[For] Crying Out Loud

September 24, 2008 By Glenn Ricketts:

Yes, yes, we know that you’ve been an outstanding high school history student and that you’d like to major in that subject in college, but we’re not sure why you’re inquiring about scholarships here. Wait, not so fast: it’s certainly impressive that you’ve had some original research published, and your grades are indeed outstanding. But if, as you say, you’re looking for a scholarship, we’d like to hear about your curve ball. Oh, you didn’t play baseball in high school? Well, then how about football or basketball? No? Lacrosse, soccer, swimming, maybe? Golf, bowling, tennis? In that case, do you sing or dance? You don’t appear to have any disabilities, not that we’d ask.
No, sorry, speaking fluent French is not really what we had in mind by “diversity.” Do you by chance play the xylophone? What’s that? History scholarships? You mean something geared specifically towards outstanding high school history students? Ho! Ho! Good one.
No, not here. Haven’t heard of ’em anywhere else, either. Where’d you come up with that idea anyway? Look, we’re not sure we can do anything for you at this point unless…wait a minute, did you say you were a cheerleader? Sit down. I think we’re finally on to something. Yes, that’s right, we have several scholarships for cheerleaders. Can you send us all of the relevant information about your high school cheerleading experience? We may also be able to direct you to other sources of support for promising college cheerleading prospects. Why didn’t you tell us this at the outset, instead of getting sidetracked with all of that stuff about history? We’re very busy in this office, you know. No doubt you’re an outstanding history student, and by all means major in it if you like, but that’s not going to get you anywhere if you’re looking for a scholarship. Good thing you mentioned the cheerleading angle, especially since we have to be careful to choose only the most outstanding applicants.
I made up this little drama, but it is based on the “true facts.” History scholarships are rare. Cheerleading scholarships are pretty common–even at colleges and universities that one might think value intellectual achievement over human pyramids.
Will Fitzhugh is a former high school history teacher who, frustrated with the lack of opportunities to showcase academic achievement among young students, in 1987 founded The Concord Review, (www.tcr.org) a quarterly journal devoted entirely to outstanding research essays by high school students. Anyone who doubts the possibility of impressive research skills and consummate writing ability among some of today’s secondary school students should read at least one issue of the Review, where future historians and teachers might well be making their first appearances. These students don’t need remedial English, and could probably be bumped up beyond the usual introductory survey courses in history to begin work as history majors on the fast track.
Trouble is, as Will has pointed out to us, the students who write in The Concord Review don’t get much recognition beyond that, to say nothing of scholarship assistance. A few colleges–most notably Reed College–have recently started supporting The Concord Review financially–which is bound to encourage some bright, highly capable students to consider attending college out in Portland, Oregon. But by and large, the prospect for students winning scholarships on the basis of outstanding ability to engage in historical scholarship isn’t very bright.

The same in fact, could be said about exceptional students in other specific disciplines: foreign languages, literature, physics or mathematics, etc. Although such students may eventually receive recognition, for example, as National Merit Scholars, based on a standardized intelligence test, their outstanding work in individual fields will remain unacknowledged and unrewarded. College recruiters will come eagerly seeking athletes, musicians, dancers–and cheerleaders, but not historians, linguists or scientists.
Those academically talented students may have a good chance of being admitted to top programs, but they are seldom specifically recruited. History and English professors, unlike coaches, make no attempt to scout the best prospects among outstanding high school seniors. Nor do we see private benefactors interested in sponsoring such students. As Will recently observed:
“When we lament that our adolescents seem more interested in sports than in academics, we might consider how differently we celebrate and reward those activities. High school coaches who are well known to and almost treated as peers by their college counterparts, receive no attention at all for their work as teachers, no matter how unusually productive that work may happen to be. Higher Education simply does not care about the academic work being done by teachers and students at the Lower Education level.”
I don’t in the least intend to belittle football stars, figure skaters, or distance runners. Cheerleaders–maybe a little. Yes, I know from the movies (Bring It On, 2000) how exciting and competitive cheerleading can be and how demanding the athletic skills are, but are we really to suppose that excellence in cheerleading is more important than, say, excellence in writing?
We’re here to cheer our winning team,
Come on, everybody scream!
Feel the spirit movin’ in
Cause tonight we’re gonna win!
Cheerleading experts teach “cheering and chanting with self confidence” and “dance makeup for cheerleaders.” Somehow it just doesn’t seem that it would rise to the level of a Title IX crisis for American women if some of the funds for cheerleading scholarships were diverted to, say, students who think instead of scream.