Thursday, December 15, 2022


Pitt meant that the actual command of the army should be in the hands of Brigadier Lord Howe, and he was in fact its real chief; "the noblest Englishman that has appeared in my time, and the best soldier in the British army," says Wolfe. And he elsewhere speaks of him as "that great man." Abercromby testifies to the universal respect and love with which officers and men regarded him, and Pitt calls him "a character of ancient times; a complete model of military virtue.”

High as this praise is, it seems to have been deserved. The young nobleman, who was then in his thirty-fourth year, had the qualities of a leader of men. The army felt him, from general to drummer-boy. He was its soul; and while breathing into it his own energy and ardor, and bracing it by stringent discipline, he broke through the traditions of the service and gave it new shapes to suit the time and place. During the past year he had studied the art of forest warfare, and joined Rogers and his rangers in their scouting-parties, sharing all their hardships and making himself one of them. Perhaps the reforms that he introduced were fruits of this rough self-imposed schooling. He made officers and men throw off all useless incumbrances, cut their hair close, wear leggings to protect them from briers, brown the barrels of their muskets, and carry in their knapsacks thirty pounds of meal, which they cooked for themselves; so that, according to an admiring Frenchman, they could live a month without their supply-trains.

"You would laugh to see the droll figure we all make," writes an officer. "Regulars as well as provincials have cut their coats so as scarcely to reach their waists. No officer or private is allowed to carry more than one blanket and a bearskin. A small portmanteau is allowed each officer. No women follow the camp to wash our linen. Lord Howe has already shown an example by going to the brook and washing his own.” Here, as in all things, he shared the lot of the soldier, and required his officers to share it. A story is told of him that before the army embarked he invited some of them to dinner in his tent, where they found no seats but logs, and no carpet but bear-skins. A servant presently placed on the ground a large dish of pork and peas, on which his lordship took from his pocket a sheath containing a knife and fork and began to cut the meat.

The guests looked on in some embarrassment; upon which he said: "Is it possible, gentlemen, that you have come on this campaign without providing yourselves with what is necessary?" And he gave each of them a sheath, with a knife and fork, like his own. Yet this Lycurgus of the camp, as a contemporary calls him, is described as a man of social accomplishments rare even in his rank. He made himself greatly beloved by the provincial officers, with many of whom he was on terms of intimacy, and he did what he could to break down the barriers between the colonial soldiers and the British regulars. When he was at Albany, sharing with other high officers the kindly hospitalities of Mrs. Schuyler, he so won the heart of that excellent matron that she loved him like a son; and, though not given to such effusion, embraced him with tears on the morning when he left her to lead his division to the lake. 

In Westminster Abbey may be seen the tablet on which Massachusetts pays grateful tribute to his virtues, and commemorates "the affection her officers and soldiers bore to his command."

Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe. [1884] Library of Alexandria. Kindle Edition.

Friday, December 9, 2022


This inability to write at what was once considered a fifth-grade level is now the norm among students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and ethnicities. It is also the predictable result of the overemphasis on self-expression at the expense of excellence that has been driving the decline of American K-12 and higher education for decades.

Before I met them, many of my college students had been exposed mostly to writing assignments that focused on emotional self-expression, not rational argumentation. Partly as a result, most of them were not only poor writers but also underdeveloped thinkers.

The Hill
The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the view of The Hill

Make American education rigorous again

by Elizabeth Grace Matthew, Opinion Contributor—12/08/22

ACT test scores made public in a report Wednesday, Oct. 12, 2022, reveal a decline in preparedness for college-level coursework.  

Now that school choice is being touted not only by Republicans but also by Democrats, after public school students’ test scores took a nosedive as a result of school districts’ COVID-19 policies, it is a good moment to reintroduce rigor to American education writ large.  

I have been a college-level writing instructor at several universities, ranging from an elite ivy league institution to middling state schools, for more than a decade. Most of my students have been bright, hard-working and ambitious. But most of them could not reliably construct grammatical sentences.

This inability to write at what was once considered a fifth-grade level is now the norm among students of all socioeconomic backgrounds, races and ethnicities. It is also the predictable result of the overemphasis on self-expression at the expense of excellence that has been driving the decline of American K-12 and higher education for decades.

Educational “experts” who purport to know what is best for children have long presided over increasing illiteracy and innumeracy, and a widening achievement gap. These so-called experts, beginning with those in the academy, are impervious to ever-mounting evidence that the more we do what they prescribe the worse things get.

To fix the manifold problems in American education and in the broader culture that schools and universities are producing, we will need to recover two related ideas that are anathema to today’s educational establishment: First, that mastery of a subject or skill is recognizable and worthy of praise; second, that the discipline of mastery (which should be common) is not the opposite of creativity (which is rare), but a prerequisite for it.

Educational experts have come up with a lot of sophisticated-sounding reasons for what amounts to dumbing education down. Rote learning, memorization and homework are all out of vogue. Supposedly, these ancient instructional tools perpetuate classism and racism. It turns out, however, that the achievement gap between students of different classes and races increases, not decreases, as educational standards decline.

Most of my students did not know basic grammar and punctuation because they were never drilled and tested on these concepts.
If they did not absorb these patterns by osmosis (that is, if they were not both inclined toward lots of reading and sufficiently privileged to have access to books) then they did not absorb them at all.

My Italian American grandmother, by contrast, who attended Philadelphia public schools in the 1930s and had parents who spoke broken English and no books in her home, could reliably capitalize and punctuate basic sentences. This would put her in the top 10 percent of the hundreds of students I taught over the years, at least half of whom had college-educated parents. My grandmother was not smarter than most of these kids, nor was she of a higher socioeconomic class.

But she had attended school when educational discourse innocently and rightly assumed that objective standards were just as applicable to and achievable for racially diverse, socio-economically disadvantaged and English-as-a-second-language students as anyone else. When my grandmother was a kid, it had not yet occurred to anyone to pretend that such standards have no merit just because it is harder to help kids without as many resources to meet them.

If acknowledging that excellence exists and can be measured is the first step toward making American education rigorous again, recognizing that mastery precedes (not inhibits) creativity is the second.

Great emphasis on fostering children’s creativity has suffused educational discourse since the 1970s, when the late Maria Montessori’s idea that “play is the work of childhood” took root. That is fine for very young children. But fostering creativity at the expense of mastery beyond the age of 9 or 10, when children should begin to engage higher-order thinking, is counter-productive.

Before I met them, many of my college students had been exposed mostly to writing assignments that focused on emotional self-expression, not rational argumentation. Partly as a result, most of them were not only poor writers but also underdeveloped thinkers.

For those few among us who are true creatives, rigorous instruction in syntax, grammar and punctuation feed the craft, not detract from it. This is as true in other areas as it is in writing. As any top-tier jazz musician can explain, to break rules productively, you must first know the rules and how to follow them.

This seems like common sense. Yet, for decades now, educational elites have been making things worse for everyone (most acutely for poor and minority students) while insisting that they are making them better.

We could have spent the past 50 years expanding access to traditionally rigorous educational standards to truly include everyone. Instead, we spent them deferring to people who tore those standards apart, replaced them with counter-productive nonsense and asked us to pretend that their naked emperor was dressed in silks.

Any return to rigor begins with acknowledging that education is about steady soldiers finding the most effective ways to help students meet enduring and objective standards—not whiny revolutionaries insisting that such standards do not exist.

Elizabeth Grace Matthew writes about culture, politics and religion for various publications, including America magazine and The Philadelphia Inquirer. Follow her on Twitter @ElizabethGMat.

Friday, December 2, 2022


Lisa Belkin, a New York Times reporter covering the work-family beat, wrote of how once during a business trip she sang a lullaby to her two young boys from a telephone bank at the Atlanta airport; the women making calls on both sides of her wept.

Kay S. Hymowitz, Liberation’s Children
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2003, 169

Thursday, December 1, 2022


There was virtually no control over the application of Red Terror by sailors, from both the Baltic and Black Sea Fleets. Assembled into anti-profiteer detachments, they based themselves at railway stations and seized any articles at random. There was no appeal. One man whose goods had been impounded described the head of one these groups: ‘a sailor with high cheekbones, a Mauser on his belt, and a pewter earring in one ear. He was eating salt fish with a wooden spoon, like porridge, and he was not at all eager to talk.’ Their favorite task was spotting disguised burzhui and taking revenge. A group searching a train seized General Abaleshev, who could hardly pass himself off as a worker. He was forced to open his suitcase. Right at the top were his shoulder boards with Tsarist insignia. They shot him beside the track.

