All posts by Will Fitzhugh

Anything but Knowledge

Why Johnny’s Teacher Can’t Teach” (1998)
from The Burden of Bad Ideas
Heather Mac Donald
Chicago: Ivan R. Dee, 2000, pp. 82ff.
America’s nearly last-place finish in the Third International Mathematics and Sciences Study of student achievement caused widespread consternation this February, except in the one place it should have mattered most: the nation’s teacher education schools. Those schools have far more important things to do than worrying about test scores–things like stamping out racism in aspiring teachers. “Let’s be honest,” darkly commanded Professor Valerie Henning-Piedmont to a lecture hall of education students at Columbia University’s Teachers College last February. “What labels do you place on young people based on your biases?” It would be difficult to imagine a less likely group of bigots than these idealistic young people, happily toting around their handbooks of multicultural education and their exposés of sexism in the classroom. But Teachers College knows better. It knows that most of its students, by virtue of being white, are complicitous in an unjust power structure.
The crusade against racism is just the latest irrelevancy to seize the nation’s teacher education schools. For over eighty years, teacher education in America has been in the grip of an immutable dogma, responsible for endless educational nonsense. That dogma may be summed up in the phrase: Anything But Knowledge. Schools are about many things, teacher educators say (depending on the decade)–self-actualization, following one’s joy, social adjustment, or multicultural sensitivity–but the one thing they are not about is knowledge. Oh, sure, educators will occasionally allow the word to pass their lips, but it is always in a compromised position, as in “constructing one’s own knowledge,” or “contextualized knowledge.” Plain old knowledge, the kind passed down in books, the kind for which Faust sold his soul, that is out.
The education profession currently stands ready to tighten its already viselike grip on teacher credentialing, persuading both the federal government and the states to “professionalize” teaching further. In New York, as elsewhere, that means closing off routes to the classroom that do not pass through an education school. But before caving in to the educrats’ pressure, we had better take a hard look at what education schools teach.
The course in “Curriculum and Teaching in Elementary Education” that Professor Anne Nelson (a pseudonym) teaches at the City College of New York is a good place to start. Dressed in a tailored brown suit, and with close-cropped hair, Nelson is a charismatic teacher, with a commanding repertoire of voices and personae. And yet, for all her obvious experience and common sense, her course is a remarkable exercise in vacuousness.

Continue reading Anything but Knowledge

Critical Thinking

The Pioneer Institute [April 2006]
A Review of E.D. Hirsch’s The Knowledge Deficit (Houghton Mifflin, 2006)
by Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
E.D. Hirsch, Jr., who published Cultural Literacy in 1987, arguing that there was knowledge which every student ought to have, has now published another book, The Knowledge Deficit, (Houghton Mifflin, 2006) suggesting that the bankruptcy of the “transfer of thinking skills” position has lead to preventing most U.S. schoolchildren, and especially the disadvantaged ones who really depend on the schools to teach them, from acquiring the ability to read well.
Not too long after the beginning of the twentieth century, the U.S. mental measurement community convinced itself, and many others, that the cognitive skills acquired in the study of Latin in school did not “transfer” to other important tasks, one of which at the time was teaching students “worthy home membership.”
As a result, not only was the study of the Latin language abandoned for many students, but at the same time the “baby”–of Caesar, Cicero, Horace, Tacitus, Virgil and others–was thrown out with the “bathwater.” In losing the language, we also lost Roman history, law, poetry, and prose.
In place of this classical knowledge which had been thought essential for two thousand years, the mental measurement community offered “thinking skills,” which they claimed could be applied to any content.

Professor Hirsch reaches back beyond the mental measurement folks to Thomas Jefferson, for someone who shares his view of the value of the knowledge in books:
“In our pre-romantic days, books were seen as key to education. In a 1786 letter to his nephew, aged fifteen, Jefferson recommended that he read books (in the original languages and in this order) by the following authors: [history] Herodotus, Thucydides, Xenophon, Anabasis, Arian, Quintus Curtius, Diodorus Siculus, and Justin. On morality, Jefferson recommended books by Epictetus, Plato, Cicero, Antoninus, Seneca, and Xenophon’s Memorabilia, and in poetry Virgil, Terence, Horace, Anacreon, Theocritus, Homer, Euripides, Sophocles, Milton, Shakespeare, Ossian, Pope and Swift. Jefferson’s plan of book learning was modest compared to the Puritan education of the seventeenth century as advocated by John Milton.” (p. 9)

Continue reading Critical Thinking

Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

James Vaznis:

About two-thirds of the city’s high school graduates in 2000 who enrolled in college have failed to earn degrees, according to a first-of-its-kind study being released today.
The findings represent a major setback for a city school system that made significant strides in recent years with percentages of graduates enrolling in college consistently higher than national averages, according to the report by the Boston Private Industry Council and the School Department.
However, the study shows that the number who went on to graduate is lower than the national average.
The low number of students who were able to earn college degrees or post-secondary certificates in a city known as a center of American higher education points to the enormous barriers facing urban high school graduates – many of whom are the first in their families to attend college. While the study did not address reasons for the low graduation rates, these students often have financial problems, some are raising children, and others are held back by a need to retake high school courses in college because they lack basic skills.
The students’ failure to complete college could exacerbate the fiscal problems in the state’s economy, which requires a highly skilled workforce, say business leaders and educators. While tens of thousands of students around the globe flock to the region’s colleges each fall, many of them leave once receiving their degrees.

