Thursday, December 30, 2021


The bacterium Yersinia pestis, bubonic plague, originated in China and had long lived harmlessly in the burrows of marmots and gerbils on the Tibetan plateau. Highly unstable climatic conditions, at their worst in the 1340s, caused changes in the disease and its hosts, and it spread to rats, rat fleas and humans. It was carried to the frontiers of Europe by Mongol armies, whose attack on a Genoese outpost in the Crimea led to the first recorded outbreak of the plague in Europe in 1346, the year of the English victory over France at Crécy. The disease reached Constantinople in 1347, and arrived in Weymouth in a ship from Gascony in May 1348. It was probably now being carried by humans and their fleas and lice, and was thus readily transmissible between people, which explains its rapid spread along established communication routes: from Weymouth to Bristol, Ireland, and up the Severn into the Midlands; then in the autumn from the east-coast ports into East Anglia.

During 1349 it crept across the whole island, averaging a mile or more a day. Soon after it arrived came the first deaths. Two weeks after that, the disease reached epidemic proportions: “Many died of boils and abscesses, and pustules on their legs and under their armpits; others frantic with pain in their head, and others spitting blood.” It was almost universally explained as a divine punishment for sin. The disease was unknown in Europe, so natural immunity was low, and 80 percent of those contracting it died, some within hours. The mortality rate was highest for the vulnerable, already weakened by a succession of harvest failures. Children, pregnant women and the elderly were particularly hit. So were the poor, living in more verminous housing, badly fed and clothed, and without servants to look after them once they were ill. So were carers—women and priests. But no earls died, and only one of the royal family.

Where entire households or communities were struck down, the direct effects of disease would be worsened by absence of basic care and by economic paralysis. In England, as across Europe, perhaps half the population died. Some communities were wiped out—in the manor of Wakefield it was noted that “the vill of Shelf is dead.” In Winchester, six parish churches were abandoned. Crops remained unharvested, livestock wandered. Yet if society was shaken, it did not collapse. Even the dead were usually buried properly: although half the population of London died, excavations at the plague cemetery of East Smithfield show that bodies were not just thrown into pits, but were buried neatly in individual graves—proof that family, confraternity and Church carried on. Vacant tenancies and offices were filled.

Even scaled-down war in France soon restarted, with its inevitable consequence, taxation. The unparalleled trauma left surprisingly few visible traces: England did not see the extreme religious reactions that appeared in places on the Continent. Though a large band of flagellants came to London from the Low Countries in 1349, whipping themselves and singing hymns outside St. Paul’s, few joined in. Subjected to unimaginable horror, people carried on, and so the disaster was survived. This resilience even created the opportunity for greater freedom and prosperity.

Robert Tombs, The English and Their History (117-118). [2014] Knopf Doubleday Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, December 27, 2021


The Old Regime in Canada
Chapter XXIV, Francis Parkman
The Francis Parkman Reader,
New York, Da Capo Press, 1998, pp. 266-268

    Not institutions alone, but geographical position, climate, and many other conditions unite to form the educational influences that, acting through successive generations, shape the character of nations and communities.

    It is easy to see the nature of the education, past and present, which wrought on the Canadians and made them what they were. An ignorant population, sprung from a brave and active race, but trained to subjection and dependence through centuries of feudal and monarchical despotism, was planted in the wilderness by the hand of authority, and told to grow and flourish. Artificial stimulants were applied, but freedom was withheld. Perpetual intervention of government,—regulations, restrictions, encouragements sometimes more mischievous than restrictions, a constant uncertainty what the authorities would do next, the fate of each man resting less with himself than with another, volition enfeebled, self-reliance paralyzed,—the condition, in short, of a child held always under the rule of a father, in the main well-meaning and kind, sometimes generous, sometimes neglectful, often capricious, and rarely very wise,—such were the influences under which Canada grew up. If she had prospered, it would have been sheer miracle. A man, to be a man, must feel that he holds his fate, in some good measure, in his own hands.

    But this was not all. Against absolute authority there was a counter influence, rudely and wildly antagonistic. Canada was at the very portal of the great interior wilderness. The St. Lawrence and the Lakes were the highway to that domain of savage freedom; and thither the disfranchised, half-starved seigneur, and the discouraged habitant who could find no market for his produce naturally enough betook themselves. Their lesson of savagery was well learned, and for many a year a boundless license and a stiff-handed authority battled for the control of Canada. Nor, to the last, were Church and State fairly masters of the field. The French rule was drawing towards its close when the intendant complained that though twenty-eight companies of regular troops were quartered in the colony, there were not soldiers enough to keep the people in order. One cannot but remember that in a neighboring colony, far more populous, perfect order prevailed, with no other guardians than a few constables chosen by the people themselves.

Thursday, December 23, 2021


 “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion, or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein.”

Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackson

[West Virginia State Board of Education v. Barnette,
319 U.S. 624 (1943)]  

[Jehovah’s Witnesses objected to a requirement for students to salute the American flag. They believe such salutes are due only to God. During WWII, [1943] when patriotism and the flag were especially important, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that children of Jehovah’s Witnesses could not be compelled to salute the flag in school against the teachings of their faith.]

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

YEAR 1989

Thus the year 1989, which the Left throughout the world had planned as a celebration of the bicentennial of the French Revolution—the beginning of modern radical politics, as it was argued—turned into something quite different: a Year of Revolutions indeed, but of revolutions against the established order of Marxism-Leninism. Not all of them succeeded. In March 1989 riots in Tibet against the Chinese occupation and its policy of genocide were put down with savage force. 

The next month, Chinese students in Peking used the occasion of the death and funeral (22 April) of the Communist leader Hu Yaobang, who had been popular with the masses but deposed by hardliners in 1987, to stage a major demonstration. By 27 April this had developed into an occupation by students of the vast Tiananmen Square in central Peking. Other mass demonstrations occurred in various Chinese cities, including Shanghai. On 15 May, student demonstrators, to the shame and fury of the Chinese leadership, disrupted a visit by Gorbachev to Peking, designed to be the first Sino-Soviet summit for thirty years. On 30 May, a 30-foot fibre-and-glass replica of the Statue of Liberty was erected in the square. 