Indiscriminate class revenge was the mission of many sailors. In mid-January Bolsheviks from the Black Sea Fleet took part in the confused fighting in Odessa against junker cadets, officers and Ukrainian nationalists. There were estimated to be 11,000 unemployed officers in Odessa alone. ‘An arrested officer has just been led past,’ Yelena Lakier noted in her diary. ‘He was tall and very young. Poor man. Are they taking him to the Almaz, a cruiser anchored in the port? They take officers there, torture them and then dump the bodies in the sea.’ The next day, when their apartment was searched by sailors, one of them poked around under beds and cupboards with a sword. He boasted to Yelena Lakier ‘I took this sword from an officer on the Chumnaya Hill, then I finished him off.’ ‘Didn’t you feel sorry for killing him? He was a fellow Russian.’ ‘Who should feel sorry for killing a counter-revolutionary? We “bathed” a lot of them from the Almaz.’

Echoes of the atrocities in the south soon reached Moscow. A friend of the writer Ivan Bunin who had just returned from Simferopol in the Crimea reported that ‘indescribable horror’ was taking place there. ‘Soldiers and workers are “walking up to their knees in blood.” An old colonel was roasted alive in the furnace of a locomotive.’ On 14 January, Bolshevik sailors from the Black Sea Fleet killed some 300 victims at Evpatoria by throwing them in the sea from the steamship Romania, having first broken their arms and legs. ‘The most senior officer, who had been wounded, was picked up and thrown headfirst into the ship’s furnace. On the transport Truevor, the officers were brought up from the hold one by one, and their bodies were mutilated while they were still alive before being thrown overboard.’

Antony Beevor, Russia (137-138). Penguin Publishing Group. Kindle Edition.

Monday, November 28, 2022


“England at this time presented the phenomenon of a prime minister who could not command the respect of his own servants. A more preposterous figure than the Duke of Newcastle never stood at the head of a great nation. He had a feverish craving for place and power, joined to a total unfitness for both. He was an adept in personal politics, and was so busied with the arts of winning and keeping office that he had no leisure, even if he had had ability, for the higher work of government. He was restless, quick in movement, rapid and confused in speech, lavish of worthless promises, always in a hurry, and at once headlong, timid, and rash. “A borrowed importance and real insignificance,” says Walpole, who knew him well, “gave him the perpetual air of a solicitor....He had no pride, though infinite self-love. He loved business immoderately; yet was only always doing it, never did it. When left to himself, he always plunged into difficulties, and then shuddered for the consequences.”

Walpole gives an anecdote showing the state of his ideas on colonial matters. General Ligonier suggested to him that Annapolis ought to be defended. “To which he replied with his lisping, evasive hurry: ‘Annapolis, Annapolis! Oh, yes, Annapolis must be defended,—where is Annapolis?’” Another contemporary, Smollett, ridicules him in his novel of Humphrey Clinker, and tells a similar story, which, founded in fact or not, shows in what estimation the minister was held: “Captain C. treated the Duke’s character without any ceremony. ‘This wiseacre,’ said he, ‘is still abed; and I think the best thing he can do is to sleep on till Christmas; for when he gets up he does nothing but expose his own folly. In the beginning of the war he told me in a great fright that thirty thousand French had marched from Acadia to Cape Breton. Where did they find transports? said I.—Transports! cried he, I tell you they marched by land.—By land to the island of Cape Breton!—What, is Cape Breton an island?—Certainly.—Ha! are you sure of that?—When I pointed it out on the map, he examined it earnestly with his spectacles; then, taking me in his arms,—‘My dear C., cried he, you always bring us good news. Egad! I'll go directly and tell the King that Cape Breton is an island.’”

His wealth, county influence, flagitious use of patronage, and long-practised skill in keeping majorities in the House of Commons by means that would not bear the light, made his support necessary to Pitt himself, and placed a fantastic political jobber at the helm of England in a time when she needed a patriot and a statesman. Newcastle was the growth of the decrepitude and decay of a great party, which had fulfilled its mission and done its work. But if the Whig soil had become poor for a wholesome crop, it was never so rich for toadstools.

Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe [1884}

Friday, November 18, 2022


         The prestige of the monarchy was declining with the ideas that had given it life and strength. A growing disrespect for king, ministry, and clergy was beginning to prepare the catastrophe that was still some forty years in the future. While the valleys and low places of the kingdom were dark with misery and squalor, its heights were bright with a gay society—elegant, fastidious, witty—craving the pleasures of the mind as well as of the senses, criticising everything, analyzing everything, believing nothing. 

        Voltaire was in the midst of it, hating, with all his vehement soul, the abuses that swarmed about him, and assailing them with the inexhaustible shafts of his restless and piercing intellect. Montesquieu was showing to a despot-ridden age the principles of political freedom. Diderot and D'Alembert were beginning their revolutionary Encyclopaedia. 

        Rousseau was sounding the first notes of his mad eloquence—the wild revolt of a passionate and diseased genius against a world of falsities and wrongs. The salons of Paris, cloyed with other pleasures, alive to all that was racy and new, welcomed the pungent doctrines, and played with them as children play with fire, thinking no danger; as time went on, even embraced them in a genuine spirit of hope and goodwill for humanity. 

         The Revolution began at the top—in the world of fashion, birth, and intellect—and propagated itself downwards. "We walked on a carpet of flowers," Count Ségur afterwards said, "unconscious that it covered an abyss;" till the gulf yawned at last, and swallowed them.

Francis Parkman, Montcalm and Wolfe. [1884] Library of Alexandria. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, November 16, 2022


 Academic Questions 

Fall 2022, 83 

Richard Phelps (excerpt)

For decades, the indefatigable Will Fitzhugh has refused to stop reminding us of the stark and stubborn paradox of American culture, both apparent and hidden at virtually every U.S. public school. We fastidiously measure observable variations in athletic skill and ability and celebrate those who excel. 

Meanwhile, we shush and shame those who attempt the same in the cognitive domain. The outfall of this profound bias can be seen in the tables of contents of Fitzhugh’s The Concord Review, where high school students publish excellent long scholarly history journal articles. Scan the names of the authors and the locations of their schools over the past few decades and one cannot help but notice the trend—away from American-born authors and toward students raised elsewhere, some now attending U.S. private schools as international students, but many still residing at home overseas. And this not in a STEM field, but in the humanities….

Friday, November 11, 2022



Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
11 November 2022

If American students were allowed no access to physical exercise in school, regardless of  age, sex, race, ethnicity, religion, IQ, or national origin, there would be general agreement that they were being underserved. If there was no access to first aid in their schools as well, again they would be seen as underserved.

But though the majority of American students are never asked to read one complete history book in school, or work on one serious term paper, almost no one seems to understand that in this way, they are all underserved as well. The fact that the great majority of American students who go to college, arrive there never having read a nonfiction book or written an essay that was not about them, means that most are quite unprepared for college books and college term papers.

Naturally, given the very many billions spent on the education of American students, most taxpayers do not want to see them underserved and deprived of essential learning experiences.

The problem, as Robert Pondiscio points out, is that American educators too often want to provide students with a mirror instead of a window, fostering narcissism and ignorance in the process.

Surely if our schools are mostly producing ignorant and solipsistic students, those students are clearly all being underserved, and denied the serious work they must do to attain the literacy they need to be useful and successful in our society.

Perhaps it is time to give this irresponsible neglect more attention….

Monday, November 7, 2022


November 6, 2022

Dear Will,

I write to you as a past author in The Concord Review to voice my support of TCR’s work in sparking a love of history and a reflective spirit. You published my paper on Napoleon Bonaparte that I wrote for world history class in 1997. 