Continue reading Incompletes
Most from class of 2000 have failed to earn degrees

Will Fitzhugh in Madison 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Madison meeting details here
The Boston Globe reported recently that Michelle Wie, the 16-year-old Korean-American golfing phenomenon, not only speaks Korean and English, but has also taken four years of Japanese, and is beginning to study Mandarin. She is planning to apply early to Stanford University. I would be willing to bet, however, that in high school her academic writing has been limited to the five-paragraph essay, and it is very likely that she has not been assigned a complete nonfiction book.
For the last two years, and especially since the National Endowment for the Arts unveiled the findings of its large ($300,000) study of reading of fiction in the United States, I have been seeking funding for a much smaller study of the assignment of complete nonfiction books in U.S. public high schools. This proposed study, which education historian Diane Ravitch has called “timely and relevant,” has met with little interest, having so far been turned down by the National Endowment for the Humanities as well as a number of foundations and institutes both large and small.
Still, I have a fair amount of anecdotal evidence some of it from people who would be quite shocked to hear that high school English departments were no longer assigning any complete novels that the non-assignment of nonfiction books on subjects like history is unremarkable and, in fact, accepted.
A partner in a law firm in Boston, for instance, told me there was no point in such a study, because everyone knows history books aren’t assigned in schools. This was the case, he said, even decades ago at his own alma mater, Phillips Academy in Andover, Massachusetts, where he was assigned only selections, readings, and the like, never a complete book. A senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, said when I lamented that I couldn’t find anyone who agrees that high school students should read at least one nonfiction book, “The only hope is parents introducing their kids to reading, and that’s a mighty slim hope.”

Continue reading BIBLIOPHOBIA
Will Fitzhugh in Madison 11/19 @ 7:00p.m.

Page Per Year Plan

Diane Ravitch recently pointed out that, “the campaign against homework goes on. Its success will guarantee a steady decline in the very activities that matter most in education: independent reading; thoughtful writing; research projects.”
It is clearer and clearer that most high school students, when they do read a book, read fiction. The College Board’s Reading List of 101 Books for the College-Bound Student includes only four works of nonfiction: Walden, Emerson’s Essays, Night, and The Autobiography of Frederick Douglass. Nothing by David McCullough, David Hackett Fischer, or any other great contemporary (or past) historian is suggested for the “College-Bound Student.”
The SAT, ACT, and NAEP writing assessments, and most state writing standards, require no prior knowledge and challenge students to write their opinions and personal stories in 25 minutes. Unless college history professors start assigning term papers by saying: “‘History repeats itself.’ See what you can write about that in 25 minutes and turn it in six weeks from now,” our high school graduates will continue to find that they have been sadly misled about the demands for academic writing they will face.
A national study done for The Concord Review in 2002, of the assignment of high school history term papers, found that 81% of public high school history teachers never assign a 20-page paper, and 62% never assign a 12-page paper any more, even to high school seniors. The Boston Latin School, a famous exam school, no longer assigns the “traditional history term paper.”
One reason for this, I believe, is that teachers find that by the time their students are Juniors and Seniors in high school, they have done so little academic expository writing that they simply could not manage a serious history research paper, if they were asked to do one.

Continue reading Page Per Year Plan

Athletes Choose Colleges
They’re good to go For some top high school athletes, decision on college comes this week

Brendan Hall:

Her dazzling fastball and sizzling bat have been on the radar of college coaches for quite a while. As a junior at Ashland High School, Nicole D’Argento was named the state’s softball player of the year.
Letters from colleges started arriving for D’Argento, a senior this year, in the summer of 2005, before her freshman year. Now, that stack of letters sits in her living room and “looks at least a foot tall,” she said recently with a laugh.
Softball has long been a year-round commitment for D’Argento. Her older brother, Russ, played baseball at Old Dominion and the University of Connecticut after helping propel Ashland High to the Division 3 state title in 2000.
Last spring, Nicole hurled the Clocker softball team to a perfect 28-0 season, and the Division 2 state title. She has a career earned-run average hovering under 0.50 and she will enter her senior season just 16 strikeouts shy of the exclusive 500 mark for her high school career.
With so many colleges lining up for her services, D’Argento made her decision early.
Last fall, she made a nonbinding verbal agreement to attend Boston College, which nosed out the University of Massachusetts at Amherst and the University of Virginia.

Continue reading Athletes Choose Colleges
They’re good to go For some top high school athletes, decision on college comes this week

Singing Our Song

6 November 2008
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
My name is Lindsay Brown, and I am the chair of the history department at St. Andrew’s School in Delaware. I have been thinking about the role of academics and athletics in college placement for some time, and being at a boarding school I wear many hats and so see multiple sides of this issue. I do a great deal of work with athletes that I coach in the sport of rowing, helping them to be recruits for college coaches. I began talking to people and commenting about how I had never done any recruiting for our top history students, and that there was a significant contrast between athletic and academic interest in the admission process for colleges.
With these vague thoughts, I decided to write something, possibly to send to some publication(?) or maybe just to do some therapeutic venting on my keyboard. I sent a draft of my thoughts to several of my colleagues, including our librarian who is a relentless researcher. In response to my short essay, she sent me your article on the “History Scholar” on very similar ideas–I guess I wasn’t as original as I thought! But I wanted to send you my thoughts, ask if you had a moment to give me any feedback, and then also ask if you think it was acceptable for me to potentially send my essay out–where exactly I’m not sure.
In any case, I was impressed with your work and your information on this topic.
Many thanks,
Lindsay Brown
St. Andrew’s School
My essay is copied below and attached:
The headlines are meant to grab our attention and alert us to a crisis in education: “High school graduates are not ready for college” or some variation on this idea that college freshmen can’t do the work their professors demand of them. Colleges and professors lament this situation, and, in a related vein, often complain that athletics and athletic recruiting are running out of control to the detriment of the academic mission of their institutions. And not just the big schools that compete for national championships in football or basketball are sounding this alarm; even top tier, highly selective colleges and universities sing a similar melody. What should happen to correct this situation?
Ironically, I would like to suggest that colleges look to their athletic departments for inspiration and a possible way to improve the academic strength of their student body.