This seems to have goaded the authorities, who had been holding inconclusive discussions with student leaders about ‘reforms’, into action. Large forces of China’s Red Army, overwhelmingly drawn from peasant soldiers from remote regions, to whom city-dwellers were natural enemies and students ‘parasites’, were concentrated around Peking. On the night of 4 June, the regime attacked, using tanks and infantry in overwhelming numbers, clearing Tiananmen Square, and in the process killing 2,600 people and injuring over 10,000. Despite rumours of divisions in the leadership and army commanders, the unrest was put down everywhere with great severity, and thousands were jailed.

Johnson, Paul. Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties.
HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 17, 2021


The Communist élites which seized power by force all over Indo-China in April 1975 immediately embarked on nationwide programmes of social engineering which recalled Stalin’s collectivization of the peasants, though in some respects they were even more inhuman. The best-documented is the ‘ruralization’ conducted in Cambodia by the Communist Khmer Rouge, which entered the capital Phnom Penh in mid-April, the American embassy having been evacuated on the 12th. The atrocities began on 17 April. They were carried out mainly by illiterate peasant soldiers, but they had been planned two years before by a group of middle-class ideologues who called themselves Angka Loeu (‘the Higher Organization’). Details of their plan had been obtained by a State Department expert, Kenneth Quinn, who circulated it in a report dated 20 February 1974.

The scheme was an attempt to telescope, in one terrifying coup, the social changes brought about over twenty-five years in Mao’s China. There was to be ‘total social revolution’. Everything about the past was ‘anathema and must be destroyed’. It was necessary to ‘psychologically reconstruct individual members of society’. It entailed ‘stripping away, through terror and other means, the traditional bases, structures and forces which have shaped and guided an individual’s life’ and then ‘rebuilding him according to party doctrines by substituting a series of new values’. Angka Loeu consisted of about twenty professional political intellectuals, mainly teachers and bureaucrats. Of the eight leaders, all in their forties (one a woman), five were teachers, one a university professor, one an economist, one a bureaucrat. All had studied in France in the 1950s, where they had absorbed the doctrines of ‘necessary violence’ preached on the radical Left. They were Sartre’s children.

It is notable that, while this group of ideologues preached the virtues of rural life, none had in fact ever engaged in manual labour or had any experience at all of creating wealth. Like Lenin, they were pure intellectuals. They epitomized the great destructive force of the twentieth century: the religious fanatic reincarnated as professional politician. What they did illustrated the ultimate heartlessness of ideas. In any other age or place, the plans of these savage pedants would have remained in their fevered imaginations. In Cambodia in 1975 it was possible to put them into practice.

On 17 April over 3 million people were living in Phnom Penh. They were literally pushed into the surrounding countryside. The violence started at 7 am with attacks on Chinese shops; then general looting. The first killings came at 8.45 am. Fifteen minutes later troops began to clear the Military Hospital, driving doctors, nurses, sick and dying into the streets. An hour later they opened fire on anyone seen in the streets, to start a panic out of the city. At noon the Preah Ket Melea hospital was cleared: hundreds of men, women and children, driven at gunpoint, limped out into midday temperatures of over 100 Fahrenheit. Of 20,000 wounded in the city, all were in the jungle by nightfall. One man humped his son, who had just had both legs amputated; others pushed the beds of the very ill, carrying bottles of plasma and serum.

Every hospital in the city was emptied. All papers and records in the city were destroyed. All books were thrown into the Mekong River or burned on the banks. The paper money in the Banque Khmer de Commerce was incinerated. Cars, motorbikes and bicycles were impounded. Rockets and bazookas were fired at houses where any movement was detected. There were many summary executions. The rest were told, ‘Leave immediately or we will shoot all of you.’ By evening the water-supply was cut off. What gave the episode its peculiar Kafkaesque horror was the absence of any visible authority. The peasant-soldiers simply killed and terrified, obeying orders, invoking the commands of Angka Loeu. Nothing was explained. The intellectuals who had planned it all never appeared.

Paul Johnson, Modern Times: The World from the Twenties to the Nineties. HarperCollins. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, December 16, 2021


The policymaker undertakes multiple tasks, many of them shaped by his society’s history and culture. He must first of all make an analysis of where his society finds itself. This is inherently where the past meets the future; therefore such a judgment cannot be made without an instinct for both of these elements. He must then try to understand where that trajectory will take him and his society. He must resist the temptation to identify policymaking with projecting the familiar into the future, for on that road lies stagnation and then decline. Increasingly in a time of technological and political upheaval, wisdom counsels that a different path must be chosen. By definition, in leading a society from where it is to where it has never been, a new course presents advantages and disadvantages that will always seem closely balanced. To undertake a journey on a road never before traveled requires character and courage: character because the choice is not obvious; courage because the road will be lonely at first. And the statesman must then inspire his people to persist in the endeavor. Great statesmen (Churchill, both Roosevelts, de Gaulle, and Adenauer) had these qualities of vision and determination; in today’s society, it is increasingly difficult to develop them.

For all the great and indispensable achievements the Internet has brought to our era, its emphasis is on the actual more than the contingent, on the factual rather than the conceptual, on values shaped by consensus rather than by introspection. Knowledge of history and geography is not essential for those who can evoke their data with the touch of a button. The mindset for walking lonely political paths may not be self-evident to those who seek confirmation by hundreds, sometimes thousands of friends on Facebook.

In the Internet age, world order has often been equated with the proposition that if people have the ability to freely know and exchange the world’s information, the natural human drive toward freedom will take root and fulfill itself, and history will run on autopilot, as it were. But philosophers and poets have long separated the mind’s purview into three components: information, knowledge, and wisdom. The Internet focuses on the realm of information, whose spread it facilitates exponentially. Ever-more-complex functions are devised, particularly capable of responding to questions of fact, which are not themselves altered by the passage of time. Search engines are able to handle increasingly complex questions with increasing speed. Yet a surfeit of information may paradoxically inhibit the acquisition of knowledge and push wisdom even further away than it was before.

The poet T. S. Eliot captured this in his “Choruses from ‘The Rock’”: “Where is the Life we have lost in living? Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge? Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?”

Facts are rarely self-explanatory; their significance, analysis, and interpretation—at least in the foreign policy world—depend on context and relevance. As ever more issues are treated as if of a factual nature, the premise becomes established that for every question there must be a researchable answer, that problems and solutions are not so much to be thought through as to be “looked up.” But in the relations between states—and in many other fields—information, to be truly useful, must be placed within a broader context of history and experience to emerge as actual knowledge. And a society is fortunate if its leaders can occasionally rise to the level of wisdom.

