.


The simplest response is that the thousands of students who take AP history every year are working to a standard comparable to the one represented by the Review, and every AP history class must produce essays as good as the ones Will Fitzhugh got from his students in Concord High School. Giving these kids a chance to read The Concord Review would show them what students their own age can do and give them a standard and a reward to aim for. 


To respond on a more fundamental level, The Concord Review may seem to have little relevance for the many students in our high schools who can’t even produce a good paragraph. But if we believe in high standards for all our students—not just the ones who are currently doing excellent work—the standard the Review sets has a great deal of long-term relevance.


In a speech given to the Urban League, its president, John Jacob, said that instead of lowering our ideas of what students can do, we must raise them and demand high academic performance of every student. Among the specific standards Jacob mentioned is that every African-American student, and in fact every student, be required to write a 25-page paper in order to graduate from high school. And Al Shanker sees The Concord Review as a possible catalyst in this effort. Why not, he says, organize large school districts to work toward producing special issues of the Review. This would take a number of years, but it would focus resources and attention where they’re really needed—toward getting students to work and think and write.


In the meantime (and to come back to planet Earth), The Concord Review is in financial trouble, despite its soundness and promise. Will Fitzhugh has never had the money to promote it properly. As a result, his subscription list is too small to support the magazine. And, though the number of teachers who know about the Review and use it as a teaching tool and submit their excellent student essays grows year by year, it is smaller than it should be. Will the magazine fold after this year? So far, Will Fitzhugh has found a way to scrape together the money for each issue, but each issue could be the last.


Fitzhugh remarks that we have many ways of rewarding and encouraging excellence in non-academic areas like sports but few in academic areas, and he likes to compare the idea behind The Concord Review to the Westinghouse science competition. Perhaps his magazine for kids who love history—and love to write it—will find a well-heeled corporation to offer it long-term support. Fitzhugh hasn’t given up hope, but a financial angel, however important, wouldn’t take the place of what he’s really after—a bunch of faithful subscribers and a flood of papers by kids who can hardly wait to tell other kids what they’ve discovered about Oliver Cromwell or the Harlem Renaissance or the sinking of the Titanic or glasnost or…


Marcia Reecer, Ph.D. [Bryn Mawr], is assistant director in the Office of the President of the American Federation of Teachers. She has been an elementary, high school and college teacher.

Thursday, March 11, 2021

CULTURE WATCH 1996

 CULTURE WATCH
Volume 1, Number 3, August 1996
A publication of Capital Research Center

Why doesn’t a journal for the best high school history papers have support
from groups professing an interest in the future of education?

by Laurence Jarvik

When Will Fitzhugh quit teaching high school history in Concord, Massachusetts nine years ago to start The Concord Review, he didn’t know that it would be so difficult to find backers for his venture. The premise for his quarterly publication was simple: to publish the best history papers by public and private high school students in the United States so that teachers and students would have access to examples of excellence. High standards for writing history could be encouraged by learning by example. Fitzhugh, a graduate of Harvard Colllege (Class of 1960), thought that there would be a natural demand among teachers for his effort to publicize essays written by the “best and the brightest.” He was surprised when his request for funding was turned down by 125 foundations, the Department of Education, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Fitzhugh cashed in his retirement account and put one hundred thousand dollars of his own money into The Concord Review, whose first issue appeared in 1988. What Fitzhugh did not realize was that while he was pursuing teaching history in the public high schools, the field of academic history was changing. The lifelong Democrat had become an unknowing participant in the culture wars. The rejections he received from foundations and government agencies were the results of a paradigm shift which preferred group identity to individual merit. “Sometimes they tell me they are only interested in the work of minority students,” Fitzhugh recalled, “and sometimes they say they cannot see the value of supporting the work of just a few good youngsters.” Fitzhugh’s position that minority students are “welcome to contribute their work” and to be judged on the basis of its excellence fell on deaf ears.