When I matriculated at Harvard College I still fondly remember you kindly taking me out to lunch, a freshman finding his way. Since then, my path took me towards science and medicine; I obtained my MD from NYU in 2007 and completed clinical training and specialization into endocrinology at the Massachusetts General Hospital. I was recruited to UC San Diego to build a research program devoted to understanding the genetic basis of diabetes and related disorders and am currently tenured at the school of medicine. In addition to leading a lab composed of graduate students and post-doctoral fellows, I see patients with diabetes and teach medical students. 

Since that article on Bonaparte published in TCR over two decades ago I have published dozens of peer reviewed scientific articles, editorials, and book chapters. The Bonaparte paper was fundamental to what success I’ve had in scientific writing, by teaching me that there is an audience for works of love and depth and passion. I remember that feeling of total immersion and absorption in researching the paper, reading original French sources, getting help from my French teacher to understand certain passages. 

In today’s cultural climate, where it is acceptable to respond with “TLDR” (too long didn’t read) and reading material is selected primarily based on its brevity, I think the TCR is even more crucial by appreciating and inspiring appreciation for long form depth. 

Thank you for what you did for me and best wishes, 


Amit R. Majithia, M.D.
Associate Professor, Department of Medicine
School of Medicine, University of California San Diego

Wednesday, November 2, 2022


What teachers seem to be embracing instead is a notion of civics education that is largely content-free.

What’s the Point of Civics Education?

Not even one-fourth of teachers rank knowledge of political and civic institutions as a top-three concern…

By Rick Hess—October 31, 2022

Education Week

As a guy who taught high school civics back in the last century, I have some admittedly old-fashioned notions about civics instruction. For instance, it may sound archaic to some, but I still think civics should entail teaching students about our political, social, and economic systems; the rights and responsibilities of citizens; and how to engage in the political process.

Apparently, all of this puts me wildly out of step with the times. At least, that’s the obvious takeaway from a new RAND Corp. survey of K-12 teachers, examining how they think about civic and citizenship education. The national study, released earlier this month, utilized questions drawn from the International Civic and Citizenship Education Study.

The researchers found that few teachers seemed to believe that civic education requires teaching students about the core institutions or knowledge upon which civil society rests. Asked for the top three aims of civic education, just 23 percent of teachers said one of them is “promoting knowledge of social, political, and civic institutions.” Just 2 in 5 said a top-three aim was “promoting knowledge of citizens’ rights and responsibilities,” and just 11 percent thought a top-three priority was developing students’ capacity to defend their point of view.

I was gobsmacked by the results. I mean, I’ve always thought it fairly uncontroversial to assume that students need to know how judges get appointed or how Congress works if we expect them to be informed, engaged citizens. And I thought the whole “rights-and-responsibilities of citizens” thing was one place where we could all pretty much agree, at least in principle.

Yet, not even one-fourth of teachers rank knowledge of political and civic institutions as a top-three concern?! Not even half think promoting knowledge of citizens’ rights and responsibilities makes the top three?! Barely 1 in 10 think it’s important that students be able to articulate their beliefs?!

I honestly don’t know what to make of that. I’m tempted to blame the question wording or the survey instrument, except that the questions are pretty straightforward, and the survey has been used around the globe.

Some readers, I suspect, will say, “See, I knew it! This is a consequence of politicizing civics education.” As regular readers know, I have plenty of concerns along that line. Except, the evidence doesn’t really suggest that that’s a major factor. For instance, just 27 percent cited promoting environmental activism as a top-three aim, just 20 percent named “anti-racism,” and just 5 percent mentioned preparing students for future political engagement.

What teachers seem to be embracing instead is a notion of civics education that is largely content-free. The most frequently cited aim, offered by about two-thirds of teachers, is “promoting students’ critical and independent thinking.” The only other aim named by even half of teachers was “developing students’ skills and competencies in conflict resolution.”

I’m all for critical thinking. But critical thinking about what? Clearly, it’s not about social, political, or civic institutions; the rights-and-responsibilities of citizens; how to defend one’s beliefs; or how to engage in the political process. This is critical thinking as a pleasant-sounding placeholder. Thinking critically about pressing conflicts (much less resolving them) inevitably requires historical understanding and substantive knowledge. That seems to have gotten lost.

In an era when researchers have reported that just 26 percent of Americans can name the three branches of government or that only about 1 in 3 Americans can pass the nation’s citizenship test, the consequences of ignorance are glaring. We see the effects daily playing out on social media, in our tribal politics, and in performative civic leadership.

We desperately need civics and citizenship instruction that prepares students to do better. That means helping students cultivate the requisite knowledge, skills, and habits. But the first step, it would appear, is convincing teachers that this is worth doing.

Monday, October 24, 2022


October 21, 2022

Dear Will (if I may),

I am writing to you as a former author of The Concord Review, in response to the last newsletter. You published my International Baccalaureate extended essay in history written in 1999, Ploughshares into Swords: Did the German Industrial Phoenix Push Wilhelm II Towards Reckless Ambition?

The role of TCR in my academic career cannot be overstated. This was my first academic publication and did much to inspire me towards further study. At the time, I was a student at Lester B Pearson United World College of the Pacific in Victoria, British Columbia. After the completion of my studies, I returned to my native Hungary and began a publishing career as an undergraduate. The critical essay writing skills that I had acquired helped me enormously. By the time I finished university, I had published two papers in the top two Hungarian history journals and received the contract for my first monograph.

In 2005, I received a full scholarship to read for an MPhil and subsequently a PhD in Economic and Social History at the University of Oxford. My graduate work was still inspired by German economic history, in particular the economic consequences of World War II for economic growth in West Germany after 1945. My master thesis was awarded the Feinstein Prize in 2008, my doctoral dissertation the thesis prize of the International Economic History Association in 2012. I was an assistant professor at the London School of Economics before I moved to Bocconi University in Milan, where I have been an associate professor with tenure since 2019.

I have had a successful career in publishing articles in top journals of economic history, including two papers in the Economic History Review. In 2018, I published a monograph with Cambridge University Press, The Economic Consequences of the War: West Germany's Growth Miracle After 1945. It was reviewed by Barry Eichengreen in the American Historical Review.

I have also become a passionate educator, teaching economic history at both undergraduate and graduate level, and having supervised both doctoral and postdoctoral researchers.

I can tell you with the greatest sincerity, as a fellow academic, that the work you continue to do is of inestimable value.

Thank you and best regards,


Dr Tamás Vonyó
Associate Professor of Economic History
Bocconi University
Department of Social and Political Sciences
Via Roentgen 1
20136 Milan, IT

Wednesday, October 5, 2022


Anne Rutledge 
Out of me unworthy and unknown
The vibrations of deathless music;
“With malice toward none, with charity for all.” 

Out of me the forgiveness of millions toward millions,
And the beneficent face of a nation
Shining with justice and truth. 

I am Anne Rutledge who sleep beneath these weeds,
Beloved in life of Abraham Lincoln,
Wedded to him, not through union,
But through separation. 

Bloom forever, O Republic,
From the dust of my bosom!

Tuesday, September 27, 2022


 To the People of the State of New York:

AFTER an unequivocal experience of the inefficacy of the subsisting federal government, you are called upon to deliberate on a new Constitution for the United States of America. The subject speaks its own importance; comprehending in its consequences nothing less than the existence of the UNION, the safety and welfare of the parts of which it is composed, the fate of an empire in many respects the most interesting in the world. It has been frequently remarked that it seems to have been reserved to the people of this country, by their conduct and example, to decide the important question, whether societies of men are really capable or not of establishing good government from reflection and choice, or whether they are forever destined to depend for their political constitutions on accident and force. If there be any truth in the remark, the crisis at which we are arrived may with propriety be regarded as the era in which that decision is to be made; and a wrong election of the part we shall act may, in this view, deserve to be considered as the general misfortune of mankind.

This idea will add the inducements of philanthropy to those of patriotism, to heighten the solicitude which all considerate and good men must feel for the event. Happy will it be if our choice should be directed by a judicious estimate of our true interests, unperplexed and unbiased by considerations not connected with the public good. But this is a thing more ardently to be wished than seriously to be expected. The plan offered to our deliberations affects too many particular interests, innovates upon too many local institutions, not to involve in its discussion a variety of objects foreign to its merits, and of views, passions and prejudices little favorable to the discovery of truth.