Henry Kissinger, (2014). World Order (348-350). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, December 13, 2021


I wrote Irreversible Damage because I knew the point of all the educational opportunities I received—opportunities my equally-qualified grandmothers never had—couldn’t be to plod through life as a well-oiled automaton.

What I told the students at Princeton—
Show some self-respect and reclaim your freedom

Abigail Shrier
December 8, 2021

I was so honored tonight to be hosted by the Princeton Tory, the Witherspoon Institute and the Tikvah Fund. The undergraduates I met tonight were clear sighted and brilliant and astonishingly well read. There’s so much on their shoulders. Here was my message to them.

The question I get most often—the thing that most interviewers want to know, even when they’re pretending to care about more high-minded things—is:  What’s it like to be so hated?  I can only assume that’s what some of you rubberneckers want to know as well: What’s it like to be on a GLAAD black list? What’s it like to have top ACLU lawyers come out in favor of banning your book? What’s it like to have prestigious institutions disavow you as an alum? What’s it like to lose the favor of the fancy people who once claimed you as their own?

So, perhaps I’ll begin by telling you a little bit about myself mainly because I’m not so different from many of you. I grew up, daughter of two Maryland State judges, in a multi-racial suburb in Prince George’s County, Maryland. I attended a community Jewish day school, which I loved. In high school, I worked as a stringer for the Washington Jewish Week and edited my school paper. I attended Columbia University, where I received the Kellett Fellowship for two years of graduate study at Oxford. From there, I earned my J.D. from Yale Law School and then clerked for a Clinton-appointee on the D.C. Circuit.

At the beginning of my clerkship, I accepted a setup with a guy from Los Angeles, and by the end of that year, had decided to follow my then-boyfriend to California. I took a job with a terribly prestigious LA firm, whose daily tasks nearly anesthetized me. I married my boyfriend, struggled to hold onto pregnancies, quit law firm life and had three children. I taught them to read and sang them songs very badly and wrote a series of unpublishable novels. Most people who’d known me before wondered what the hell I was doing.

I began writing a few op-eds for our local Jewish paper, one of which was spotted by a Wall Street Journal editor, who invited me to submit to the Wall Street Journal. I did, and in the course of that year, published 13 op-eds with the Journal. One of those op-eds inspired a reader to contact me and tell me the story of her teen daughter who was rushing into a sudden gender transition. After trying and failing to find an investigative journalist who wanted the assignment, I took it on myself. 

My investigations turned into a book called Irreversible Damage. All of which is to say: I’m not a provocateur. I don’t get a rush from making people angry. You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective, and unwilling to back down.

Why am I unwilling to back down? Why wouldn’t I prostrate myself before the petulant mobs who insist that my standard journalistic investigation into a medical mystery—specifically, why so many teen girls were suddenly identifying as transgender and clamoring to alter their bodies—makes me a hater? Why on earth would I have chosen to write this book in the first place and am I glad that I wrote it?

You don’t have to be a troll to find yourself in the center of controversy. You need only be two things: effective and unwilling to back down.

If you’re here, you no doubt are familiar with at least some of the unpleasantness you encounter whenever you deviate from the approved script. So, again, what’s it like to be the target of so much hate? It’s freeing. That’s what I’d like to talk about tonight.

As an undergraduate studying philosophy, I spent an inordinate amount of time wondering whether my will was free. This is the metaphysical question of whether anyone can be said to have acted ‘freely.’ And most of the philosophers seemed to agree that our will wasn’t all that free. The hard determinists painted a world in which every human action was ultimately explicable by the wave function of elementary particles, ultimately leading neurons to fire—setting off of axonal conduction well beyond our control and none of which we directed.

Even if you weren’t a hard determinist, you struggled with the obvious problem that human decisions – and the reasons behind them—are structured by one’s upbringing, experience or even inborn personality traits, all of which shape our motivations. Compatibilists claimed that, at most, one could hope to live according to one’s own motives and preferences. That is, motives and preferences that were largely determined by things like personality. 

“The Actions of man are never free,” 18th Century determinist Baron Holbach once wrote. “They are always the necessary consequence of his temperament, of the received ideas, and of the notions, either true or false, which he has formed to himself of happiness, of his opinions, strengthened by example, by education, and by daily experience.”

I remember reading those lines as an undergraduate, tugged by the worry that Holbach was right: maybe our motivations were determined by our personalities and upbringing and received ideas. Today, I read them and think: if only.
In 2021, it seems a luxury to worry that a will determined and shaped entirely by received ideas and our own personality-driven desires might not be entirely free. Today, before any of us decides what it is we want, we open our phones and participate in our own manipulation at the hands of those who actively want us to think, and see, and vote differently than our own wills would have us do. If we were not entirely free before, in other words—we are far less so now.

Every dating app pushes us toward the same few attractive mate choices; Spotify presses us to like the same music; Amazon pushes us to purchase specific books and away from others. If you’re under the impression that the books Amazon recommends to you are based solely on a content-neutral algorithm, I can disabuse you of that fiction right now. I once asked one of my sources at Amazon, who was concerned about the ways the search results were being manipulated, whether he’d ever seen a book deliberately boosted. Yes, he said. Becoming by Michelle Obama. When that book came out—he told me—virtually every search you did led to the recommendation to buy the former First Lady’s book. And the opposite is also true. There are books that are never recommended by the Amazon algorithm, irrespective of how well they’ve sold or how likely a specific shopper is to buy them. Or, at least, there’s one such book. I’ll let you try and guess what it is.

But the larger point is, your will is being toyed with, subverted, manipulated. And in a fairly insidious manner. None of you will be shocked to hear that Google promotes certain search results in order to lead us to a certain perspective. But did you know that, for contested entries, Wikipedia assigns editors, some of whom are ideologically committed activists, many of whom have very particular views they want you to walk away with. 

If you form views based on those Wikipedia articles or reports by corrupt fact-checkers, if you act based on them, are you exercising freedom of will? Given that you’ve been spun and prodded along to a pre-determined conclusion by hidden persuaders, perhaps you aren’t. Perhaps you’re left in the same sorry state as the Moor of Venice: toyed with, subverted, manipulated. Acting out someone else’s plan, pointed in the direction that he wants you to walk.

We’ve spent a lot of time in the past few years debating whether this kind of manipulation is at the root of our political divisions, but I don’t think we’ve paid enough attention to an even more basic question: how it has interfered with freedom of conscience and ultimately free will.