That Fitzhugh’s journal would be caught up in the controversy over politically correct high school history came as a surprise. When the National Standards for United States History were released in 1994, they listed The Concord Review among approved “teaching resources for United States history”…as “an exceptional teaching tool modeling outstanding essays research (sic) and written by high school students…Recommended for grades 9-12.” Two essays were featured in a special January, 1995 Concord Review as the best of the year. Neither could be considered conservative. Aaron Einbond, a sophomore at New York City’s elite public Hunter College High School, contributed a study of John Maynard Keynes based on citations from liberal economists John Kenneth Galbraith and Robert Lekachman. Pia Lindstrom Luedtke, a sophomore at the private Polytechnic School of Pasadena, offered a feminist interpretation of the career of architect Julia Morgan entitled “Blueprint for Social Change.” The high-schooler had already enjoyed one official seal of approval: in 1993 Luedtke received a $1,900 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities through the NEH Younger Scholars Program to write her essay over summer vacation. Other essays published in The Concord Review included accounts of baseball’s Negro Leagues, women’s suffrage, President Woodrow Wilson’s vision of the League of Nations, the role of women in the French Revolution, and a critique of Frederick Jackson Turner based on the work of liberal historian Richard Hofstadter. The Concord Review also published essays on the development of the Ferris Wheel and the power loom and an analysis of how Abraham Lincoln and Jefferson Davis continue the debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. A glance at issues provided to Culture Watch shows little in the way of what might be characterized as conservative history: for example, the legacy of conservative statesmen, scientists, businessmen, intellectuals, military history, or criticism of leftist historical figures or trends.

Fitzhugh is a colorful character. The son of a prominent Boston physician, at the age of two Fitzhugh moved to Arizona with his mother after his parents divorced. Graduating from a boarding school in Menlo Park, California after winning a prize by answering 1,000 questions correctly (the first time a student had done so in 17 years), he went to work as a lumberjack. Fitzhugh entered Harvard in 1956 after his father brought him back East with an offer to pay his tuition. He graduated in 1962 with an English degree, spent a year doing graduate work in English literature at Cambridge University, and in 1964 went to work for the Apollo space program preparing charts used in the construction of the Command Module. This led to a job with Pan Am as a management trainee. Fitzhugh returned to Cambridge, Massachusetts where he obtained a master’s degree in education from Harvard. After jobs with the Peace Corps (which sent him to Iran), Westinghouse, and Polaroid, Fitzhugh went into teaching, first working as a guidance counselor and, in 1978, as a social studies teacher at Concord High School [CCHS]. He started The Concord Review to give recognition to good students, “the ones who’re doing better than we think they are.” In its first year the magazine had subscribers in 14 states, and soon had support from Harold Howe, a Harvard professor and Commissioner of Education in the Johnson administration, and Chester Finn, Assistant Secretary of Education in the Reagan administration. Finn gave Fitzhugh $10,000 from the Fordham foundation. Howe wrote letters to 15 foundations on his behalf.

A traditional liberal approach to history—narratives of great men, nations and ideas—is not in keeping with trends in political correctness sweeping education. Against his will, Fitzhugh is being pushed into the conservative camp. His notion that The Concord Review is a form of “varsity academics” [now a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.] is offensive to advocates of the new pedagogy. The very educational nostrums that brought Fitzhugh to Harvard in 1956 from a logging camp are now considered obsolete and elitist. The new view of history is instrumental, and high school history has become a kind of sensitivity training. Robert Lerner, Althea K. Nagai, and Stanley Rothman have called the process Molding the Good Citizen (Prager, 1995) in their review of the politics of high school history texts. They point out that civil rights groups, feminists, peace activists and environmentalists have all “sought to change the school in specific ways to bring about a new social order.” Because Fitzhugh’s journal does not pretend to fight oppression by race, class and sex, its purpose is suspect. “It used to be the people on both sides of the aisle thought standards were a good idea,” Fitzhugh told Culture Watch. “Now anybody who thinks reading and writing and doing homework is a good idea is considered a conservative.’

[Will Fitzhugh is at fitzhugh@tcr.org; and The Concord Review at tcr.org
Varsity Academics® is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.]

Wednesday, March 3, 2021

PRUDENCE

 “The things that are now before us,” said the Princess, “require attention, and deserve it. What have I to do with the heroes or the monuments of ancient times—with times which can never return, and heroes whose form of life was different from all that the present condition of mankind requires or allows?”


“To know anything,” returned the poet, “we must know its effects; to see men, we must see their works, that we may learn what reason has dictated or passion has excited, and find what are the most powerful motives of action. To judge rightly of the present, we must oppose it to the past; for all judgment is comparative, and of the future nothing can be known. The truth is that no mind is much employed upon the present; recollection and anticipation fill up almost all our moments. Our passions are joy and grief, love and hatred, hope and fear. Of joy and grief, the past is the object, and the future of hope and fear; even love and hatred respect the past, for the cause must have been before the effect.


“The present state of things is the consequence of the former; and it is natural to inquire what were the sources of the good that we enjoy, or the evils that we suffer. If we act only for ourselves, to neglect the study of history is not prudent. If we are entrusted with the care of others, it is not just. Ignorance, when it is voluntary, is criminal; and he may properly be charged with evil who refused to learn how he might prevent it. 