Continue reading Singing Our Song

Parallel Universe

Progressive educators often argue that a focus on standards, testing and accountability prevents teachers from exercising their creativity and imagination on the job. As an experiment in imagination, I offer the following suggested parallel universe.
In this universe, there is an Edupundit who gives 200 lectures a year to athletic directors and administrators in the schools (at $5,000 each) on the subjects of competition, standards, testing, and accountability (keeping score) in athletics.
He points out that exercise is a bad idea, that physical fitness is harmful, and that sports destroy a sense of community in education. He argues that rewarding coaches for good performance by their teams and individual athletes is “odious,” and about merit pay for such work, he says, “If you jump through hoops, we’ll give you a doggie biscuit in the form of money.”
He reveals that poor athletes often fail to succeed in sports and that this constitutes “what could be described as” athletic “ethnic cleansing.” He says that the number of games and matches student athletes take part in is “mind-boggling.”
Keeping score in games and matches, he says, is “not just meaningless. It’s worrisome.” And concludes that “Standards,” scoring, “and Other Follies” (like competition) have no place in the athletic program in the schools. He has written popular books calling for an end to discipline, rewards, and competition in sports.
This may be all very well in that universe, but how would it play in ours? When it comes to athletics, I doubt very much if anyone advocating such views would be invited to speak by a high school athletic director anywhere in the country. And I assume that books making those arguments would have no sales at all.
However, in our own space-time situation, we do have Alfie Kohn, whose books include: The Homework Myth; What Does it Mean to be Well-Educated?, and More Essays on Standards, Grading, and Other Follies; Punished by Rewards; No Contest: The Case Against Competition; The Case Against Standardized Testing; Beyond Discipline, etc.
It has been reported that he does indeed give 200 speeches a year, mostly to administrators and educators, at $5,000 each, and that in them he fights against academic work, standards, testing, discipline, competition, and accountability just as his imaginary counterpart opposes all those things for athletics in that other universe.
But Alfie Kohn’s books do sell here, he gets invited to share these ideas of his, and large audiences of our educators come to be told that if they do their jobs very well, and receive financial rewards, they are good dogs and are being given doggie biscuits for jumping through hoops.
It is not clear whether he regards his own lecture fees as doggie biscuits, but he does claim that when students do poorly in school, the remedy is not more and better homework, because he has already made the case against homework. And rather than calling for higher academic standards, and more student diligence in school, he thinks what we need is an end to “educational ethnic cleansing” instead.
The damage done by such an Edupundit to the effort to achieve educational reform through higher academic standards and better accountability is not easy to gauge. Perhaps some who attend his 200 lectures think he is funny, somewhat like those progressive educators who are so intent on “hands-on learning,” “field trips,” and “social activism” on the part of students that one can almost imagine them saying to students, in effect, “Step away from that book and no one gets hurt!”
Surely Mister Kohn is one of a kind, but we would not have achieved the high and world-renowned levels of mediocrity in our nation’s schools if there were not thousands of educational workers who think as he does, and dedicate themselves each day to keeping academic standards low, preventing students from being challenged academically, and fighting hard against any information which might come from tests which could hold them accountable for the ignorance and academic incompetence of their (our) students.
We need to find educators for our schools who have succeeded academically themselves and as a result are not trying to block the academic achievement of their students. Steve Jobs of Apple Computer used to say that “A people hire A people, and B people hire C people.” We need more ‘A’ people looking for their peers to help them raise academic standards for our students. Educators who have done poorly in school may like Mr. Kohn’s arguments. Most of those who have done well would not.
[Mr. Kohn’s quotes are from a story by Lisa Schnecker in The Salt Lake Tribune from 17 October 2008]
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Doggie Biscuit for Kohn: Author rips testing, other sacred classroom concepts

By Lisa Schencker:

Rising test scores are no reason to celebrate, author Alfie Kohn told teachers at the Utah Education Association (UEA) convention on Friday.
Schools that improve test scores do so at the expense of other subjects and ideas, he said.
When the scores go up, it’s not just meaningless. It’s worrisome,” Kohn told hundreds of educators on the last day of the convention. “What did you sacrifice from my child’s education to raise scores on the test?”
Kohn, who’s written 11 books on human behavior, parenting and schools, spent nearly two hours Friday morning ripping into both established and relatively new education concepts. He slammed merit pay for teachers, competition in schools, Advanced Placement classes, curriculum standards and testing–including Utah’s standards and testing system — drawing mixed reactions from his audience.
“Considering what we hear a lot, it was pure blasphemy,” said Richard Heath, a teacher at Central Davis Junior High School in Layton.
Kohn called merit pay–forms of which many Utah school districts are implementing this year–an “odious” type of control imposed on teachers.
If you jump through hoops, we’ll give you a doggie biscuit in the form of money,” Kohn said.