When polled, nearly two out of three Americans (62%) say they are afraid to express an unpopular opinion. That doesn’t sound like a free people in a free country. We are, each day, force-fed falsehoods we are all expected to take seriously, on pain of forfeiting esteem and professional opportunity:

“Some men have periods and get pregnant.” “Hard work and objectivity are hallmarks of whiteness.” “Only a child knows her own true gender.”  “Transwomen don’t have an unfair advantage when playing girls’ sports.”

On that final example of a lie, the one about transwomen in girls’ sports, I want you to think for a moment about a young woman here at Princeton. She’s a magnificent athlete named Ellie Marquardt, an all-American swimmer who set an Ivy League record in the 500-meter freestyle event as a freshman. Just before Thanksgiving, Ellie was defeated in the 500-meter, the event she held the record in, by almost 14 seconds by a 22 year old biological male at Penn who was competing on the men’s team as recently as November of 2019. That male athlete now holds multiple U.S. records in women’s swimming, erasing the hard work of so many of our best female athletes, and making a mockery of the rights women fought for generations to achieve.

Ellie Marquart swam her heart out for Princeton. When will Princeton fight for her? Where are the student protests to say—enough is enough. When a biological male who has enjoyed the full benefits of male puberty—larger cardiovascular system, 40% more upper body muscle mass, more fast-twitch muscle fiber, more oxygenated blood—decides after three seasons on the men’s team to compete as a woman and smashes the records of the top female swimmers in this country, that is not valor—that’s vandalism.

Where is the outrage? Imagine, for a second, what it must be like to be a female swimmer at Princeton, knowing you must pretend that this is fair—that the NCAA competition is anything other than a joke. Imagine being told to bite your tongue as men lecture you that you just need to swim harder. “Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

Now, imagine, instead, the women’s swimmers had all walked out. Imagine they had stood together and said: We will meet any competitor head on. But we will not grant this travesty the honor of our participation. We did not spend our childhoods setting our alarm clocks for 4am every morning, training for hours before and after school, to lend our good names to this fixed fight.

“Be grateful for your silver medals, ladies, and maybe work harder next time,” is the message. Imagine what that level of repression does to warp the soul.

I know why students keep their heads down. They are hoping for that Goldman or New York Times internship, which they don’t want to put in jeopardy. Well, any institution that takes our brightest, most capable young people—Princeton graduates!—and tells you can only work here if you think like we tell you to and keep your mouth shut, that isn’t really Goldman Sachs and it isn’t the paper of record. It’s the husk of a once-great institution, and it’s not worth grasping for. Talk to alums at these institutions: they sound like those living under communist regimes. That’s the America that awaits you if you will not speak up.

You who are studying at one of the greatest academic institutions in the country only to be told that after graduation, you must think as we tell you and recite from this script—why were you born? What’s the point of being alive? Computers are vastly better at number crunching. They’ll soon be better at all kinds of more complex tasks. What they cannot do is stand on principle. What a computer cannot do is refuse to lend credibility to a rigged competition—to refuse to strengthen its coercion—making it that much harder for the next female athlete to speak up. What the computer cannot know is the glorious exertion of the human will when it refuses to truckle in the face of lies and instead publicly speaks the truth.

Machines will soon be better than humans at all kinds of complex tasks. What they cannot do is stand on principle. 

I didn’t write Irreversible Damage to be provocative.  In a freer world, nothing in my book would have created controversy. I wrote the book because I knew it was truthful and I believed recording what I found—that there was a social contagion leading many teenage girls to irreversible damage—was the right thing to do. I also believe if I hadn’t written it, thousands more girls would be caught up in an identity movement that was not organic to them but would nonetheless lead them to profound self-harm. But I didn’t write it specifically to stop them. I wrote it simply because it was true.

When I testified in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee back in March, I started by stating that I am proud to live in an America where gay and transgender Americans live with less stigma and fear than at any point in American history. That is the glory of freedom as well—the chance for adults to live authentic lives and guide their own destinies. And allowing mature adults to make those sorts of choices for themselves is absolutely a requirement of a free society. Yes, you can reject the false, dogmatic insistences of Gender Ideology and still wish to see transgender Americans prosper and flourish and fulfill their dreams in America. I do.

I wrote the book because the story of one mom and her teen daughter compelled me, and so did that of the dozens of other parents who then spoke to me—mothers and fathers who sobbed as they described how their daughters had become caught up in a craze that seemed completely inauthentic to the child, but which they were powerless to arrest.

I wrote the book not because I believed the fancy institutions I’d attended would celebrate me, or even acknowledge me, after I had done so. I wrote it because I knew that the point of all the educational opportunities I received that my equally-qualified grandmothers never had, the purpose of all the sacrifices my parents had made for my education—for all the time my teachers and professors had taken with me—couldn’t be to plod through life on a forced march. The point of all the hours my parents and teachers and mentors had devoted to me, was surely not to become the world’s best-oiled automaton. The point of all of that privilege—and yes, I think that was a kind of privilege—was to be able to write and think as others lacked the will to do.

Spotify employees tried to hold that company hostage because they carried my podcast episode with Joe Rogan. Amazon employees threatened to quit if they continued to carry my book. GoFundMe shut down a grass-roots fundraiser by parents, who reached into their own pockets, to advertise my book. And the ACLU threw its entire, century-old mission in the garbage, all because of one book with which it disagreed. Joining these petulant mobs is not a show of strength, and it is not freedom. It’s closer to servitude.

I wrote Irreversible Damage because I knew the point of all the educational opportunities I received—opportunities my equally-qualified grandmothers never had—couldn’t be to plod through life as a well-oiled automaton. 

True, if you dare exercise your will, you may sit for decades on the Supreme Court, as the eldest member, the only African American, perform your duties admirably and with integrity, and perhaps not a single elementary school in America will bear your name. Does anyone doubt this is a discredit to his detractors—not to Justice Thomas?

I cannot claim to know if we are truly free in the metaphysical sense. But if the universe is anything less than thoroughly determined down to the last sub-atomic particle, then we must also agree that freedom admits of degrees. And if that is true, then we are far less free today in this decade—that you, as undergrads, have lost a significant measure of freedom that your parents once had.  Take it back.  Take it back. It’s yours to demand. Take back the right to speak your mind—thoughtfully, courteously, with a goal in mind beyond giving offense. The list of unmentionable truths expands so rapidly, without reason other than the attempt to suffocate a free people so that they forget the exhilaration of a lungful of air.