“There is no part of history so generally useful as that which relates to the progress of the human mind, the gradual improvement of reason, the successive advances of science, the vicissitudes of learning and ignorance (which are the light and darkness of thinking beings), the extinction and resuscitation of arts, and the revolutions of the intellectual world. If accounts of battles and invasions are peculiarly the business of princes, the useful or elegant arts are not to be neglected; those who have kingdoms to govern have understandings to cultivate. 


“Example is always more efficacious than precept.
A soldier is formed in war, and a painter must copy pictures. In this, contemplative life has the advantage. Great actions are seldom seen, but the labours of art are always at hand for those who desire to know what art has been able to perform. 


“When the eye or the imagination is struck with any uncommon work, the next transition of an active mind is to the means by which it was performed. Here begins the true use of such contemplation. We enlarge our comprehension by new ideas, and perhaps recover some art lost to mankind, or learn what is less perfectly known in our own country. At least we compare our own with former times, and either rejoice at our improvements, or, what is the first motion towards good, discover our defects.”

Samuel Johnson, The History of Rasselas, Prince of Abissinia [1759] [Kindle Edition].

ACTION CIVICS

From the perspective of the 2018 framework, nations, cultures, religions, and civilizations are out. The categories that matter instead are oppressor and oppressed.


The Washington Examiner

by Stanley Kurtz

February 25, 2021 11:00 PM
 
Winning control of both houses of Congress and the White House had Democrats pondering ways to secure national dominance, whether that be by pushing to add Washington, D.C., and Puerto Rico as states or abolishing the Electoral College. But one tactic hasn’t received nearly as much attention as it deserves: the manipulation of civics education.

Required adventures in “action civics,” student protest and lobbying for course credit, will eventually be paired with a push to lower the voting age to 16 or 17, an idea Democrats have already broached at the national level but that can be done more easily, at least for certain elections, by state legislatures.

Massachusetts is ground zero for the effort to foist leftist “action civics” onto the rest of the country. That effort is led by a Cambridge-based nonprofit organization called iCivics, assisted by influential academic centers for newfangled “civics” at Harvard and Tufts. Generation Citizen, an action-civics nonprofit group with a long-standing presence in Massachusetts, is another key player.

In 2018, this coalition managed to gut the highly regarded Massachusetts K-12 standards on the history of America, the West, and the world while putting oppression-obsessed curriculum standards in their place. The coalition’s crowning achievement, however, was to introduce an “action civics project” into the Bay State’s K-12 standards at two points, eighth grade and high school. In practice, the supersized Massachusetts action-civics requirement was a way of turning leftist political protest into homework.

The Massachusetts action-civics coalition is about to go national under the name "Educating for American Democracy." Once Joe Biden’s Department of Education dangles carrots in the form of federal dollars, while brandishing regulatory sticks, red states will be alternately seduced and pressured into requiring the supposedly bipartisan and respectable practice of “action civics,” a term few people have even heard of.

The adoption of statewide requirements in action civics will invite America’s overwhelmingly leftist teacher corps to import its politics into the classroom. A wave of federal funding for “civics” will spread the leftist curricula backed by centers such as Harvard and Tufts to red states and will establish required teacher certification programs in leftist action civics at the same schools of education now churning out woke radicalism. Under the guise of restoring traditional civics, the red states will have been hoodwinked into subsidizing, and even requiring, the political hijacking of their own children.

Let us have a look, then, at what is about to be touted nationally as the Massachusetts civics miracle. It is, in reality, the Massachusetts civics fiasco.

Over the decade from 1993 to 2003, Massachusetts developed what was widely acknowledged to be a first-rate curriculum framework in history and social science, the product of a bipartisan “grand bargain” between Republican Gov. William Weld and a Democratic legislature. The Massachusetts history standards were held up by many as a national model, yet they were not without controversy. Sandra Stotsky, the administrator responsible for developing the 2003 Massachusetts history framework, proudly owned that it was “not a politically correct document,” by which she meant that it avoided a double standard in which only the West could be criticized.....

...At this point, iCivics joined the fray. Founded by Justice Sandra Day O’Connor to teach civics via video games, iCivics had a centrist reputation. Under the leadership of Louise Dube, however, the group now turned sharply to the left. Dube joined with Generation Citizen and the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation to form the Massachusetts Civic Learning Coalition, the alliance that would lead the fight for a new civics law, and for a radically redesigned history framework as well. Dube met frequently with legislators to pressure them on controversial matters like action civics. Her special focus, though, was running administrative coordination and input on replacement of the 2003 history framework. The history curriculum that emerged under Dube’s influence in 2018 was a leftist professor’s dream.