Continue reading Doggie Biscuit for Kohn: Author rips testing, other sacred classroom concepts

Consortium for Varsity Academics: Video Interviews

Thanks to Craig Evans, there is now a page on the tcr website for the Consortium for Varsity Academics®. Click on the page for The Concord Review…
There are QuickTime clips of the interviews with Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Bill Fitzsimmons of Harvard, and Sarah Valkenburgh [Emerson Prize winner, summa cum laude graduate of Dartmouth, and graduate of Harvard Medical School].
Will Fitzhugh

NAEP Writing Assessment 2011

An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: About Assessing Writing Houston, Texas, 24 January 2007
Michael F. Shaughnessy Senior Columnist

1) I understand that you have just finished a stint on the ACT/NAGB Steering Committee for the 2011 NAEP (National Assessment of Educational Progress) Writing Assessment. What was that like? (And what does NAGB stand for?)
WF: NAGB is the National Assessment Governing Board, which runs the NAEP, “America’s Report Card,” as they say. I was glad that Diane Ravitch recommended me for the Steering Committee for the new national writing assessment scheduled for 2011. I was very impressed with the intelligence and competence of Mary Crovo, representing NAEP, and Rosanne Cook, who is running the project for American College Testing. Many people on the Committee were from the National Council of Teachers of English and the College Composition world, which have little interest in having students read history books or write history research papers. In fact that world favors, or has favored in the past, personal and creative writing and the five-paragraph essay, which do a terrible job of preparing high school students for the nonfiction books and the academic term papers most will be asked to cope with in college.
2) Given the paucity of writing that goes on in the high schools of America, is it really fair to ask high school students to engage in a robust writing assessment?
WF: It would not be fair to ask high school students to play in a football game if they hadn’t had an opportunity for lots of practice, and it is very hard to ask high school students to do the sort of academic expository writing they should be doing if they have never done it in all their years in school. But we need to start somewhere. Every high school student does not need to be able to play football, but they all need to be able to read nonfiction books and write serious term papers.
3) On the other hand, since so much of the college experience is writing, are high school teachers doing students a disservice by NOT requiring more writing?
WF: High school teachers would make terrible football coaches and their teams would lose most if not all of their games, if the teacher/coaches did not have time to practice their teams. We take football seriously, and we take band seriously, so ample time and money are made available to produce the best teams and the best bands the high school can manage. We allow really no time for a public high school teacher to work with students on heavy-duty term papers. We don’t make time for them, because we don’t think they are that important. Not as important as drama practice, yearbook, chorus, debate or a host of other activities. As a result our high school students are, once again, ill-prepared for college reading and writing. AP courses in history do not require, in most cases, that students read a complete nonfiction book, and most of the AP teachers say they don’t have time to ask the student to write a research paper, because they “have to get students ready for the AP Exam.”

Continue reading NAEP Writing Assessment 2011

Polonius Redux

New England History Teachers Association
Newsletter Fall 1999
In Hamlet, Polonius offers his introduction to the players by describing them as: “The best players in the world, either for tragedy, comedy, history, pastoral, pastoral-comical, historical-pastoral, tragical-historical, tragical-comical-historical-pastoral or poem unlimited.”
Modern American education has been visited with an echo of this brief 1602 disquisition on what a cool combinatorial plaything the permu-tations of presentation can be in the right hands. Our version is called Multiple Intelligences, and an article in the Magazine of History lays out a simplified version of a lesson plan for teaching the Spanish-American War. It offers the basics of this new orthodoxy–methods which can cater to: Intrapersonal Intelligence, Verbal/ Linguistic Intelligence, Musical/Rhythmic Intelligence, Visual/Spatial Intelligence, Bodily/Kinesthetic Intelligence, Interpersonal Intelli-gence, and Mathematical Intelligence.
This is clearly the introductory form of this approach, and does not try to get into the more arcane techniques of Mathematico-Spatial-Verbal or Linguistic-Rhythmic-Kinesthetic or Interpersonal-Intrapersonal-Visual-Bodily methods of curriculum design.
The founder of this new way to develop individual learning plans for each student and all combinations of students in a class is Howard Gardner, MacArthur Fellow at the Harvard Graduate School of Education. He was interviewed, not too long ago, on public radio in Boston, and when he was asked why he chose the term Multiple Intelligences, he quite candidly replied, “If I had called them Talents, no one would have paid any attention.”
To be fair to this academic psychologist looking for a new field to make a name in, it is quite likely that he has very little conception of the damage he has done in American education. Polonius was in part a figure of fun, although he does have some of Shakespeare’s most famous lines (“To thine own self be true”), but Professor Gardner cannot get off quite so easily, because his work is not recognized as comical by enough of our educators.
He has made it possible for teachers everywhere to say that whatever they feel like doing in class, from gossiping about scandal to reminiscing about Vietnam to showing travel slides, to you name it, is designed to appeal to one of the many talents (Intelligences) that students bring to school with them.

Continue reading Polonius Redux

Out of the Ordinary: Historical Fiction for Middle Grade Readers

Michelle Barone:

Excerpt from Chapter 1: The Crime
“Woosh! Splat!’ A gooshy, white spitball whizzed past Julia’s ear. It smushed onto the blackboard and stuck. Julia watched a wet stream travel down from the wad. It left a shiny black trail on the board. There was only one person in the room who would do such a thing. Julia knew who it was.
Julia knew what would happen next. It was the same thing that happened every time Teddy Parker misbehaved.
Miss Crawford, the teacher, spun around and faced the class like a fighter squaring off against an opponent. “Who made this spitball?” she demanded.
Julia clamped her skinny legs together and froze in her seat. Her knobby knees bumped each other.
“Who made this spitball?” Miss Crawford repeated.
“It wasn’t any of the sixth graders,” said Frank O’Malley, a blond haired, Irish boy. He stood, as was the custom, to speak for his age group.
Julia knew she was expected to answer. She was the only fifth grader in the room who spoke English. The other fifth grade girl sat wide-eyed with sealed lips.
Julia wished they didn’t have to go through this ritual every time Teddy Parker acted up. Teddy’s family came to Phippsburg long before Julia’s. Teddy lived in a real house. Julia’s family lived in an old boxcar that had been taken off of the rails. There were other families from Italy, Ireland, and Greece living in the boxcar section of town.
Julia didn’t know why Teddy was a trouble maker. He was luckier than all of the other kids. Teddy’s father ran the coal mine where everyone else’s father worked.
The fourth graders didn’t do it,” said a girl popping up and down in one motion.
Julia had missed her turn to answer.
“It wasn’t any of the third graders, Miss Crawford,” said another girl.
“The second graders didn’t do it,” said Teddy’s sister, Paulina.
A small boy stood. “It wasn’t the first grade, Teacher,” he said.
There will be a punishment for this, “Miss Crawford Said.
“Whoever made this spitball will have to come to the front of the room.”
Julia watched Miss Crawford focus on Teddy. He shifted in his wooden seat at the end of the sixth grade row.
“What do you have to say, Teddy?” asked Miss Crawford.
Julia looked at Teddy sitting in his new clothes from Denver. He wore a new shirt under a new sweater, new knickers, and new knee socks. Julia guessed his underwear was new, too. Teddy’s clothes were the right size, not patched and baggy hand-me-downs like Julia’s. Most of the kids were dressed like her, in clothes that had once been worn by their parents.
Julia watched Teddy slowly rise. He stepped out to the side of his desk. Julia waited for Teddy to make his confession. It was his chance to show off every day. She knew in a moment he would proudly walk to the front of the room, stand on tip toe, and place his nose on a chalk dot Miss Crawford drew on the board. The class would watch him stand there on pointed toe while he took his punishment. Miss Crawford wouldn’t make Teddy stand at the board for a whole hour like she would any other student. Teddy was her pet. She’d call off his punishment after five or ten minutes.
It was the same every time. Nothing exciting ever happened in Phippsburg. Why couldn’t it be a little bit different this once?
Julia reached up and felt a rag curl in her hair. Mama tied the rags into her hair last night. Julia liked how the curls made a soft half circle around her plain face.
Julia closed her eyes and made one silent wish. “Please let something exciting happen today for a change.”
She opened her eyes and blinked three times for good luck.
Miss Crawford was waiting for an answer. Teddy straightened his shoulders and drew in a long, deep breath.
“Miss Crawford, I must tell the truth,” he said.
“Yes, you must,” said Miss Crawford.
All eyes were glued on Teddy Parker.
“It was…Julia!” he announced.

Academic Fitness

The NACAC Testing Commission has just released its report [PDF]on the benefits of, and problems with, current standardized admission tests. The Commission says that “a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach for the use of standardized tests in undergraduate admission does not reflect the realities facing our nation’s many and varied colleges and universities.”
It might be pointed out, by an outside observer, that standardized tests not only do not reflect the realities of acceptance for high school students receiving athletic scholarships, but such tests have nothing whatever to do with whether high school athletes are recruited or not and nothing to do with whether they receive college athletic scholarships or not.
Athletic scholarships are based on athletic performance in particular athletic activities, not on tests of the athletic or physical fitness of high school athletes. The cost of failure for college coaches is too high for them to think of relying on any standardized test of sports knowledge or of anything else in their efforts to recruit the best high school athletes they can.
The NACAC Testing Commission also says that standardized tests may not do a good enough job of telling whether applicants to college are academically fit. They recommend the development and use of good subject matter tests which are “more closely linked to the high school curriculum” than the SAT and ACT exams.
This suggestion begins to approach the rigor of assessment in the recruiting and selection of high school athletes, but there are still important differences. The high school athletic curriculum includes such subjects as football, basketball, soccer, baseball, etc., but college coaches do not rely on tests of athletes’ knowledge of these sports as determined by sport-specific tests. They need to know a lot about the actual performance of candidates in those sports in which they have competed.
The parallel is not perfect, because of course students who can demonstrate knowledge of history, biology, literature, math, chemistry, and so on, are clearly more likely to manage the demands of college history, biology, literature, math and chemistry courses when they get there, while athletes who know a lot about their sport may still perform poorly in it.
But college academic work does not just consist of taking courses and passing tests. In math there are problem sets. In biology, chemistry, etc., there is lab work to do. And in history courses there are history books to read and research papers to write. Such performance tasks are not yet part of the recommended tests for college admission.
It is now possible, for example, for a student who can do well on a subject matter test in history to graduate from high school without ever having read a complete history book or written a real history research paper in high school. That student may indeed do well in history courses in college, but it seems likely that they will have a steep learning curve in their mastery of the reading lists and paper requirements they will face in those courses.
New standard college admissions tests in specific academic subjects will no doubt bring more emphasis on academic knowledge for the high school students who are preparing for them, but a standard independent assessment of their research papers would surely make it more likely that they would not plan to enter college without ever having done one in high school.
The reading of complete nonfiction books is still an unknown for college admissions officers. Interviewers may ask what books students have read, but there is no actual standard expectation for the content, difficulty and number of nonfiction books high school students are expected to have read before college.
The increased emphasis on subject matter tests is surely a good step closer to the seriousness routinely seen in the assessments for college athletic scholarships, but it seems to me that some regular examination of the reading of nonfiction books and an external assessment of at least one serious research paper by high school students would help in their preparation for college, as well as in the assessment of their actual demonstrated academic fitness which, as the Commission points out, is not now provided by the SAT and ACT tests.
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;
Varsity Academics®