Alexander Hamilton, The Federalist Papers,
October 27, 1787, Number One (p. 1). Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 22, 2022


I decided to tell the school board about my treatment at the hands of teachers and school officials. I was nervous but I made my case. The response, to my shock, was a standing ovation. [Sahar Tartak is a freshman at Yale.]

Wall Street Journal

My High School’s ‘Antiracist’ Agitprop

Teachers tried to bully me into signing a $375 student government check for a group promoting critical race theory. I refused.

By Sahar Tartak
September15, 2022

I was educated in the school district ranked by as America’s third-best. Immigrants from around the world come to Great Neck, N.Y., to raise their children. My best friend’s father was at the Tiananmen Square massacre. My classmates left behind their families in El Salvador. My mother escaped revolutionary Iran, and my grandfather escaped the Nazis. 

Lately, though, the area’s diverse and liberal-minded residents may have reason to think their local school officials aren’t as open-minded as they thought. In 2021 Great Neck North High School directed the student government to give $375 of student funds to a “racial equity” group to speak to the student body about “systemic racism.” I was the student government’s treasurer, and I felt we didn’t know enough about the organization and its mission to disburse the funds. So I refused to sign the check. 

In response, the teachers who advise the student government berated, bullied and insulted me at our next meeting, which took place over Zoom for my parents to overhear. They began by announcing that my social studies teacher would be present. Together, the three adults told me that the principal himself found my stance “appalling.” I had made them and the school “look bad,” they told me. One teacher said the situation gave her “hives.” 

When I suggested that students might not need or want a lecture on systemic racism, my social-studies teacher asked whether I’d also oppose a Holocaust survivor’s presentation. 

I objected to that comparison, but she cut me off: “If you’re not on board with systemic racism, I have trouble with that, girlfriend.”

When I didn’t back down, she made a bizarre accusation: “The fact that you think slavery is debatable . . .”

I logged off Zoom and started crying. My parents comforted me, and I decided I wasn’t going to sign that check.

That’s when I noticed how illiberal my liberal high school had become. I once expressed disagreement with the narrative of the “1619 Project,” and that same social-studies teacher snapped that I was opposed to hearing other perspectives. I had signed up for her class because it was described as “discussion-based,” but certain discussion seemed forbidden. 

Later, a friend showed me a lesson from his English class—a Google Slides presentation urging that students pledge to work “relentlessly” in the “lifelong process” of “antiracism.” According to these slides, America is a place where racism is “no better today than it was 200 years ago.” I disagreed but didn’t mind the debate. Yet this wasn’t about debate: Immigrant children were being told to “pledge” to defend a view many of them don’t hold.

I doubt students could have comfortably objected in class. The lesson pre-empted criticism by imputing to them “white fragility,” which means they “close off self-reflection,” “trivialize the reality of racism,” and “protect a limited worldview.” The adult presenting this accusatory material was a teacher who had the power to grade them and affect their prospects of getting into college.

When parents caught wind of this presentation, their group chats exploded: “I feel like I live under a rock.” “I did not realize the extent of this at all.” “If you too are troubled by this, join us at the upcoming school board meeting.”

I decided to tell the school board about my treatment at the hands of teachers and school officials. I was nervous but I made my case. The response, to my shock, was a standing ovation. I also received many expressions of support from fed-up parents, from teachers who silently abhorred their one-sided “professional development” courses, and from students who had been punished by administrators for questioning the orthodoxy of systemic racism. (One of those students had been sent to the principal’s office for refusing to sign an “antihate” pledge.) 

That experience prompted me and a few like-minded others to look into our school’s curriculums. What we found was an arsenal of lopsidedly race-obsessed lesson plans. One was about the American Psychological Association’s “Apology to People of Color” for its role in “Promoting, Perpetuating, and Failing to Challenge Racism.” Another was titled “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Knapsack.” My favorite: “A Critical Race Theory Approach to The Great Gatsby.”

The schools in our district had always followed the guidelines of New York state’s comprehensive social-studies curriculum, which included teaching about the pervasiveness and evils of slavery, mistreatment of Native Americans, discrimination against Chinese immigrants and so on. What we discovered was something else—partisanship and race essentialism, mixed in with administrative intimidation and bullying that our officials refused to address.

District officials responded in the way school officials often do when criticized. They ignored us for as long as possible, then delayed taking action for as long as possible, clearly hoping everybody would forget the controversy and move on. They didn’t respond to my father’s freedom-of-information request until the day before a contentious school-board election. The board then promised to further investigate the curriculums, but we never heard anything after that. My school brought in a member of the state Education Department’s Board of Regents, to discuss curriculums, but that resulted in nothing. 

I graduated last spring, but no one has moved on. Students and parents across the country are finally asking tough questions about anti-American curriculums. Immigrants like my mother and grandfather found refuge in America because for all its problems, it’s a wonderful place full of generous and open-minded people. The nation’s schools have a duty to teach students that basic truth. 

[Sahar Tartak was a Valedictorian, and is a freshman at Yale and a fellow at the Foundation Against Intolerance and Racism.]

Tuesday, September 20, 2022


     ....The morale of the staff had never been higher. Truman spoke of them proudly and affectionately as his “team.” They were devoted to him, and increasingly as time went on, the better they knew him, quite as much as those who had served with him in the Army. They liked him as a man, greatly respected him as a leader, admiring his courage, decisiveness, and fundamental honesty. The President they worked for, the Harry Truman they saw day to day, bore almost no resemblance to the stereotype Harry Truman, the cocky, profane, “feisty little guy.” Rather it was a quiet-spoken, even-tempered and uncommonly kind-hearted person, whose respect for the office he held enlarged their appreciation not only of him but of their own responsibilities. “He was, as I’m sure you know, an extremely thoughtful , courteous, considerate man,” George Elsey would tell an interviewer years later. “He was a pleasure to work for . . . very kindly . . . never too busy to think about members of his staff. . . . He had a tremendous veneration and respect for the institution of the Presidency. He demanded at all times respect for the President of the United States. . . .” William J. Hopkins, an executive clerk who would serve nearly forty years in the White House , said later of Truman that no President in his experience had “set a comparable tone.” Truman, Hopkins emphasized, “liked people, he trusted people, and in turn he engendered a feeling of unqualified loyalty and devotion among his staff.” A measure of the Truman manner and outlook was the way he conducted his regular morning meeting with the staff, one of the most important events of their day, for the information and sense of direction provided, but also for its overall atmosphere.

    The staff numbered thirteen, two more than in Roosevelt’s time, and Truman was his own chief of staff. The meetings were informal, yet orderly and businesslike. Truman would open the door of his office on the dot of nine o’clock and one by one they would file in and take their seats. He was seated at his desk . . . the staff assembled in a semi-circle around his desk, and much of the day’s business was gone over [remembered Hopkins ]. He usually started with Matt Connelly, who would bring up matters relating to presidential appointments, what was on the agenda for the day and upcoming appointments. He would also bring to the President’s attention requests for speeches throughout the country, getting the President’s reactions and (in some cases) commitments. The President would then turn to Charlie Ross and see what problems might arise during the day in his relations with the press. Many matters were discussed in terms of how to answer press questions and deal with certain problems. Dr. Steelman, of course, was there, and Clark Clifford . . . and they brought up matters in their areas of responsibility. It was an opportunity to listen to the President’s philosophy and get his directions for the day.

    President Truman was a prodigious reader, and each night he would carry home a portfolio , often six or eight inches thick. The next morning, he would have gone through all that material and taken such action as was needed. He had a desk folder labeled for each of his staff members, and at this staff meeting, he would pass out to them documents in their area of responsibility, or on which he wished their advice or recommendations, or on matters he wanted raised with the various departments and agencies. In this way each staff member knew basically what the others were doing, knew to whom the President had given which responsibility—whether it was to respond to a certain request, or to follow through on the preparation of an Executive Order or a speech, or things of that nature. Truman was as tidy about his desk as he was about his clothes. The “flow of paper was probably the best I have experienced,” remembered Hopkins, whose job, as executive clerk, was to bring to the President and keep track of the immense range of documents requiring his attention or signature— enrolled bills, executive orders, proclamations, executive clemency cases, treaties , departmental directives, nominations for federal office, commissions, messages to Congress—in addition to “gleanings” from the incoming mail, which were routinely delivered to Truman’s desk twice a day, in the morning and again after lunch.