In the new Massachusetts curriculum, the story of the West was whittled away, picked apart, and scattered into “optional” modules that effectively killed it off. Positive points about the West and unflattering facts about non-Western societies were removed or reduced to insignificance. The abuses of the Chinese Cultural Revolution highlighted by the 2003 framework, for example, now went unmentioned. The story of the Puritans and their New England descendants was drowned out by an extraordinary amount of required detail on the depredations suffered by Native Americans. The central thread of American history was lost. In 2018, Boston’s conservative-leaning think tank the Pioneer Institute published “No Longer a City on a Hill: Massachusetts Degrades Its K-12 History Standards,” a scathing and perceptive critique of the History and Social Science Curriculum Framework approved earlier that year under the influence of Dube and her coalition.....

Thursday, February 18, 2021

SCHELDT ESTUARY

The sudden seizure of Antwerp may have been a severe blow to the German high command, but over the following days, when the British Second Army failed to secure the north side of the Scheldt estuary, General von Zangen managed to establish defence lines. These included a twenty-kilometre-wide redoubt on the south side of the mouth of the Scheldt called the Breskens pocket, the South Beveland peninsula on the north side and the island of Walcheren. His force soon mustered 82,000 men and deployed some 530 guns which prevented any attempt by the Royal Navy to approach the heavily mined estuary.

Admiral Sir Bertram Ramsay, the Allied naval commander-in-chief, had told SHAEF and Montgomery that the Germans could block the Scheldt estuary with ease. And Admiral Sir Andrew Cunningham, the First Sea Lord, warned that Antwerp would be ‘as much use to us as Timbuctoo’ unless the approaches were cleared. General Horrocks, the corps commander, later admitted his own responsibility for the failure. ‘Napoleon, no doubt, would have realized this,’ he wrote, ‘but I am afraid Horrocks didn’t.’ But it was not the fault of Horrocks, nor of Roberts, the commander of the 11th Armoured Division. The mistake lay with Montgomery, who was not interested in the estuary and thought that the Canadians could clear it later.

It was a massive error and led to a very nasty shock later, but in those days of euphoria generals who had served in the First World War convinced themselves that September 1944 was the equivalent of September 1918. ‘Newspapers reported a 210-mile advance in six days and indicated that Allied forces were in Holland, Luxembourg, Saarbrücken, Brussels and Antwerp,’ wrote the combat historian Forrest Pogue. ‘The intelligence estimates all along the lines were marked by an almost hysterical optimism.’ The eyes of senior officers were fixed on the Rhine, with the idea that the Allies could leap it in virtually one bound. This vision certainly beguiled Eisenhower, while Montgomery, for his own reasons, had become besotted with it.

Antony Beevor, Ardennes 1944 (14-15). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, February 15, 2021

LENINGRAD TEACHERS

None of the children who continued to go to school died, but several of the teachers did. The last section of the Famine Scrapbook, introduced by a title page with a decorative funeral urn painted in purple watercolour, was written by Tikhomirov, the headmaster. It was a series of obituary notes of the teachers who were either killed in the war or had died of hunger. The assistant headmaster was “killed in action.” Another was “killed at Kingisepp,” in that terrible battle of Kingisepp where the Germans broke through towards Leningrad from Estonia. The maths teacher “died of hunger”; so did the teacher of geography. Comrade Nemirov, the teacher of literature, “was among the victims of the blockade,” and Akimov, the history teacher, died of malnutrition and exhaustion despite a long rest in a sanatorium to which he was taken in January. Of another teacher Tikhomirov wrote: “He worked conscientiously until he realised he could no longer walk. He asked me for a few days’ leave in the hope that his strength would return to him. He stayed at home, preparing his lessons for the second term. He went on reading books. So he spent the day of January 8. On January 9 he quietly passed away.” What a human story was behind these simple words!

I have described conditions in Leningrad as I found them in September 1943, when the city was still under frequent and often intense shell-fire. This shelling continued for the rest of the year, and it was not till January 1944 that the ordeal of Leningrad finally ended. During the previous weeks a large Russian armed force was transferred under cover of night to the “Oranienbaum bridgehead” on the south bank of the Gulf of Finland; and this force, under the command of General Fedyuninsky, struck out towards Ropsha, where it was to meet the troops of the Leningrad Front striking towards the south-west. During that first day of the Russian breakthrough no fewer than 500,000 shells were used to smash the German fortifications. About the same time, the Volkhov army group also came into motion, and, within a few days, the Germans were on the run, all the way to Pskov and Estonia. On January 27, 1944, the blockade officially ended.