If you are someone who believes you have pronouns or would like to supply them, by all means, that is your prerogative. Whenever anyone asks me to use their preferred pronouns, and I can do so without confusing my audience or muddying an argument, I do so and I think this is an important courtesy. But—when asked, I will not state my pronouns and if you don’t believe in Gender Ideology, you shouldn’t either. When you state your pronouns, you participate in the catechism of Gender Ideology—the belief that there are ineffable genders, unknowable to all but the subject. That no one can possibly know I am a woman unless I’ve supplied these. I do not believe this. I regard this as nonsense. When asked for my pronouns, I say: “I am a woman.” Take back your freedom. Reclaim it now.

Psychiatrists and pediatricians tell me they are afraid to resist an adolescent’s demand that she be given puberty blockers because they’re afraid—if they point out the risks or the hastiness of the decision—they will lose their licenses. Parents tell me they are afraid to push back on the activist teachers and social workers at their kids’ school for fear of being called some flavor of phobe. Whatever freedom is—it isn’t that—and all of the wonderful education you have earned here will have been wasted if you find yourself one day observing some lie predominating in your own field and the best you can do is sit on the phone with me anonymously lamenting the state of things. You will soon be graduates of Princeton. Show some self-respect and reclaim your freedom.

It isn’t in those moments when you do just what’s expected that your will is tested. It isn’t in those moments when you recite the script that you exceed what any computer can achieve. Those moments when you managed to make yourself a faceless member of a pre-approved chorus will slide away as though you were never part of them.

The wonderful education you have earned here will have been wasted if you find yourself one day observing some lie predominating in your own field, and the best you can do is sit on the phone with me anonymously lamenting the state of things.

You will, each of you, have the chance to matter. You will find yourselves at hospitals or in banks or in courtrooms and at newspapers where you will see things happen that you know to be wrong—where you find that the standard line is actually a lie. You may have found yourself there already. If you’re fortunate enough, you may even find yourself one day with children of your own, knowing you are their best defense in this world. And you’ll feel the nub of your will, pressing you to do something—say something. And when that happens, don’t sit there like a sock puppet.

I’m 43, which I realize makes me very old to many of you. But not so long from now, you’ll wake up and be 43 yourselves. And when I look back on my life thus far, it occurs to me that the decisions of which I am most proud—the ones that strike like an unexpected kiss—are not the times when I obeyed the algorithm. They’re the times when I defied it and felt, for a moment, the magic and power of being alive. When I felt, even for an instant, the exquisite joy of not being anyone’s subject. When I had the unmistakable sense that I’ve existed for a purpose, that I stood the chance of leaving the world better than I found it. You don’t get any of that through lock-step career achievement and you certainly don’t get that by being the Left’s star pupil.

You feel that frisson when you choose a person to commit yourself to knowing full well that any marriage may fail; when you bring children into a world where there are no guarantees of their safety or success. When you summon the courage to fashion a life, something that will remain after you are gone. When you speak the truth publicly—with care and lucidity.  And when you say to the world: you cannot buy me with flattery. Purchase my colleagues or classmates at bulk rate. I am not for sale.

Thank you.

Monday, December 6, 2021


 “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans)

            This “extremely aggressive guerrilla warfare,” as von Kluck called it, and especially the sniping by franc-tireurs at German soldiers, exasperated him and his fellow commanders. From the moment his army entered Belgium he found it necessary to take, in his own words, “severe and inexorable reprisals” such as “the shooting of individuals and the burning of homes” against the “treacherous” attacks of the civil population. Burned villages and dead hostages marked the path of the First Army. On August 19 [1914] after the Germans had crossed the Gette and found the Belgian Army withdrawn during the night, they vented their fury on Aerschot, a small town between the Gette and Brussels, the first to suffer a mass execution. In Aerschot 150 civilians were shot. The numbers were to grow larger as the process was repeated by von Bülow’s army at Ardennes and Tamines, by von Hausen’s in the culminating massacre of 664 at Dinant. The method was to assemble the inhabitants in the main square, women usually on one side and men on the other, select every tenth man or every second man or all on one side, according to the whim of the individual officer, march them to a nearby field or empty lot behind the railroad station and shoot them. In Belgium there are many towns whose cemeteries today have rows and rows of memorial stones inscribed with a name, the date 1914, and the legend, repeated over and over: “Fusillé par les Allemands” (Shot by the Germans). In many are newer and longer rows with the same legend and the date 1944.

            General von Hausen, commanding the Third Army, found, like von Kluck, that the “perfidious” conduct of the Belgians in “multiplying obstacles” in his path called for reprisals “of the utmost rigor without an instant’s hesitation.” These were to include “the arrest as hostages of notables such as estate-owners, mayors, and priests, the burning of houses and farms and the execution of persons caught in acts of hostility.” Hausen’s army were Saxons whose name in Belgium became synonymous with “savage.” Hausen himself could not get over the “hostility of the Belgian people.” To discover “how we are hated” was a constant amazement to him.

[Barbara W. Tuchman, [1962]. The Guns of August: The Outbreak of World War I; Barbara W. Tuchman's Great War Series (Modern Library 100 Best Nonfiction Books) (Kindle Locations 4338-4354). Random House Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.]

Friday, November 26, 2021


City Journal 

eye on the news

Units of Indoctrination 

A Language Arts curriculum widely used in U.S. schools ignores academic fundamentals in favor of radical pedagogy.

November 24, 2021

Few parents of school-age children would recognize the name Lucy Calkins, but her English Language Arts curriculum, Units of Study, is used in thousands of classrooms across the United States. Calkins’s curriculum is “built on critical theories,” including critical race theory (CRT), which Democrats and the media have repeatedly denied is taught in K-12 schools.

Those denials are true in a narrow sense: K-12 students aren’t reading the primary documents of CRT any more than they’re reading the works of John Dewey or Jean-Jacques Rousseau. But the works of writers like Kimberlé Crenshaw, bell hooks, Angela Davis, and others directly inform Calkins’s Units of Study, which focuses on identity-based power dynamics, victimhood, white supremacy, microaggressions, and the like.

It’s hard to determine precisely how many schools use Calkins’s Units of Study. One professor of education acknowledged that publishers “aren’t very forthcoming” with this “very basic data.” The curriculum’s publisher claims that it is used in “tens of thousands of schools around the world,” and a poll from EducationWeek estimates that 16 percent of U.S. elementary school teachers use it, including, one education journalist estimates, at least 55 districts in Massachusetts. It isn’t a stretch to say that thousands of teachers rely on its lesson plans, assessments, and other materials.