    Hopkins, who was himself extremely punctual, also noted admiringly of Truman, “When he went to lunch, if he left word that he would return at 2: 00 P.M., he was back without fail, not at 2: 05, not at 1: 15, but at 2: 00 P.M.” The longer he was in office, the more conscious Truman seemed of time. On his desk now he had a total of four clocks, as well as two others elsewhere in the room and his own wristwatch. Ross, Clifford, Elsey, could each tell his own stories of Truman’s exceptional diligence, the long hours he kept, working as hard or harder than any of them. “Lots of times I would be down there [at the White House] in the evening,” Clifford would remember, “and he’d be sitting upstairs, in the Oval Room upstairs, with an old-fashioned green eye shade on, like bookkeepers wear, and he’d be sitting there reading all this material . . . and we would talk together, and he took it very, very seriously. And the strain of the job was enormous.” “He spent virtually every waking moment working at being president,” said Charles Murphy, a new man on the staff in 1947, who was Clifford’s assistant. To convey the kind of sustained effort the presidency demanded, Murphy would compare it to cramming for and taking an examination every day, year after year, with never a letup. Murphy particularly admired Truman’s gift for simplification. “Not only could he simplify complex matters, he could also keep simple matters simple.”

    The staff was continuously amazed by the President’s knowledge of the country, acquired from years of travel by automobile and from the territory covered at the time of the Truman Committee investigations. Charlie Ross claimed that Truman could look out of his plane at almost any point and name the exact region he was flying over. They liked his sense of humor. “An economist,” he told them , “is a man who wears a watch chain with a Phi Beta Kappa key at one end and no watch at the other.” And all of them, it seems, admired his sense of history, which they saw as one of his greatest strengths. “If a man is acquainted with what other people have experienced at this desk,” Truman would say sitting in the Oval Office, “it will be easier for him to go through a similar experience. It is ignorance that causes most mistakes. The man who sits here ought to know his American history, at least.” When Truman talked of presidents past—Jackson, Polk, Lincoln—it was as if he had known them personally. If ever there was a “clean break from all that had gone before,” he would say, the result would be chaos. Once, that spring, at lunch on the Williamsburg, during a brief cruise down the Potomac, Truman and Bill Hassett, the correspondence secretary, began talking about the Civil War. As the others at the table listened, the conversation ranged over several battles and the abilities and flaws of various Union and Confederate generals, Truman, as often before, impressing everyone with how much he had read and remembered. He would like to have been a history teacher, Truman said. “Rather teach it than make it?” Clifford asked. “Yes, I think so,” Truman replied. “It would be not nearly so much trouble.”

    Clifford had become particularly important to Truman, in much the way Harry Hopkins had been to Roosevelt, and it was vital, they both knew, that Clifford understand Truman and what he was trying to accomplish in the long run. He did not want an administration like Roosevelt’s, Truman said. Too many of those around Roosevelt had been “crackpots,” he thought. “I want to keep my feet on the ground, don’t feel comfortable unless I know where I’m going. I don’t want any experiments. The American people have been through a lot of experiments and they want a rest from experiments.” He disliked the terms “progressive” and “liberal.” What he wanted was a “forward-looking program.” That was it, a “forward-looking program.” Perhaps more than Truman knew, they all appreciated the respect he showed them....

Charles Murphy, a shy man who spoke only when spoken to, would later remark, “In many ways President Truman really was as tough as a boot, but with his personal staff he was extremely gentle . . . and his staff returned his kindness with an extraordinary amount of hard work, voluntary overtime, and wholehearted, single-minded devotion.” By later presidential standards the staff was small and unlike the White House staffs of some later presidencies, those serving Truman made no policy decisions. As George Elsey would remember, no one on Truman’s staff would have dreamed of making policy or making decisions on fundamental economic or political issues, “or any other kind of issue.” It just has to be said over and over again [Elsey would comment in an interview years later]. There was no vast foreign policy machinery at the White House. There was no vast machinery on any subject at the White House. . . . [And no one trying to] make their reputations by undercutting . . . by slitting the throat of a Secretary of State . . . by proving to the President, by trying to prove to the President, that they’re smarter and more brilliant and their ideas are better [than the Secretary of State] . . . . None of that existed. Had anybody at the White House tried to behave that way, he would have been out of there in thirty seconds flat. The loyalty of those around Truman was total and would never falter. In years to come not one member of the Truman White House would ever speak or write scathingly of him or belittle him in any fashion. There would be no vindictive “inside” books or articles written about this President by those who worked closest to him. They all thought the world of Harry Truman then and for the rest of their lives, and would welcome the chance to say so.

McCullough, David (2003-08-20). Truman
(Kindle Locations 10773-10850). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

Thursday, September 15, 2022


The new Fourth Sea Lord was an officer of singular firmness of character. He possessed a unique experience of naval war. Since Nelson himself, no British naval officer had been so long at sea in time of war on a ship of war without setting foot on land. 

Captain Pakenham had been fourteen months afloat in the battleship Asahi during the war between Russia and Japan. Although this vessel was frequently in harbour, he would not leave it for fear she might sail without him; and there alone, the sole European in a great ship’s company of valiant, reticent, inscrutable Japanese, he had gone through the long vigil outside Port Arthur, with its repeated episodes of minefields and bombardments, till the final battle in the Sea of Japan. Always faultlessly attired, he matched the Japanese with a punctilio and reserve the equal of their own, and finally captivated their martial spirit and won their unstinted and outspoken admiration. Admiral Togo has related how the English officer, as the Asahi was going into action at the last great battle, when the heavy shells had already begun to strike the ship, remained impassive alone on the open after-bridge making his notes and taking his observations of the developing action for the reports which he was to send to his Government; and acclaiming him, with Japanese chivalry, recommended him to the Emperor for the highest honour this war-like and knightly people could bestow. 

The unique sea-going record in time of war on a ship of war which Captain Pakenham brought to the Admiralty has been maintained by him to this day, and to fourteen months of sea-going service with the Japanese Fleet, he may now add fifty-two months constant service with the Battle-Cruisers, during which time it is credibly reported that he never on any occasion at sea lay down to rest otherwise than fully dressed, collared and booted, ready at any moment of the night or day.

Winston S. Churchill, The World Crisis, Volume 1 (Winston Churchill's World Crisis Collection) (Kindle Locations 1376-1390). RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Tuesday, September 13, 2022


There was a great Marxist called Lenin,
Who did two or three million men in;
That’s a lot to have done in
But where he did one in
The grand Marxist Stalin did ten in.

        Robert Conquest


Here is the second sentence of Robert Conquest’s The
Harvest of Sorrow: Soviet Collectivism and the Terror-Famine

    “We may perhaps put this in perspective in the present
    case by saying that in the actions here recorded about
    twenty human lives were lost for, not every word, but
    every letter, in this book.”

That sentence represents 3,040 lives. The book is 411
pages long.

        Koba the Dread, by Martin Amis
        New York: Vintage, 2002, 3

Wednesday, September 7, 2022



‘Presentism’ May Be Stoking Doubts About Schools’ Ability to Teach History:
Jumping straight to judgment on historical figures can spur backlash--and it’s not good history.

Natalie Wexler

Americans are losing faith in the ability of public schools to teach controversial issues. One factor could be the way colleges train prospective teachers to approach history.

Only 28% of Americans say they have a great deal or quite a lot of confidence in public schools, according to a recent Gallup poll. When it comes to Republicans, almost half have very little or no confidence. Other polls have found similar doubts and similar polarization.

Survey respondents are particularly dubious about schools’ ability to handle topics relating to race. One poll found that only 55% of parents and 44% of adults in general had faith in their community’s teachers to “appropriately handle” the topic of “how the history of racism affects America today.”

There’s more comfort with teaching about racism in the context of history, but laws enacted in many conservative states have made teachers wary of broaching historical content. According to PEN America, at least 18 states have restricted teaching on race and other controversial topics, and proposals for such laws have increased 250% this year as compared to 2021. Proponents of the laws say they want to allow for education, even about controversial issues, but prevent indoctrination. The problem is that what looks like education to one person can look like indoctrination to another.