Alexander Werth, Russia at War, 1941–1945: A History. Skyhorse Publishing. Kindle Edition.

Friday, February 12, 2021

READING FOR KNOWLEDGE

 [The association of language arts mainly with fiction and poetry is an accident of recent intellectual history that is not inherent in the nature of things.]

For many years, the great reading researcher Jeanne Chall complained that the selections offered in language arts classes did not provide students with the knowledge and language experiences they need for general competence in reading. She observed that far too much time was being spent on trivial, ephemeral fictions and far too little on diverse nonfictional genres. In the two decades since Chall entered this complaint, little has changed. Most current programs still assume that language arts is predominantly about "literature," which is conceived as poems and fictional stories, often trivial ones meant to be inoffensive vehicles for teaching formal skills. Stories are indeed the best vehicles for teaching young children—an idea that was ancient when Plato reasserted it in Republic. But stories are not necessarily the same things as ephemeral fictions. Many an excellent story is told about real people and events, and even stories that are fictional take much of their worth from the nonfictional truths about the world that they convey.

The association of language arts mainly with fiction and poetry is an accident of recent intellectual history that is not inherent in the nature of things. Older American texts that were designed to teach reading, such as the McGuffey Readers, contained moral tales and historical narratives as well as fictional stories (not that we should go back to the McGuffey Readers, which have many shortcomings). Ideally, a good language arts program in the early grades will contain not only fiction and poetry but also narratives about the real worlds of nature and history. Ideally, such a program will fit in with and reinforce a well-planned overall curriculum in history, science, and the arts. The recent finding that word learning occurs much faster in a familiar context implies that the overall program should stay on a subject-matter domain long enough to make it familiar. As we've seen, such integration of content in reading and subject-matter classes will serve simultaneously to enrich background knowledge and enlarge vocabulary in an optimal way.

That fictional stories can convey factual and moral truths is the traditional ground for defending their value and importance in education. The truth-telling and knowledge-enhancing aspect of fiction is emphatically just as important as the aspect of fiction and poetry that stimulates children's imaginations. The romantic idea that literature should mainly nurture the imagination fits in well with the generally romantic flavor of early childhood education in the United States today. I do not wish to appear in any way hostile to developing children's imaginations. But the second- and third-rate fictions that are too often presented to children in the early grades are far less stimulating to their imaginations than classical stories and well-presented narratives about the real world.

We need to reconceive language arts as a school subject. In trying to make all students proficient readers and writers, there is no avoiding the responsibility of imparting the specific knowledge they will need to understand newspapers, magazines, and serious books directed at the national language community. There is no successful shortcut to teaching and learning this specific knowledge. Those who develop language arts programs at the school level or in publishing houses must understand that the skills they wish to impart are in fact knowledge-drenched and knowledge-constituted. The happy consequence will be reading programs that are much more absorbing, enjoyable, and interesting than the disjointed, pedestrian programs offered to students today.

E.D. Hirsch, The Knowledge Deficit: Closing the Shocking Education Gap for American Children. 2006 Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, February 9, 2021

ERASING HISTORY

 
What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction. A number of the Times which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also, were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of forgery was to be committed; always the reference was to slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the interests of accuracy.

But actually, he thought as he readjusted the Ministry of Plenty's figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connection with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head. For example, the Ministry of Plenty's forecast had estimated the output of boots for the quarter at a hundred and forty-five million pairs. The actual output was given as sixty-two millions. Winston, however, in rewriting the forecast, marked the figure down to fifty-seven millions, so as to allow for the usual claim that the quota had been overfulfilled. In any case, sixty-two millions was no nearer the truth than fifty-seven millions, or than a hundred and forty-five millions. Very likely no boots had been produced at all. Likelier still, nobody knew how many had been produced, much less cared. All one knew was that every quarter astronomical numbers of boots were produced on paper, while perhaps half the population of Oceania went barefoot. And so it was with every class of recorded fact, great or small. Everything faded away into a shadow-world in which, finally, even the date of the year had become uncertain.

George Orwell, 1984 (125-126). Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.

Saturday, February 6, 2021

TERMAN STUDY

Back in the early twentieth century, for example, Professor Lewis M. Terman of Stanford University launched a research project that followed 1,470 people with IQs of 140 and above for more than half a century. Data on the careers of men in this group—from an era when full-time careers for women were less common—showed serious disparities even within this rare group, all of whom had IQs within the top one percent.