One unit in particular stands out for its embrace of principles inspired by critical race theory. The opening pages of Critical Literacy: Unlocking Contemporary Fiction, meant for students in seventh through ninth grade, explain that the unit will engage with “the politics of race, class, and gender.” One activity asks students to break down “hegemonic masculinity” in the books they’re reading. Another builds “identity lenses”’ through which students can analyze various texts, including “critical race theories” and “gender theories.” References to identity pervade nearly every page of the unit. Accompanying materials declare that the curriculum is “dedicated” to teaching “critical literacies” that will “help readers investigate power.”

This unit underscores a problem far larger than a few lesson plans. It exposes a radical approach to education that pervades our schools and upends all of our former notions of what education should be, replacing the goal of fostering inquisitive, capable minds with ideologically trained readers, who already know what a text has to say. Headline-making stories of racialized “affinity groups” and “privilege walks” are only the most visible elements of this pedagogy. Other seemingly innocuous practices are also rooted in a philosophy that treats the immutable characteristics of students as their most central attributes.

Critical race theory flows from the more general philosophy of education called “critical pedagogy,” which, in brief, seeks to leverage every math class, English lesson, history unit, elective, and scientific concept as a means to inculcate a political goal: the overthrow of Enlightenment-based, classically liberal principles—including the scientific method, objective reasoning, evidence-based argument, and so on.

“Critical race theory questions the very foundations of the liberal order,” writes Richard Delgado, an early scholar of CRT, “including equality theory, legal reasoning, Enlightenment rationalism, and neutral principles of constitutional law.” Though its proponents defend CRT as merely teaching “accurate” racial history, the discipline’s aim is to use race and history as a lens through which to judge—to condemn—Western values. Each branch of critical pedagogy proceeds accordingly, using gender, say, in the same way.

Graduate schools of education often encourage their teachers to adopt a similar approach. Calkin’s Units of Study also employs this method, analyzing the same poem through various “lenses”—critical race, radical feminist, deconstructionist, Marxist, postcolonial, and others. Reading in this way amounts to little more than radical proselytization through literature.

This approach to instruction extends far beyond the confines of English language arts in the K-12 classroom. For example, Seattle Public Schools has implemented a new curriculum that seeks to “humanize” mathematics, centering study on questions of power, identity, oppression, and liberation. Its thematic questions ask students not how to solve algebraic equations, but to answer questions like “how can we use math to measure the effects of our activism?”

While oppression and liberation may be topics worth learning about in a sociology class, primary students need mathematical skills, wisdom derived from struggling with great books on their own terms, and a treasury of historical facts if they are to go into the world and do anything about the injustices they find there. Placards, criticism, and demonstrations are easy; the building of a just society requires hard-won insight, knowledge, wisdom, and skill.

An experience common to many early-career teachers is the realization that they never actually learned how to do their job in teacher prep. Time spent learning critical pedagogy instead of the nuts and bolts of running a classroom represents a giant opportunity cost. Having gone through these programs ourselves, we can attest to the lack of training in areas like writing instruction, the science of reading, basic grammar, rhetoric, and argument—subjects once at the heart of teacher training.

The results of the pedagogy exemplified by curricula like Units of Study are damning. In a 2018 study, education nonprofit found that Units of Study did not “meet the expectations for text quality and complexity and alignment to the expectations of standards.” Pulling no punches, the report said that “unit materials are devoid of a consistent, systematic, and explicit plan for instruction in and practice of grade-level foundational skills.” Education professor Timothy Shanahan suggests that “there’s not a single study that supports the use of the above methods,” and in one comprehensive review, concluded that they are “unlikely to lead to literacy success for all of America’s public school children.”

Considering that the focus of curricula like Units of Study is on indoctrination rather than reading, these findings are not surprising. In a nation where a mere 35 percent of fourth-graders and 34 percent of eighth-graders performed at or above proficiency in reading, young people are suffering the consequences of these methods. In place of foundational academic skills, we’re giving them radical messages about identity. And rather than training students to love what is beautiful and true, our modern progressive theorists are training them only to deconstruct it.

[Daniel Buck is a teacher and senior visiting fellow at the Fordham Institute. He writes regularly for publications like City Journal, Quillette, and National Review. James Furey is a high-school English teacher from Wisconsin and contributor to Chalkboard Review. You can follow them on Twitter at @MrDanielBuck and @jamesafurey, respectively.]

Friday, November 12, 2021


 Martin Chuzzlewit, by Charles Dickens [1843]
London: The New Oxford Illustrated Dickens, 1959, 1-2

Introductory, concerning the pedigree of the Chuzzlewit family

As no lady or gentleman, with any claims to polite breeding, can possibly sympathise with the Chuzzlewit Family without first being assured of the extreme antiquity of the race, it is a great satisfaction to know that it undoubtedly descended in a direct line from Adam and Eve; and was, in the very earliest times, closely connected with the agricultural interest. If it should ever be urged by grudging and malicious persons, that a Chuzzlewit, in any period of the family history, displayed an overweening amount of family pride, surely the weakness will be considered not only pardonable but laudable, when the immense superiority of the house to the rest of mankind, in respect of this its ancient origin, is taken into account.

It is remarkable that as there was, in the oldest family of which we have any record, a murderer and a vagabond, so we never fail to meet, in the records of all old families, with innumerable repetitions of the same phase of character. Indeed, it may be laid down as a general principle, that the more extended the ancestry, the greater the amount of violence and vagabondism; for in ancient days those two amusements, combining a wholesome excitement with a promising means of repairing shattered fortunes, were at once the ennobling pursuit and the healthful recreation of the Quality of this land.

Consequently, it is a source of inexpressible comfort and happiness to find, that in various periods of our history, the Chuzzlewits were actively connected with diverse slaughterous conspiracies and bloody frays. It is further recorded of them, that being clad from head to heel in steel of proof, they did on many occasions lead their leather-jerkined soldiers to the death with invincible courage, and afterwards returned home gracefully to their relations and friends.

There can be no doubt that at least one Chuzzlewit came over with William the Conqueror. It does not appear that this illustrious ancestor ‘came over’ that monarch, to employ the vulgar phrase, at any subsequent period; inasmuch as the Family do not seem to have been ever greatly distinguished by the possession of landed estate. And it is well known that for the bestowal of that kind of property upon his favourites, the liberality and gratitude of the Norman were as remarkable as those virtues are usually found to be in great men when they give away what belongs to other people.