What to do? Some, like North Carolina Republican Lieutenant Governor Mark Robinson, propose a seemingly simple solution: just stick to the basics. In a new memoir, Robinson is reported to advocate eliminating history and science from the elementary curriculum and focusing instead on reading, writing, and math.
The problem there is that it’s impossible to teach reading and writing—beyond deciphering words and forming letters of the alphabet—without also teaching content. If students acquire little or no knowledge of the world in elementary school, they won’t be able to understand what they’re expected to read at upper grade levels, or write about it. We have ample proof of that: for many students, it’s the current situation.

Secondary social studies teachers do at least try to teach history, although only about 40% have majored in the subject. For those who have taken college-level history courses, their approach is likely to be strongly influenced by their professors.

A recent flap among academic historians has shed some light on what that influence might be. The president of the American Historical Association, James Sweet, recently penned a column criticizing the decades-old “tendency to interpret the past through the lens of the present,” an approach known as “presentism.” That orientation, he argued, “often ignores the values and mores of people in their own times … neutralizing the expertise that separates historians from those in other disciplines.”

The column prompted outrage on Twitter and elsewhere, followed by an abject apology from Sweet. His critics had several objections, but a fundamental one was that history is inherently political. Historians inevitably select certain facts to include in their narrative, they argue, and traditional history—done by white male historians like Sweet—has favored white males while marginalizing other groups.
One historian also rejected what he saw as Sweet’s opposition to passing judgment on historical figures. “If objectivity means that I treat evil ideas the same as I treat just ones, I have no time for it,” he wrote.

While these critiques make some valid points, I’d say they misunderstand Sweet’s basic argument. And to the extent that his critics’ perspectives are reflected in K-12 teaching, they may be contributing to backlash from conservatives.

I don’t have reliable data on how history is actually being taught in this country—no one does—but I was struck by a comment from an eighth-grade history teacher that was reported in Ed Week some months ago. Teachers weren’t trying to make white male students feel guilty about the past, she said, but she needed to teach “that the laws and systems of our country were purposefully developed to elevate white, cis males.” She added, “That is the truth.”

Actually, it’s not. As someone who spent a decade as a professional historian studying the United States in the late 18th century, I can say with some confidence that the men who drafted the Constitution were not “purposefully” trying to advantage people like themselves. That was part of what resulted from their actions, to be sure, but they saw themselves as expanding human rights, not restricting them. And they were right about that, even if they didn’t expand them as much as we think they should have.

At some point it’s appropriate to bring in the complexity and politics of history, but kids who don’t know the basics—which describes many if not most K-12 students—first need to understand the fundamental reasons we study certain events and individuals. Like: The founders of this country fought for independence from Great Britain, a monarchy, and set up a democratic republic. Once students have the essential story straight, they can be introduced to additional relevant information. Like: The signers of the Declaration of Independence declared that all men were created equal, but most of them enslaved people.

Then students should be guided to analyze what the individuals involved in a historic event were thinking. (I’m borrowing here from the Four Question Method, a brilliant framework for approaching any historical topic. I serve on the organization’s board of advisors.) This was Sweet’s point, and it’s a vital one. Putting yourself in the shoes of others is important not only for understanding the past but also for coping with disagreements in the present. You may well not end up agreeing with those others, but it makes it harder to demonize or simply dismiss them.
Some have scoffed, for instance, at the suggestion that students should learn “both sides” of the Holocaust. The formulation is clumsy, but if it means understanding the reasons Germans embraced Nazism, it’s a crucial inquiry that could help prevent the rise of such movements in the future.

It’s perfectly appropriate for students to pass judgment on the actions of individuals in the past and to ask what the standard narrative has left out, as Sweet’s critics advocate. But they can do those things intelligently only after they understand what happened, based on generally agreed-upon facts, and what it looked and felt like to those involved. And in most cases, teachers should enable students to consider multiple perspectives and decide for themselves which one to embrace rather than presenting a single one as “the truth.” (Obviously, there are some exceptions—like the Holocaust.)

Perhaps many teachers are already approaching history this way—and it can and should be done at all grade levels. One promising development is the rise of elementary curricula that cover historical topics in engaging and age-appropriate ways, equipping kids to delve into them more deeply at higher grade levels. But educators who, with the best of intentions, are guiding students straight to judgment on individuals and events in the past, using 21st-century standards, may be contributing to the public distrust that is making it so difficult to teach history at all.

This post originally appeared on

Thursday, September 1, 2022



Two HS Seniors:
22 August 2022

East Coast:

        …Even though I am very grateful for the boarding high school education I received, I have to admit that there are some problems with the teaching of English at [Prep School]. The most serious of these is the development of so-called “scar literature.” At our school, there was an unwritten rule: if your essay was about a flaw/regret/tragedy in your life, you were more likely to get recognition. A narrative essay about experiencing social injustice might score half a letter grade more than an essay chronicling a meaningful outing with your parents—even if they’re on par in terms of writing skills. Teachers may legitimize the lower score by saying “the storyline is not exciting enough,” but that still doesn’t change the fact that there are story themes that have a natural advantage in inspiring empathy in readers—though the whole point about writing class is far from “who has the saddest story.” As a result, students spend all their writing assignments trying to traumatize their experiences, and little time improving their actual skills. And when it comes to college and narrative [personal] writing is no longer as important, many students are overwhelmed.

    Regarding what you pointed out correctly in your article, Mr. Fitzhugh, it is common in private high schools to also assign shorter academic papers. Although each of our history classes has only twelve students, having to correct three essays/papers per trimester per student can be quite challenging for teachers who teach multiple classes at the same time. As a result, teachers often choose the alternative of primary source analysis, requiring students to write a three-pager or less, using only the documents covered in class. Obviously, this is a far cry from a paper that meets the requirements of The Concord Review. Therefore, it was difficult for students to practice the ability to construct arguments in-length and to gather information independently from outside sources. In the last trimester of eleventh grade, the final project for the required U.S. History course is a twenty-page paper on the topic of a student’s choice—but the lack of proper writing training from English classes or history classes is a huge struggle for many of my peers. So even though private high schools like [Prep School] place more emphasis on academic papers than public high schools, there is indeed still a long way to go in terms of college preparation…

West Coast:

        …Secondly, although I am not an international student, in some ways our educational experiences mirror each other. I attended private school for primary school and public school for high school. I am familiar with the Chinese college entrance exam but do not have first-hand experience with it. However, I have lots of first-hand experience with the “scar literature” you mentioned in your letter. Personal narrative writing is emphasized in America, to the detriment of academic writing. Instead of classes focused on the college entrance exam as in China, English in American public high schools is focused on the college essay. Teachers encourage students to be more personal in their writing, emphasizing their “trauma,” their identity, or oppression (whether real or perceived). In one English class, we were given the assignment to write about “a time we felt oppressed as a result of a facet of our identity.” Predictably, students with identities and experiences that lent themselves to that type of narrative received high marks, while the admittedly, more privileged students’ grades suffered. As a result of this focus on personal narrative writing and the emphasis on trauma, public school students do not know how to write academically at all—I learned this first hand when I taught a course at my high school which emphasized academic writing…

Tuesday, August 23, 2022


The vast number of books published about the First World War defies the reading ability of any one individual. In her concise study of Britain and the origins of the First World War, first published in 1977, Zara Steiner listed 335 books for British policy alone. For each of the belligerents a similar list could be compiled. Immediately after 1918 several hundred volumes of diplomatic documents were published by the various former warring powers, likewise restricted to the origins of the war. Other volumes have supplemented these official ones with yet more material, sometimes suppressed by the official writers, sometimes overlooked by them or unknown to them. Tens of thousands of volumes cover the campaigns, battles, war policies, strategies and individual actions of the combatants, on land, at sea, in the air and behind the lines.