Some of these men had highly successful careers, others had more modest achievements, and about 20 percent were clearly disappointments. Of 150 men in this least successful category, only 8 received a graduate degree, and dozens of them received only a high school diploma. A similar number of the most successful men in Terman’s group received 98 graduate degrees—more than a tenfold disparity among men who were all in the top one percent in IQ.

Meanwhile, two men who were tested in childhood, and who failed to make the 140 IQ cutoff level, later earned Nobel Prizes in physics—while none of those men with IQs of 140 and above received a Nobel Prize in any field. Clearly, then, all the men in Terman’s group had at least one prerequisite for that extraordinary achievement—namely, a high enough IQ. And, equally clearly, there must have been other prerequisites that none of the hundreds of these men with IQs in the top one percent had.

As for factors behind differences in educational and career outcomes within Terman’s group, the biggest differentiating factor was in family backgrounds. Men with the most outstanding achievements came from middle-class and upper-class families, and were raised in homes where there were many books. Half of their fathers were college graduates, at a time when that was far more rare than today.

Among those men who were least successful, nearly one-third had a parent who had dropped out of school before the eighth grade. Even extraordinary IQs did not eliminate the need for other prerequisites.

Thomas Sowell, Discrimination and Disparities (3). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Friday, February 5, 2021

"CHANGE" MANTRA

 The czars in Russia, the shah of Iran, the Batista regime in Cuba, were all despotic. But they look like sweethearts compared to the regimes that followed. For example, the czars never executed as many people in half a century as Stalin did in one day. Even the best countries must make changes and the United States has made many economic, social, and political changes for the better. But that is wholly different from making “change” a mantra. To be for or against “change” in general is childish. Everything depends on the specifics. To be for generic “change” is to say that what we have is so bad that any change is likely to be for the better. Such a pose may make some people feel superior to others who find much that is worth preserving in our values, traditions and institutions. 

The status quo is never sacrosanct but its very existence proves that it is viable, as seductive theoretical alternatives may not turn out to be. Most Americans take our values, traditions and institutions so much for granted that they find it hard to realize how much all these things are under constant attack in our schools, our colleges, and in much of the press, the movies and literature. 

There is a culture war going on within the United States—and in fact, within Western civilization as a whole—which may ultimately have as much to do with our survival, or failure to survive, as the war on terrorism. There are all sorts of financial, ideological, and psychic rewards for undermining American society and its values. Unless some of us realize the existence of this culture war, and the high stakes in it, we can lose what cost those Americans before us so much to win and preserve.

Thomas Sowell, The Thomas Sowell Reader (7). Basic Books. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

RUSSIA 1937

In Russia we have a vast, dumb people dwelling under the discipline of a conscripted army in war-time; a people suffering in years of peace the rigours and privations of the worst campaigns; a people ruled by terror, fanaticisms, and the Secret Police. Here we have a state whose subjects are so happy, that they have to be forbidden to quit its bounds under the direst penalties; whose diplomatists and agents sent on foreign missions, have often to leave their wives and children at home as hostages to ensure their eventual return. Here we have a system whose social achievements crowd five or six persons in a single room; whose wages hardly compare in purchasing power with the British dole; where life is unsafe; where liberty is unknown; where grace and culture are dying; and where armaments and preparations for war are rife.

Here is a land where God is blasphemed, and man, plunged in this world’s misery, is denied the hope of mercy on both sides of the grave—his soul in the striking, protesting phrase of Robespierre, ‘no more than a genial breeze dying away at the mouth of the tomb!’ Here we have a power actively and ceaselessly engaged in trying to overturn existing civilizations by stealth, by propaganda, and when it dares, by bloody force.

Here we have a state, three millions of whose citizens are languishing in foreign exile, whose intelligentsia have been methodically destroyed; a state nearly half-a-million of whose citizens, reduced to servitude for their political opinions, are rotting and freezing through the Arctic night; toiling to death in forests, mines and quarries, many for no more than indulging in that freedom of thought which has gradually raised man above the beast. Decent, good-hearted British men and women ought not to be so airily detached from realities, that they have no word of honest indignation for such wantonly, callously-inflicted pain.