Contentless Writing

Mr. Fitzhugh [] is Editor and Publisher of The Concord Review and Founder of the National Writing Board and the TCR Institute [].
Abraham Lincoln’s address at Gettysburg was short. Indeed, the President had spoken and taken his seat before many in that large crowd gathered outdoors even realized that he had spoken. Fortunately, an alert reporter took down his words. Short as the speech was, it began with a date and a fact–the sort of factual content that is being drained away from student writing today.
The very idea of writing without content takes some getting used to. I was taken aback not long ago to read the comments of a young woman who had been asked how she felt about having a computer grade the essays that she wrote on the Graduate Management Admission Test (Mathews, 2004). She replied that she didn’t mind, noting that the test givers were more interested in her “ability to communicate” than in what she actually said.
Although style, fluency, tone, and correct grammar are certainly important in writing, folks like me think that content has value as well. The guidelines for scoring the new writing section on the SAT seem to say otherwise, however. Readers evaluating the essays are told not to take points off for factual mistakes, and they must score the essays “holistically”–at the rate of 30 an hour (Winerip, 2005).
Earlier this year, Linda Shaw of the Seattle Times (2006), reported that the the rules for the Washington Assessment of Student Learning (WASL) do not allow dictionaries, but “when it comes to the writing section, there’s one rule they can break: They can make things up. Statistics. Experts. Quotes. Whatever helps them make their point.” According to Shaw, the state’s education office announced that “making up facts is acceptable when writing nonfiction, persuasive essays on the WASL.”
Lest you conclude that writing without content, or writing nonfiction with fictional content–think James Frey’s A Million Little Pieces–is limited to the Left Coast, think again. Across the United States, even the most prestigious writing workshops for teachers generally bypass the what to focus on the how.
All writing has to have some content, of course. So what are students encouraged to put down on the page? In its 2003 report, The Neglected ‘R’, The National Commission on Writing in America’s Schools and Colleges, gave us a clue. According to the report, the following passage by a high school student about the September 11 terrorist attacks shows “how powerfully children can express their emotions.”
“The time has come to fight back and we are. By supporting our leaders and each other, we are stronger than ever. We will never forget those who died, nor will we forgive those who took them from us.”
Or look at the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) the supposed gold standard for evaluating academic achievement in U.S. schools, as measured and reported by the National Center for Education Statistics. In its 2002 writing assessment, in which 77 percent of 12th graders scored “Basic” or “Below Basic,” NAEP scored the following student response “Excellent.” The prompt called for a brief review of a book worth preserving. In a discussion of Herman Hesse’s Demian, in which the main character grows up and awakens to himself, the student wrote,

Continue reading Contentless Writing

[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, ( 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.

Continue reading [For] Crying Out Loud

History Lesson

Bob McGum:

Want to read another story about the dumbing down of American students? How far SAT scores have dropped or standards fallen?
If so, look elsewhere.
We wish instead to draw your attention to one of those little starbursts of intelligence sparkling over our dreary educational landscape: The Concord Review. The first and only academic journal dedicated to the work of high school students, The Concord Review has published essays on everything from the sinking of the Lusitania to the Pullman Strike of 1894 and the Harlem Renaissance. Appropriately enough, it is published out of the same town where, more than two centuries back, embattled farmers fired the shot heard ’round the world.
The Review is the child of Will Fitzhugh, a Harvard alumnus who started publishing it out of his own home in 1987 while a high school teacher himself. The next year he quit his job and dedicated himself to the journal full-time. Not least of the spurs behind his decision was having witnessed two of his fellow Concord teachers propose an after-school program to help a select group of students prepare a serious history essay-only to be shot down by the administration on the grounds of “elitism.”
Like most such academic adventures, the Review isn’t going to challenge People magazine any time soon; it still has only about 850 subscribers, and among the high schools that don’t subscribe are a number whose students have been published in the Review itself. But it is attracting attention. The Concord Review has received endorsements from a cross-section of prominent historians such as David McCullough, Eugene Genovese, Diane Ravitch, and Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., who says “there should be a copy in every high school.” Another fan is James Basker, a Barnard and Columbia professor who also serves as president of the Gilder Lehrman Institute of American History.
“Students rise to the expectations you have of them,” states Mr. Basker. “All you have to do is show them they are capable of writing serious historical essays, and off they go.” To emphasize the point, his institute will on June 10 inaugurate three annual Gilder Lehrman Essay Prizes in American History drawn from Concord Review essayists. This year’s first prize, for $5,000, goes to Hannah S. Field for her contribution about library efforts to suppress Frank Baum’s Wizard of Oz.
All this acclaim notwithstanding, Mr. Fitzhugh believes today’s culture retains a pronounced bias against academic achievement and excellence. He cites the example of a Concord Review essayist from Connecticut who subsequently went on to Dartmouth and will be studying medicine this fall at Harvard. When Mr. Fitzhugh paid a visit to her high school, he found that though everyone knew she was all-state in soccer, no one knew that an essay of hers had appeared in the Review, beating out hundreds of the finest student essays from not only the U.S. but other parts of the English-speaking world. It’s one of the things that tells him that the need for such a journal remains strong.
“Varsity athletics and athletes are celebrated everywhere,” Mr. Fitzhugh says. “We’ve decided to celebrate varsity academics.”