A 32-page article by Martin van Creveld on the railway problems facing the Germans on the Western Front in the first two months of the war lists fifty-eight specialist works. Alan Palmer’s 243-page study of the Salonica Front contains 140 books in its bibliography. The 399-page biography of General Pershing by Donald Smythe, with its detailed references to the American army in France in 1917 and 1918, lists more than five hundred relevant publications. Each of Lyn Macdonald’s six eye-witness books, including the one on the front-line casualties and those who worked to save them, contains several hundred interviews and contemporary testimonies.

To attempt a single-volume history of the war is, from the bibliographic point of view, to attempt not only Everest, but Pelion and Ossa. In this bibliography I have listed only those books whose factual and documentary material has been of significance during the preparation of this book. It represents, as any such bibliography must, a personal, often random choice. For every page that I myself have written here, I must have studied, and benefited from, several hundred, perhaps several thousand pages written by others. I am grateful to their authors for the knowledge and stimulation they have provided, for their own memories of the war, and for the archival material which, in the course of their own researches, they have gathered together.

Martin Gilbert, The First World War: A Complete History (544-545). [1994] RosettaBooks. Kindle Edition.

Wednesday, August 17, 2022


The premise of McCullough’s career was that Americans know too little of their own history and have too little understanding of how easily things might have gone differently. What does all our talk of “freedom” mean if we do not know what it cost?

City Journal
Historian in the Arena
David McCullough’s elegant style and his belief in the American story brought him a wide audience, but the consensus under which he wrote is disappearing.

Jonathan Clarke
August 15, 2022

David McCullough, who died last week at 89, was a gregarious man in what is normally a somewhat cloistered profession. He wrote a gregarious kind of history, in which people took precedence over events. He saw the world as driven by individual character more than by mass, impersonal shifts. “To me, history ought to be a pleasure,” McCullough said. “To me it’s an enlargement of the experience of being alive, just the way literature or art or music is.” Because he sought to share this pleasure, and did so in a clear, vivid prose style, his books frequently became bestsellers. He was a two-time winner of the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award, and as the narrator of PBS’s The American Experience series and Ken Burns’s The Civil War documentary in particular, his voice became identified with the great events of our national story.

McCullough’s death has been met with warm tributes, but the future of his reputation is less certain. The story he told over and over, of how America became America, is one that fewer of his countrymen seem to want to hear. McCullough’s monuments in prose will inevitably be attacked by those whose view of that history is a good deal darker than his. The patriotic speeches he gathered in The American Spirit (2017) were criticized as naïve. His last book, The Pioneers: The Heroic Story of the Settlers Who Brought the American Ideal West (2019), was denounced for presenting stereotypes of Native Americans and downplaying the effects of Western expansion on indigenous people. Academic historians generally thought his work vivid but shallow.

At Yale, where he graduated in 1955, McCullough took classes from John O’Hara and formed a relationship with Thornton Wilder, then at the height of his fame as the author of Our Town. McCullough resolved to be a writer, abandoning other possible vocations in politics or medicine and at first imagining that he would be a novelist or playwright. His early jobs were in magazine publishing and then at the United States Information Agency in Washington.

First books are usually telling, either in inaugurating a style or making a misstep later overcome. McCullough’s The Johnstown Flood (1968), begun when he was still working at USIA, belongs to the former category. The assuredness of the prose is astonishing in a writer so young. Here is McCullough’s description of a veterans’ parade held downtown on the eve of the disaster:

The fire department marched, the Morrellville Odd Fellows, the Austrian Music Society, the Hornerstown Drum Corps, the Grand Army Veterans . . . It had been nearly thirty years since Lincoln had first called for volunteers. Grant and Lee were both dead, and there were strapping steelworkers with thick, black mustaches standing among the crowds along Main Street who had been born since Appomattox.

McCullough described coming across a book of photographs of the flood’s aftermath and learning that no serious history of it had been written. With his wife’s encouragement, he decided to do such a history himself. Rosalee Ingram Barnes was a considerable beauty and, as the daughter of a politician, at ease in public life. Winning her hand and being buoyed by her confidence must have been crucial in the formation of McCullough’s self-belief.

McCullough cited the Civil War historians, Bruce Catton and Shelby Foote, as inspirations. What he had in common with them was a commitment to narrative art and to the belief, as Foote said, that history “has a plot.” “I don’t think of myself as a historian in a conventional sense,” McCullough said. “I am a writer who has chosen other days from our own as his field.”

McCullough’s Truman (1992) sold enormously well but also met with criticism. McCullough did not deny his admiration for FDR’s successor, and some thought the book a transparent effort to bolster Truman’s reputation. To the prevailing idea of Truman as a “little man”—the failed haberdasher from small-town Missouri—McCullough added an appreciation for Truman’s ability to grow into an office that had been thrust upon him, and for the challenges he faced at the Potsdam Conference, where he impressed Churchill as a quick study. Above all, McCullough admired Truman’s depth of character, which he cast in homely, Middle American terms.

As for the bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki, McCullough was criticized for his careless handling of contemporaneous government memoranda assessing the American casualties that would result from a push to take the Japanese mainland, criticism to which he did not respond gracefully. One senses that McCullough’s anger was less on Truman’s behalf than his own, the somewhat pardonable arrogance of a man of great status when confronted with impertinent questions from scholars of narrower gauge. Inflating the numbers of American casualties avoided, of course, would tend to make Truman’s decision look inevitable. Even if that number is at the lower end of the figures discussed at the time, however, it was still not less than 25,000 American dead, in addition to the much larger number of Japanese. Crucially, no member of Truman’s inner circle argued against the bombings.

In an ideal historiographical world, the popularizer and the academic specialist would have a symbiotic relationship. They are not even mutually exclusive, as the work of Joseph Ellis, Gordon Wood, and others has demonstrated. Popular history needs to be written and written well; the democratic process withers without it. Tensions are, inevitable, however. When these tensions break into the open, the public is likely to side with the popularizer. Our sympathies are instinctively with the man in the arena, the one who takes the big swing.

The premise of McCullough’s career was that Americans know too little of their own history and have too little understanding of how easily things might have gone differently. What does all our talk of “freedom” mean if we do not know what it cost? “Future generations who will reap the blessings shall scarcely know the hardships we have endured on their behalf,” Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, in words McCullough frequently quoted. McCullough hoped to prove her wrong, and his John Adams (2001) and 1776 (2005) were written in that spirit. No history is ever “definitive” for long; subsequent events have a way of modifying those that came before. Future historians will write in one way or another against the consensus that David McCullough represented. What McCullough did, though, was to make some of the wax figures of American history come to life once more. For that, he has millions of grateful readers.

Jonathan Clarke is a contributing editor of City Journal and a lawyer, essayist, and critic living in New York.

Monday, August 15, 2022


Students’ Family Background Matters

By Ian Rowe
August 12, 2022
National Review

1966, the U.S. Office of Education commissioned the landmark survey “Equality of Educational Opportunity” to study the “lack of availability of equal educational opportunities for individuals by reason of race, color, religion, or national origin in public educational institutions.” James Coleman, who led the study, was a noted sociologist and civil-rights advocate who had been arrested for demonstrating outside an amusement park that refused to admit African Americans. 

Known as the Coleman report, the 700-page study drew on data from more than 645,000 students and teachers in 4,000 U.S. public schools. Among its most controversial findings was that family background—not schools, funding, religion, or race—was the only characteristic that showed a consistent relationship with academic performance. The report summarized:

One implication stands out above all: That schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement that is independent of his background and general social context; and that this very lack of an independent effect means that the inequalities imposed on children by their home, neighborhood, and peer environment are carried along to become the inequalities with which they confront adult life at the end of school. 

This unexpected takeaway should have changed the education-policy landscape forever. Yet it never gained widespread traction, principally because it received an unwelcome reaction from most educators, who were unwilling to accept that “schools bring little influence to bear on a child’s achievement.” They feared that emphasizing family background (most notably parents’ marital status) as the greatest driver of a student’s academic achievement would lead to victim-blaming, finger-pointing moralizing directed at single mothers. Even worse, it would turn attention away from addressing racism, underfunding, and other, more acceptable theories of the causes of academic underperformance.

Rather than grapple with all of these factors, education researchers and policy-makers today seem to either forget or deliberately ignore Coleman’s enduring finding—just as they did in 1966. Countless reports published annually by government and elite research institutions lack any mention of family structure and its impact on students, despite claiming to assess student progress. 