Winston S. Churchill, Great Contemporaries, 1937 (Winston S. Churchill Essays and Other Works) (58-59). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, January 26, 2021

FAREWELL ADDRESS

 “An informed patriotism is what we want,” Ronald Reagan said toward the end of his Farewell Address as President in January 1989. “Are we doing a good enough job teaching our children what America is and what she represents in the long history of the world?” Then he issued a warning:

“Those of us who are over 35 or so years of age grew up in a different America. We were taught, very directly, what it means to be an American. And we absorbed, almost in the air, a love of country and an appreciation of its institutions. If you didn’t get these things from your family you got them from your neighborhood, from the father down the street who fought in Korea or the family who lost someone at Anzio. Or you could get a sense of patriotism from school. And if all else failed you could get a sense of patriotism from the popular culture. The movies celebrated democratic values and implicitly reinforced the idea that America was special. TV was like that, too, through the mid-sixties.

“But now we’re about to enter the [1990s], and some things have changed. Younger parents aren’t sure that an unambivalent appreciation of America is the right thing to teach modern children. And as for those who create the popular culture, well-grounded patriotism is no longer the style….We’ve got to do a better job of getting across that America is freedom—freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom of enterprise. And freedom is special and rare. It’s fragile. It needs protection.

So, we’ve got to teach history based not on what’s in fashion but what’s important—why the Pilgrims came here, who Jimmy Doolittle was, and what those 30 seconds over Tokyo meant. You know, four years ago on the 40th anniversary of D-Day, I read a letter from a young woman writing to her late father, who’d fought on Omaha Beach…She said, ‘we will always remember, we will never forget what the boys of Normandy did.’ Well, let’s help her keep her word. If we forget what we did, we won’t know who we are. I’m warning of an eradication of the American memory that could result, ultimately, in an erosion of the American spirit.”

Imprimis, December 2020, 6-7

Monday, January 25, 2021

THE MEMORY HOLE

As soon as Winston had dealt with each of the messages, he clipped his speakwritten corrections to the appropriate copy of the Times and pushed them into the pneumatic tube. Then, with a movement which was as nearly as possible unconscious, he crumpled up the original message and any notes that he himself had made, and dropped them into the memory hole to be devoured by the flames. What happened in the unseen labyrinth to which the pneumatic tubes led, he did not know in detail, but he did know in general terms. 

As soon as all the corrections which happened to be necessary in any particular number of the Times had been assembled and collated, that number would be reprinted, the original copy destroyed, and the corrected copy placed on the files in its stead. This process of continuous alteration was applied not only to newspapers, but to books, periodicals, pamphlets, posters, leaflets, films, sound tracks, cartoons, photographs—to every kind of literature or documentation which might conceivably hold any political or ideological significance. Day by day and almost minute by minute the past was brought up to date. In this way every prediction made by the Party could be shown by documentary evidence to have been correct; nor was any item of news, or any expression of opinion, which conflicted with the needs of the moment, ever allowed to remain on record. 

All history was a palimpsest, scraped clean and reinscribed exactly as often as was necessary. In no case would it have been possible, once the deed was done, to prove that any falsification had taken place. The largest section of the Records Department, far larger than the one on which Winston worked, consisted simply of persons whose duty it was to track down and collect all copies of books, newspapers, and other documents which had been superseded and were due for destruction. A number of the Times which might, because of changes in political alignment, or mistaken prophecies uttered by Big Brother, have been rewritten a dozen times still stood on the files bearing its original date, and no other copy existed to contradict it. Books, also, were recalled and rewritten again and again, and were invariably reissued without any admission that any alteration had been made. Even the written instructions which Winston received, and which he invariably got rid of as soon as he had dealt with them, never stated or implied that an act of forgery was to be committed; always the reference was to slips, errors, misprints, or misquotations which it was necessary to put right in the interests of accuracy. But actually, he thought as he readjusted the Ministry of Plenty's figures, it was not even forgery. It was merely the substitution of one piece of nonsense for another. Most of the material that you were dealing with had no connection with anything in the real world, not even the kind of connection that is contained in a direct lie. Statistics were just as much a fantasy in their original version as in their rectified version. A great deal of the time you were expected to make them up out of your head.

George Orwell, 1984, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. Kindle Edition.


Tuesday, January 12, 2021

COLLEGE READINESS

The John William Pope Center for Higher Education Policy
Raleigh, North Carolina


Clarion Call
“Windows on College Readiness”

By Will Fitzhugh
October 26, 2006


The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a report called “Reclaiming the American Dream.” The study was intended to find out how to get more U.S. high school students prepared for and through college.

Much of the report is about getting kids to go to college, and it finds that if there is enough money provided, and if parents, peers, counselors and teachers say going to college is important, more high school students are likely to go.

