There is an old story about a worker, at one of the South African diamond mines, who would leave work once a week or so pushing a wheelbarrow full of sand. The guard would stop him and search the sand thoroughly, looking for any smuggled diamonds. When he found none, he would wave the worker through. This happened month after month, and finally the guard said, “Look, I know you are smuggling something, and I know it isn’t diamonds. If you tell me what it is, I won’t say anything, but I really want to know. The worker smiled, and said, “wheelbarrows.”
I think of this story when teachers find excuses for not letting their students see the exemplary history essays written by their high school peers for The Concord Review. Often they feel they cannot give their students copies unless they can “teach” the contents. Or they already teach the topic of one of the essays they see in the issue. Or they don’t know anything about one of the topics. Or they don’t have time to teach one of the topics they see, or they don’t think students have time to read one or more of the essays, or they worry about plagiarism, or something else. There are many reasons to keep this unique journal away from secondary students.
They are, to my mind, “searching the sand.” The most important reason to show their high school students the journal is to let them see the wheelbarrow itself, that is, to show them that there exists in the world a professional journal that takes the history research papers of high school students seriously enough to have published them on a quarterly basis for the last 21 years. Whether the students read all the essays, or one of them, or none of them, they will see that for some of their peers academic work is treated with respect. And that is a message worth letting through the guard post, whatever anyone may think about, or want to do something with, the diamonds inside.
The Concord Review
And of course some teachers are eager to show their students the work of their peers….
The Concord Review — Varsity Academics®
I am happy to send along this letter describing both “logistical” and pedagogical dimensions of how I have used The Concord Review in class since employing the first class sets in the 1988-1989 academic year. You know from the fact that we have expanded our class subscription “coverage” from all U.S. History classes to all U.S. History and World History since 1500 classes that we have been very satisfied with the Review. In fact, I am glad to say that, due to an expanding school enrollment, our class set for this year will number about 80 subscriptions.
In terms of “logistics,” the system we have employed here has been simple and consistent with the way we deal with texts in all disciplines. Our students purchase their texts, so as students move through our bookstore before school opens, they mark the texts they need on a list, and the above-noted classes simply have The Concord Review listed as a text.
Pedagogically, I (or other appropriate instructor) view each issue with an eye toward an article or articles which are appropriate for any part of the material under current or imminent study. Because of the wide range of subjects and chronological eras covered in each issue, it is pretty easy to discern immediately one or more articles which will be applicable and useful. I do not feel compelled to put the Review in student hands the day the issues arrive, but rather plan ahead. For example, I might be covering mid-19th century reform in U.S. History when new issues arrive, but will hold off until we are doing the Civil War to distribute the Reviews and assign an article on some phase of the Civil War. The girls are told to treat each issue of the Review as an extension of their texts, meaning that they must hold on to each issue, for additional articles may be assigned from a given issue later in the year. Again, given the wide range of topics and eras covered in the typical issue, it is not unusual for me to be able (again, as an example) to assign an article from one issue on the Civil War in December, then go back to the same issue in April for an article on some portion of mid-20th century history. Students have been great about this, and are thus prepared throughout the year.
As to the articles themselves, I have found several uses for them. An obvious advantage of the articles in the Review is that they are scholarly and informative, and, as my students have noted, a refreshing break from the text (this is a comment I frequently hear). Secondly, the articles, in addition to being scholarly, are readable, and the “right size,” and thus readily accessible to high school students. Even “popular” history, such as found in American Heritage and the like, can be “too much” for high schoolers, as the articles can be too long or presume too much a priori knowledge. The articles in The Concord Review are substantial and appropriately challenging, yet “intellectually digestible” for all students, not just the gifted few in an AP section, for example.
In addition to providing excellent reading, allowing for deeper exploration and discussion of some aspect of history, the Review provides an excellent methodological model. All students in History at Santa Catalina must write research papers based on both primary and secondary sources, with the length and quality expectations of the papers escalating appropriately from freshman to senior year. Sometimes, as you well know from your own teaching experience, explaining “arcane” items like where to put footnotes, etc. to students can be like trying to explain what “pink” looks like to a person who has never been able to see. The Review puts in students’ hands excellent history, not only in terms of content, but in terms of methodology as well: footnotes, bibliography, placement, and all the other details. I have found it helpful not only to have students read an article for its content, but then to dissect it methodologically, asking my students (as appropriate to their level) to identify primary as opposed to secondary sources, to suggest what other sources might have been helpful, which sources might have the most credibility, and so on. We can thus effectively and efficiently combine quality reading with critical thinking/analysis and a methodology “practicum.” The fact that teenagers are always highly interested in what other teenagers are doing is helpful, for the articles hold something of a natural attraction to the students. In addition, they are always impressed that students like themselves can produce such high-quality work. Many teens are used to hearing how poorly their age group is doing academically, but the Review is refreshing proof that such is not universally the case!
I could go on anecdotally for quite a while, but I think that would result in an excessively long epistle! Suffice it to say that my students (yes, even those who don’t “like History”) find the Review informative, accessible, and instructive, not only in terms of material they are learning, but also in terms of critical thinking and mastery of historical methodology. In a time when those of us who teach History frequently find ourselves hard-pressed for classroom time in meeting our goals, the Review is truly “triply rewarding” for students and instructors. I cannot imagine a junior high or high school history course which could not benefit immediately and tangibly from having its students use the Review.
December 2002, Broeck N. Oder,
Chair, Department of History, Santa Catalina School, Monterey, California 93940
The Concord Review (800) 331-5007 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, MA 01776 firstname.lastname@example.org; www.tcr.org