Take New York State’s education department. It provides a robust data site that allows users to easily view reading, math, and science test scores and graduation rates. Information can be filtered by school, gender, race, ethnicity, economic status, geographic district, and more. Yet the site provides no way to disaggregate student outcomes by family structure. 

At the federal level, the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP)—often referred to as “the nation’s report card”—offers a Data Explorer tool that allows users to view a wealth of student-achievement data. By law, NAEP reporting must include information on race, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, gender, disability, and English proficiency. As in New York and other states, however, there is no way to review results by family structure. 

In the world of neuroscience, being oblivious to the obvious is called “inattentional blindness.” The current filters and categories we use to evaluate progress in student achievement ignore family structure, even though research about its importance is clear and widely accepted: Single parenthood among young adults is one of the strongest predictors of child poverty, school suspensions, incarceration, and educational disadvantage. Unmarried young parents are far more likely to experience high levels of partnership instability and family complexity, and each of these is associated with poorer child well-being and intergenerational transmission of disadvantage. 

Harvard economist Raj Chetty has found that the share of households with a father present is the single largest predictor of upward mobility in a neighborhood, more than school quality, income inequality, and race.

Despite the overwhelming data that surround the relationship between family instability and areas such as child poverty, a group of academics at Harvard tried to disprove the Coleman report’s findings of an impact on education. But their reanalyses only reaffirmed Coleman’s basic thesis: “Schools appeared to exert relatively little pull—explaining only 10 to 20 percent of the variability in student outcomes—while family background, peers, and students’ own academic self-concept explained a much larger amount.” 

More than a decade ago, the obvious relevance of family structure to child outcomes led health-care leaders and analysts to make commonsense changes to their methods of measurement. In its 2010 report “Family Structure and Children’s Health in the United States,” the National Center for Health Statistics declared that “in view of the changing family structure distribution, new categories of families such as unmarried families or unmarried stepfamilies need to be studied so that the health characteristics of children in non-traditional families can be identified.”

The report defined seven distinct and mutually exclusive family structures: nuclear, single-parent, blended, unmarried biological or adoptive families, cohabiting, extended, and other—the last being defined as a family consisting of one or more children living with related or unrelated adults who are not biological or adoptive parents (e.g., grandparents). Analyses using these seven categories are yielding new explanations for entrenched problems and ushering in a new wave of family-focused prescriptions in the health arena. Why should education be treated differently?
In disregarding family structure, education researchers obscure a massively important demographic that could explain otherwise well-documented achievement gaps. 

Without access to data that show the transcendence of family structure over other factors such as race, policy-makers are far more likely to misdiagnose why kids may not be succeeding, and far less likely to pursue creative new solutions that would equip the rising generation to avoid these struggles in the first place. For example, in Vertex Partnership Academies, the innovative, character-based high school I am launching in the Bronx in August, we will have a class called “Pathways to Power,” in which students will learn the sequential series of decisions—completing a high-school degree; full-time work; marriage; then children—that 97 percent of the time results in the avoidance of poverty and a greater likelihood of entry into the middle class and beyond. 

If the National Center for Health Statistics can figure out how to incorporate family structure as a criterion for measurement in its system, surely technical experts working for state departments of education and the National Center for Education Statistics can do the same. In fact, NAEP already collects information on students’ living arrangements—it simply does not report on these data.

If we truly want to improve outcomes for children, we must have the moral courage to measure student achievement by family-structure groupings as routinely as we already do by race, class, and gender. There is no good reason to make inattentional blindness intentional, especially when the education of future generations is at stake.

Ian Rowe  Senior Fellow
© 2022 American Enterprise Institute

Monday, August 8, 2022


As Chief Justice John Roberts once wrote: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

New York Post

Higher ed unites against Asian students in Supreme Court’s Harvard discrimination case.

By William A. Jacobson and  Johanna E. Markind
August 3, 2022 9:47pm

The dirty little secret of higher-ed admissions is that achieving a desired “diverse” racial mix means discriminating against Asian applicants—or at least, secret until Students for Fair Admissions exposed it.

The higher-ed establishment is brazenly defending its race-conscious admissions in dozens of amicus briefs just filed in the U.S. Supreme Court opposing SFFA’s discrimination suits against Harvard and the University of North Carolina. It’s terrified the cases, which the court just announced it will hear in October, could spell the end of racial affirmative action.

The statistics are shocking. As SFFA noted in its Harvard petition, “an Asian American in the fourth-lowest decile has virtually no chance of being admitted to Harvard (0.9%); but an African American in that decile has a higher chance of admission (12.8%) than an Asian American in the top decile (12.7%).”

Such unequal treatment followed the 2003 Supreme Court decision in Grutter v. Bollinger permitting schools’ temporary, limited use of race as one of many factors for the desired educational objective of viewpoint diversity. Harvard and other schools have used this loophole to drive de facto illegal racial quotas, using admissions subterfuges like personal scores and a “holistic” approach reminiscent of the methodologies Harvard developed a century ago to limit Jewish enrollment.

Harvard has been under fire for its discrimination against Asian students, which was brought to light by Students for Fair Admissions.

About two dozen mostly right-leaning nonprofits filed amicus briefs supporting the Asian students. In a brief our Legal Insurrection Foundation filed, we documented how this hyper-focus on race has contributed to a narrowing, not broadening, of viewpoint diversity. It’s time to close the loophole.

Not a single college or university supported the Asian students. To the contrary, several dozen briefs were filed against SFFA on behalf of hundreds of colleges, universities, higher-education and professional-school associations, teachers unions, more than 1,000 professors and deans and even college basketball coaches.

One of the most striking things about these briefs is the openness with which colleges admit to having racial preferences and their complete lack of sympathy for the Asian victims of discrimination.

The American Bar Association, which accredits law schools, bluntly demanded the court “not ban race-conscious admissions policies.” The University of California president and chancellors argued that “universities must retain the ability to engage in the limited consideration of race.”

A group of highly competitive schools including most of the Ivy League claimed, “No race-neutral alternative presently can fully replace race-conscious individualized and holistic review to obtain the diverse student body.” 

Without racial preferences, in other words, these schools could not achieve their desired racial mix.

A group of highly select small colleges wrote: “Amherst, for example, has determined that an entirely race-blind policy would reduce the percentage of historically underrepresented students of color in its student body—including Native American, Black, and Hispanic students—by approximately half.”

The University of Michigan argued similarly, noting a 44% drop in black undergrad enrollment after a 2006 state ban on racial discrimination in admissions. The University of California system likewise admitted fewer black and Hispanic students after Golden State voters banned discriminatory admissions in 1996—a ban voters just reiterated in 2020.

The educational establishment’s uniformity and vigor in supporting racial preferences is staggering.

If the most selective schools assessed students based on SATs, grades and other non-racial factors, they say, black and Hispanic admissions would plummet. That disparity suggests these schools have created separate racial tracks for applicants, establishing de facto illegal racial quotas using linguistic sleight-of-hand to cover their tracks.

Justice Sandra Day O’Connor’s majority opinion in Grutter rationalized race-conscious admissions as a way for universities to choose students who would “contribute the most to the ‘robust exchange of ideas.’”

Yet, as we pointed out in our brief, “The grand judicial experiment of excusing racial discrimination in university admissions in the hope it would promote the educational objective of diversity of viewpoint has failed.”

Indeed, since Grutter, campuses have become less ideologically diverse and more intolerant of dissenting ideas. Nonpartisan surveys consistently show that students are afraid to voice opinions, in and out of class.
And no wonder: A Cato Institute poll found that just 20% of students believe their professors have a balanced mix of political views. The focus on discriminatory admissions and the growing ideological intolerance on campus are connected.

The Supreme Court faces a stark choice: Continue the nod to racial discrimination or, as Chief Justice John Roberts once wrote, hold: “The way to stop discrimination on the basis of race is to stop discriminating on the basis of race.”

[William A. Jacobson is a clinical professor of law at Cornell Law School and president of the Legal Insurrection Foundation, a nonprofit devoted to free expression and academic freedom on campuses, where Johanna E. Markind is research editor and counsel.]