The major weakness of the report, in my view, is its suggestions for the kind of high school work that will help students to do college work and to graduate.

One of the concluding statements is that “Inertia is particularly difficult to overcome when people are unaware that a problem exists or that the potential for solving it is real.” What a useful insight. What they recommend for high school students is “a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.” What could be wrong with that?

Two very simple and basic things are wrong with that. Current “college preparatory” curricula, including AP courses, do not include the reading of complete nonfiction books or the writing of serious research papers.

That is almost as if we had a crisis in preparing high school football players for success in college and recommended a standard preparation program which did not give them practice in running, blocking and tackling. ACT found last spring that 49 percent of the high school students it tested could not read at the level of college freshman texts. And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey in which 90 percent of college professors thought high school students were not well prepared in reading, writing and doing research. A true college education requires reading serious books and writing substantial papers—although many schools have watered their requirements down. High school students should be ready for in-depth study.

If high school football players haven’t done much blocking or tackling in high school, no one would expect them to play well in college, but somehow we expect high school students in a college preparatory program which includes no nonfiction books and no real research papers to do well with college reading lists and with college term paper assignments.

In my state, Massachusetts, 34 percent of the students who go to state four-year colleges are in remedial classes, according to The Boston Globe. Those students had the expectations, support, access and aspiration for the college dream, but when they got there, they were not ready to do the work.

The Gates report says that “the high school environment needs to provide students with high expectations and strong teaching...” but without any real focus on students’ independent academic reading and writing, that environment doesn’t do the job of preparing students for college work.

If we want students to be able to read and understand college books and to write research papers there, then we must give students a chance to learn how to do that in a ”rigorous college preparatory program” in high school. But that is not happening, and just about no one is paying attention to the fact that it is not happening.

The inertia in this case that is “particularly difficult to overcome” is the exclusive focus on what teachers do and what courses cover in textbooks. There must be more attention to the actual academic work that students are required to do—at least in the humanities. Perhaps in mathematics and the sciences, some students are really doing the kind of academic work that prepares them, but in the world of academic reading (nonfiction books) and academic writing (serious research papers), most schools badly serve their students. This report, like so many others, completely misses that.

The Business Roundtable reported in 2004 that their member companies were spending more than $3 billion each year on remedial writing courses for both salaried and hourly employees, so even many of our college graduates may not have achieved a very satisfactory level of academic competence in reading and writing these days. With so many ill-prepared students coming into college, many professors have taken the path of least resistance and watered down their courses.

Our high school programs for students who hope to succeed in college and beyond should require them to write extended essays and papers which are rigorously graded. They should also require students to read at least one serious complete nonfiction book every year. While this may be beyond the prevailing and generally feeble educational standards of the moment, if we don’t do it, most U.S. high school students will continue to be unprepared for higher education.


Will Fitzhugh (fitzhugh@tcr.org) is the founder of The Concord Review; www.tcr.org; Varsity Academics@ is a registered trademark of The Concord Review, Inc.;
Teach with Examples

Monday, January 4, 2021

ACADEMIC FITNESS

Education News: Houston, Texas

Academic Fitness


A few years ago I was at a conference of a few hundred History/Social Studies educators, consultants, etc. at the Center for the Study of the Senate in Boston. I was introduced, as The Concord Review and I had recently been the subjects of an op-ed column in The Boston Globe.

After several presentations and some discussion of History/Social Studies in the schools, I asked the question: “Is there then a consensus that high school students are incapable of reading a complete History book?” No one objected to that suggestion.

We have talked for several decades about “Varsity Academics®” and we now have that as a trademark. We have wanted to call attention to the possibility that work on academic expository writing in History could be seen as parallel to the work that goes into preparing a young athlete to be accepted on varsity sports teams in high school. 

We still think that academic writing should start at about the same time as Little League and Pop Warner, giving students years to learn more about and to get better at term papers, especially in History. 

We are now claiming a need for the same long-term preparation for academic reading, so that high school seniors, instead of being judged incapable, in advance, of reading a complete History book, would turn out to be quite capable of doing so, as a result of many years of serious nonfiction reading at growing levels of difficulty, during their school years. 

At present, most of the focus in our schools is on writing that is personal or creative, and that has led to widespread incompetence in academic expository writing. Similarly what students are asked to read is mostly fiction, leading to incompetence in managing actual History books. These disabilities can be remedied by the regular development of academic fitness, in nonfiction reading and writing, especially in History, all through the years in school.


Will Fitzhugh

The Concord Review

tcr.org