Tuesday, November 9, 2021


 Kubla Khan

Or, a vision in a dream. A Fragment.

In Xanadu did Kubla Khan
A stately pleasure-dome decree:
Where Alph, the sacred river, ran
Through caverns measureless to man
   Down to a sunless sea.
So twice five miles of fertile ground
With walls and towers were girdled round;
And there were gardens bright with sinuous rills,
Where blossomed many an incense-bearing tree;
And here were forests ancient as the hills,
Enfolding sunny spots of greenery.

But oh! that deep romantic chasm which slanted
Down the green hill athwart a cedarn cover!
A savage place! as holy and enchanted
As e’er beneath a waning moon was haunted
By woman wailing for her demon-lover!
And from this chasm, with ceaseless turmoil seething,
As if this earth in fast thick pants were breathing,
A mighty fountain momently was forced:
Amid whose swift half-intermitted burst
Huge fragments vaulted like rebounding hail,
Or chaffy grain beneath the thresher’s flail:
And mid these dancing rocks at once and ever
It flung up momently the sacred river.
Five miles meandering with a mazy motion
Through wood and dale the sacred river ran,
Then reached the caverns measureless to man,
And sank in tumult to a lifeless ocean;
And ’mid this tumult Kubla heard from far
Ancestral voices prophesying war!
   The shadow of the dome of pleasure
   Floated midway on the waves;
   Where was heard the mingled measure
   From the fountain and the caves.
It was a miracle of rare device,
A sunny pleasure-dome with caves of ice!

   A damsel with a dulcimer
   In a vision once I saw:
   It was an Abyssinian maid
   And on her dulcimer she played,
   Singing of Mount Abora.
   Could I revive within me
   Her symphony and song,
   To such a deep delight ’twould win me,
That with music loud and long,
I would build that dome in air,
That sunny dome! those caves of ice!
And all who heard should see them there,
And all should cry, Beware! Beware!
His flashing eyes, his floating hair!
Weave a circle round him thrice,
And close your eyes with holy dread
For he on honey-dew hath fed,
And drunk the milk of Paradise.

Tuesday, November 2, 2021


The military purge developed a momentum that took it far beyond the handful of commanders seized in May [1937].

Stalin was in a hurry to complete the process. On June 9 the indictment was complete. Eight marshals and generals were chosen to sit on the tribunal to try the eight military defendants, all of whom they knew well. The night before the trial, set for June 11, the interrogators extracted a flurry of further confessions which incriminated the very men who would sit in judgment on the morrow. Five of the soldiers sitting on the tribunal bench were executed over the following months. (Marshal Budyenny, who was to be among them, was saved from death when he resisted arrest by force and telephoned Stalin directly.) The trial lasted a day. Tukhachevsky and his codefendants, once free of their torturers, refused to ratify their confessions until they were bullied by the prosecutor to confess again that some of it was true. Just after midnight sentence was pronounced. All eight were shot that day. Tukhachevsky and Jonah Yakir, commander of the Kiev Military District, died expressing their continued loyalty to Stalin, the man who only a few hours before had given his personal approval for their death.

After the death of its chief victims, the purge rolled on over the rest of the senior officer corps. Marshal Yegerov was liquidated in March 1938, after his wife was forced to confess her part as a Polish spy; Marshal Blyukher, the son of a peasant, and the most famous of the civil war generals, who was a judge in the Tukhachevsky case, was arrested in October 1938. Alone of the top military commanders he refused to confess anything. He was beaten to a pulp, and one eye was torn out. On November 9, the anniversary of the Bolshevik Revolution, he was killed in an office of the Lubyanka as he attacked his torturers. During the purge, 45 per cent of the senior officers and political officials of the army and navy were executed or sacked, including 720 out of the 837 commanders, from colonel to marshal, appointed under the new table of ranks established in 1935. Out of eighty-five senior officers on the Military Council, seventy-one were dead by 1941; only nine avoided the purges entirely, including no fewer than seven who served in the 1st Cavalry Army, which Stalin helped to direct in the civil war. Surprisingly untouched was the former Tsarist General Staff officer, the only one to survive into the 1930s, Boris Shaposhnikov. He was one of the three judges in the Tukhachevsky trial not murdered. Stalin was said to show a genuine respect, even awe, in his presence. His Tsarist roots were not enough to condemn him and he lived on, in poor health, until the end of the Second World War.

The lower ranks of the officer corps suffered less severely. The extent of the manpower losses was lower than most outside observers supposed at the time, though the effect on a military organization in which morale was not high should not be underestimated. The true figures are now available from Russian sources. From 1936 to 1938 a total of 41,218 were purged, but most were dismissed rather than arrested or executed. Of the 34,000 officers sacked in 1937 and 1938 the NKVD arrested 9,500. By May 1940 11,596 officers had been reinstated. As a proportion of the total number of officers these figures are relatively small. Of the 179,000 officers employed in 1938 only 3.7 per cent were still formally discharged by 1940. The net loss in 1937 and 1938, after taking into account new recruits into the officer corps, was approximately 10,000.

Richard Overy, Russia's War: A History of the Soviet Effort: 1941-1945 (28-30).
Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, November 1, 2021


 Jeff Jacoby
The Boston Globe
August 16, 2021

William Gladstone, four times Prime Minister of Great Britain, had a library of 32,000 books. We know—because he make a note in his diary every time he finished reading a book—that he read 22,000 of them. Assuming he did so over the course of eighty years (he lived to be 88), this meant that he read on average 275 books a year, or more than five books each week for a lifetime. He also wrote many books, on a wide variety of topics, from politics to religion to Greek literature, and his scholarship was often impressive.

Wednesday, October 27, 2021


David McCullough
Mornings on Horseback
Touchstone Books, New York, 1982, 346–347

        Earlier in March, having just returned to the Elkhorn after a winter in New York, Theodore was informed by Sewall one morning that a boat, a light, flat–bottomed scow that they kept on the river, had been stolen in the night by someone who had obviously taken off in it downstream. They suspected the culprit was a man named Finnegan,  who lived upriver, toward Medora, with two cronies of equally bad reputation. So in the next few days Sewall and Dow put together a makeshift boat, and after waiting for a blizzard to pass, the three of them took off in pursuit, pushing into the icy current on March 30, Sewall steering.