History Scholar

Will Fitzhugh, The Concord Review
College scholarships for specific abilities and achievements are not news. There are football scholarships and volleyball scholarships and music scholarships and cheerleading scholarships, and so on – there is a long list of sources of money to attract and reward high school students who have talent and accomplishments if those are not academic.
Consider an example: there is a high school student in Georgia, in an IB program, who spent a year and a half working on an independent study of the Soviet-Afghan War in the 1980s. This paper, a bit more than 15,000 words, with endnotes and bibliography was published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review, the only journal in the world for the academic research papers of secondary students, and it is a strong candidate for the Ralph Waldo Emerson Prize. If he were an outstanding baseball player, a number of college baseball coaches would have heard about him, and would be doing what they could to persuade him to accept an athletic (baseball) scholarship to their colleges.
But suppose he were not a HS athlete, but only a HS history students of extraordinary academic promise at the high school level. Would college professors of history know about and take an interest in his work? No. Would there be college history scholarships competing for him? No. Would his teacher, who worked with him on his independent study, attract attention from his peers at the college and university level? No.
I hope I am wrong, but based on what I have found out so far, there are no college scholarships available specifically for outstanding secondary students of history. There is abundant moaning and gnashing of teeth by edupundits and professors about the widespread ignorance of history among our young people, but when someone shows unusually strong knowledge of history at the Lower Education Level, no one pays any attention at the Higher Education Level.
In 21 years of working to publish 824 history research papers by secondary students of history from 44 states and 34 other countries in The Concord Review, I have not learned of a single instance of an author being offered a college scholarship based on their academic work in history.
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.
Behavioral psychology argues that by ignoring some behavior you will tend to get less of if, and by paying attention to and rewarding other behavior you are likely to find that there is more of it.
I know that students are being recruited for college scholarships in cheerleading, and I would dearly love to hear from anyone who can tell me of students being recruited for their specific academic work in a high school subject, like history, literature, physics, Chinese, chemistry and so on.
I realize there are scholarships for disadvantaged students, for students of high general intellectual ability, and the like, but where are the scholarships for specific HS academic achievement? After all, athletic and dance scholarships are not awarded on the basis of general tests of physical fitness, but because of achievement in the actual performance of particular athletic or artistic activities.
It is said that you get what you pay for, and it seems likely that you get more of what you value and reward in academics as well. If we continue to overlook and ignore the academic achievement of our secondary-level scholars of history and other subjects, that does not mean that some students will no longer work hard in their areas of academic interest. There may be fewer of them, and fewer teachers who see the point of putting in the extra coaching time with exceptionally diligent students, but if we continue down this road, at least folks in Higher Education ought to be aware that they are working just as hard to discourage good academic work at the secondary level as anyone, and they should stop complaining about the attitudes toward scholarship of the students in their classrooms, which, after all, are in part a result of their own contempt for and neglect of academic work at the secondary (aka “pre-college”) level.
Will Fitzhugh [founder], Consortium for Varsity Academics® [2007]
The Concord Review [1987], Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998], TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007,;, Varsity Academics®

World Class Writing

Michael Shaughnessy:

Over the past few weeks, much has been said by Senator Clinton, Michelle Obama and Senator Obama about “world class education”. Those three words have resounded in all of their speeches of late. I would like to acknowledge some “world class writing” which has recently appeared in The Concord Review, edited by Will Fitzhugh.
Below are the papers, the authors, and the high school with which the student is affiliated or enrolled. We should acknowledge the teachers, and principals of these schools, as well as the parents of these fine “world class writers”.
Congratulations to these fine young scholars on their exemplary research and writing.
Bessemer Process…Pearson W. Miller……Hunter College High School, Manhattan Island, New York.
Soviet- Afghan War…Colin Rhys Hill…….Atlanta International School, Atlanta, Georgia
Silencio!…Ines Melicias Geraldes Cardoso …Frank C. Carlucci American International School of Lisbon
Jews in England…Milo Brendan Barisof…Homescholar, Santa Cruz, California
United States Frigates…Caleb Greinke….Park Hill South High School, Riverside, Missouri
Roxy Stinson….Elizabeth W. Doe….Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Massachusetts
Mary, Queen of Scots….Elizabeth Pitts….Charlotte Country Day School, Charlotte, North Carolina
Viking Gifts….Elisabeth Rosen….St. Ann’s School, Brooklyn, New York
Hugh Dowding….Connor Rowntree…William Hall High School, West Hartford, Connecticut
Confederate Gold….Steffi Delcourt….Frederica Academy, St. Simons Island, Georgia
Max Weber…Diane (Elly) Brinkley….Dalton School, Manhattan Island, New York
I daresay that social studies, history teachers and even history professors would learn a great deal about a variety of topics by reading these essays.Further, I would hope that these essays would serve as models of excellent scholarship and writing for high school students across America.

Schools warned of pupils hooked on energy drinks

Polly Curtis:

Children are becoming dependent on energy drinks that have dramatic effects on their concentration and behaviour in schools, drug experts have warned.
Schools are being advised to observe children for signs of agitation which could be a result of excessive caffeine consumption. It follows reports of pupils drinking large quantities of energy drinks or taking caffeine-based pills.
The warning, from the anti-drugs advisory group Drug Education UK, comes as ministers prepare to unveil new measures tomorrow to improve school dinners and advise parents on children’s packed lunches.
Bob Tait, from Drug Education UK, said: “There is a growing problem of caffeine abuse in schools. Most schools have a drug education programme to advise kids against illegal drugs, but there is less known about legal highs.”
He made his warning at a conference of school nurses this week, the Nursing Standard reported. Tait said: “Children will drink them on the walk to school, at break and lunch time. If you have got a child who is worked up on an energy drink, they are going to be agitated during lesson time.”


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.
Will Fitzhugh
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.