        It was a matter of principle, Theodore later said. “To submit tamely and meekly to theft or to any other injury is to invite almost certain repetition of the offense…”

        They were three days on the river before catching up with the thieves, their boat charging along between snow–covered buttes and weird Bad Lands configurations that looked to Theodore like “the crouching figures of great goblin beasts.” He had brought along some books to read and his camera, expecting there might be a magazine article in the adventure. Each man had his rifle. The second night the temperature dropped below zero.

        The next day, at a point about a hundred miles downstream from where they had started, they spotted the missing boat and going ashore found Finnegan and his partners, who surrendered without a fight. (“We simply crept noiselessly up and rising when only a few yards distant covered them with cocked rifles.”) From there they spent another six days moving on down the river, making little headway now because of ice jams, and taking turns at night guarding the prisoners, who because of the extreme cold could not be bound hand and foot. Food ran low and the cold and biting winds continued. But not the least extraordinary part of the story is that during these same six days after catching the thieves, Theodore, in odd moments, read the whole of Anna Karenina, and “with very great interest.”

Wednesday, October 20, 2021


The Washington Post

Stuff your 5,000-word limit! Students dare to write longer history papers.
Long research papers are rarely assigned at most American high schools.  

By Jay Mathews
Sunday, October 17, 2021 at 6:00 a.m. EDT

Very few U.S. high schools ask their students to write long research papers. Teachers may lack time to supervise such work. It is also feared that teenagers would rebel against such drudgery.

Or, possibly, this is just one more sign of our unfortunate national tendency to overlook our children’s potential.

A farsighted former history teacher named Will Fitzhugh has been publishing long and deep high school papers for 34 years. His young authors love the work so much that they routinely defy his 5,000-word limit. He has discovered something our schools usually ignore—the powerful effect of going as deep into a topic as you like.

Keeping essays to that length, about 20 double-spaced typewritten pages, made sense to Fitzhugh, who was a high school social studies teacher when he started The Concord Review in 1987 to publish these papers. But if students wrote more than that he was fine with it.

Because of his willingness to indulge the adolescent urge for something extra, the average paper used by The Concord Review is now 9,000 words. The quarterly journal has so far published 1,427 history papers by high school students (and four middle school students) from 46 states and 43 other countries in 131 issues. The torrent of submissions is so great he can publish only about 5 percent of what he gets.

For decades Fitzhugh, now 85, has been receiving excited emails from students such as Jane Chen, whose teacher at Fairview High School in Boulder, Colo., suggested she expand a class project into a Concord Review article. Chen told Fitzhugh it was “a completely new experience for me. . . . I was free to pursue whatever aspect of my topic that I wanted to whatever extent that I wanted.”

What if more high school teachers encouraged dissertations such as Chen’s examination of the light shed on the Pentagon Papers by President Richard Nixon’s telephone transcripts?

Long research papers are usually required only by certain parts of the International Baccalaureate and Advanced Placement high school programs and by some private schools. Many of the papers published by Fitzhugh come from students revising and expanding that schoolwork.

This year, the IB extended essay program, begun in 1975, produced 88,249 papers. The AP research essay program, begun in 2015, produced 24,021. Both covered many topics besides history. But neither shares Fitzhugh’s fondness for work of any length. To ensure no student gets an unfair advantage, IB limits essays to 4,000 words and AP to 5,000 words.

Fitzhugh first got the idea for big papers because he concluded that his students at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School in Concord, Mass., were better than the five-to-seven-page assignments he was giving them. One sophomore handed in a 28-page paper on the nuclear strategic balance between the United States and the Soviet Union.

“He was not meeting my standards, but his own,” Fitzhugh recalled. “This gave me a clue that perhaps I was not asking students for all they could do. Two of my colleagues proposed to the administration that they work with two or three volunteer students who wanted to work on a history paper for a year . . . for a one-semester independent study credit. This was turned down as elitist.”

Fitzhugh had a sabbatical in the 1986-1987 school year. He read a landmark book by reformer Ted Sizer, Horace’s Compromise: The Dilemma of the American High School. He realized many educators shared his concern about nonfiction reading, knowledge of history and academic expository writing.

“I was 50, feeling I hadn’t done much with my life,” Fitzhugh said. “I admired entrepreneurs, and desktop publishing had just become a possibility.” His father had left him $80,000. He sent a four-page brochure asking for papers from every high school in the United States and Canada, and 1,500 more schools abroad.

He taught one more year to pay for his sabbatical and then quit. The next 14 years he worked with no pay and no vacation from his dining room table. The first issue of The Concord Review came out in the Fall of 1988. He sent the first four issues free to 1,000 private schools. They were the most likely to require student research. But at the beginning he got almost no response.

The project was always short of money. He tried to stretch the occasional grants he received from intrigued billionaires and foundations. Then he discovered a more reliable moneymaker—summer history camps. He charges $3,500 per student for a two-week online research and writing course, including one-on-one student-teacher contact.

The Fall 2021 issue of The Concord Review has 11 essays, three of them from students abroad. Titles include “Tanzimat Reforms” (19th-century Ottoman Empire, 5,880 words) by Atharv Panditrao at Fremont High School in Sunnyvale, Calif.; “Green Goods Scam” (19th-century United States, 6,884 words) by Michael Benjamin Hoffen, an eighth-grader at Riverdale Country School in the Bronx; “Committees of Correspondence” (6,753 words) by Ruosong Gao at Cranbrook Kingswood School in Bloomfield Hills, Mich.; and “Battle of the Somme” (8,172 words) by Ju Hwan James Kim at the United World College of South East Asia, a K-12 IB school in Singapore. A paper on the Chinese population in Indonesia in the same issue had 13,076 words.

AP and IB officials say they admire what Fitzhugh, his authors and their teachers have done. Educators who want to encourage writing have been urging students to submit their work not only to The Concord Review but also to college undergraduate research journals now open to younger scholars and to publications run by their own high schools.

Like Fitzhugh, those teachers understand that seeing your name in print is a powerful incentive. It is admittedly a juvenile obsession, but it got me into journalism and is still keeping me at it.

According to Fitzhugh, experts often say teacher quality is the most important factor in academic achievement, but he thinks challenging [student] academic work inspires the most learning.

Students who have tackled demanding tasks “now know they can do it,” he said. “We are not surprised by the breaking of Olympic records by young people inspired by the examples of their peers. Why be surprised if that works in academics too?”

Teachers who haven’t tried this could start with a few independent study projects. That can’t be dismissed as elitist if they let anyone do it who wants to try.