Continue reading Wheelbarrow

Keeping The Concord Review Afloat

Kathleen Kennedy Manzo:

A year ago, Will Fitzhugh was wondering if the next issue of The Concord Review, the renowned history journal he founded in 1987 to recognize high school students’ outstanding history research papers, would be the last. On a tattered shoestring budget, Fitzhugh has just published the Summer 2008 edition [18/4], and with some support from schools and other fans in the private sector, he has hopes for four more issues over the next year.
But the former high school history teacher is proceeding mostly on a wing and a prayer, and a driving passion for promoting rigorous academic work for teenagers. Last year, the salary for the curmudgeonly 71-year-old was a measly $8,600. This for a scholar who has won widespread praise among education thinkers in the country for demanding, and rewarding, excellence and earnestness in the study of history. Thousands of high school students—mostly from private schools, but many from public schools, including diverse and challenged ones—have responded with work that has impressed some prominent historians and many college-admissions officers.
So how is it that such an undertaking is only scraping by, while other worthy programs, such as the National Writing Project and the Teaching American History Grants, manage to garner millions of dollars each year in federal and foundation support?
Right now, the Review is staying afloat on the commitment of Fitzhugh and some 20 secondary institutions that have ponied up $5,000 each to join a consortium that was created a year ago to cover the costs of publishing the journal. The National Writing Board, also founded by Fitzhugh, brings in some money from students who pay for an evaluation of their research papers that can be sent in with their college applications.
Why is it that some extraordinary efforts in education, which seem to have vision and the right end goal, struggle so?

History Books

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
29 July 2008
Katherine Kersten tells me that at Providence Academy in Plymouth, Minnesota, high school history students are required to read James McPherson’s Battle Cry of Freedom [946 pages] and Paul Johnson’s History of the American People [1,104 pages] in their entirety.
It seems likely to me that when these students get to college and find reading lists in their courses in History, Political Science, Economics, and the like, which require them to read nonfiction books, they will be somewhat ready for them, having read at least two serious nonfiction books in their Lower Education years.
For the vast majority of our public secondary students this may not be the case. As almost universally, the assignment of reading and writing is left up to the English departments in the high schools, most students now read only novels and other fiction.
While the National Endowment for the Arts has conducted a $300,000 study of the pleasure reading habits of young people and others, no foundation or government agency, including the National Endowment for the Humanities, has show an interest in asking whether our secondary students read one complete nonfiction book before graduation and if so, what book would it be?

Continue reading History Books

Psychiatric Help 5c

Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
15 May 2008
In Peanuts, when we see Lucy offering Psychiatric Help for a nickel, we know it is a joke: (“The Psychiatrist is IN”), but when English teachers in the schools insist that students write about the most intimate details of their private lives for school assignments, that is not a joke, it is an unwarranted intrusion.
There are a couple of major problems with the “personal writing” that has taken over so many of the writing assignments for the English classes in our schools.
First, the teachers are asking students to share information about their personal lives that is none of the teachers’ business. The vast majority of English teachers are not qualified as psychologists, much less as psychiatrists, and they should not pretend that they are.
Second, the time spent by students writing assignments for their teachers in their personal diaries is subtracted from time they need to spend learning how to do the academic expository writing they will need to be able to do when they leave school, for college and for work.
I will leave it to others to explain why English teachers have gone down this road in so many of our schools. I have written a number of articles about Creative Nonfiction and Contentless Writing, and the like, to try to encourage some attention to the retreat (or flight) from academic writing in our schools.

Continue reading Psychiatric Help 5c

Latest Author Letter……

Mr. William Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776
Dear Mr. Fitzhugh,
I am happy to tell you that I was admitted early action to Yale and will be going there this fall. I also want to thank you again for including my [10,453-word] paper on the Philippine War in the Winter 2007 issue of The Concord Review. I was honored to have my work included among so many impressive pieces.
Writing my essay gave me a chance to learn something not only about a specific historical event, but also about the nature of scholarship. Throughout high school I have been an inquisitive and capable history student, but my papers did little more than synthesize the views of other historians. When I decided to submit a paper to you for consideration, I started from one I had written for my tenth-grade American history class. As I edited the essay, I became motivated to steep myself in primary materials—from soldiers’ accounts to congressional testimony to newspaper articles, many of them conflicting—in an attempt to piece together some sort of orderly narrative from these fragmented and contradictory stories. I then turned to secondary sources, considering the views of different historians, assessing their sources, and always trying to draw my own conclusions.
This process of revision was challenging and exciting. I enjoyed reading the stories and first-person narratives. But I also learned to think more critically, and to draw parallels between past events and the present. In the words of H.G. Wells, “History is a race between education and catastrophe.” Perhaps through careful study of the past, we can glean insight as to how to approach the future.
Even if the Review had not accepted my paper for publication, doing this research and writing would still remain one of the most intellectually rewarding experiences of my high school years. I am deeply honored that you chose to publish it and I thank you again.
Benjamin Loffredo
Fieldston School
Bronx, New York

Art Without Craft

On the website, I learn that:

“When Michelangelo turned 13-years-old he shocked and enraged his father when told that he had agreed to apprentice in the workshop of the painter Domenico Ghirlandaio. After about one year of learning the art of fresco, Michelangelo went on to study at the sculpture school in the Medici gardens and shortly thereafter was invited into the household of Lorenzo de’ Medici, the Magnificent…During the years he spent in the Garden of San Marco, Michelangelo began to study human anatomy. In exchange for permission to study corpses (which was strictly forbidden by The Church), the prior of the church of Santo Spirito, Niccolò Bichiellini, received a wooden Crucifix from Michelangelo (detail of Christ’s face). But his contact with the dead bodies caused problems with his health, obliging him to interrupt his activities periodically.
“Michelangelo produced at least two relief sculptures by the time he was 16 years old, the Battle of the Centaurs and the Madonna of the Stairs (both 1489-1492), which show that he had achieved a personal style at a precocious age…”…(and later) “Michelangelo also did the marble Pietà (1498-1500), still in its original place in Saint Peter’s Basilica. One of the most famous works of art, the Pietà was probably finished before Michelangelo was 25 years old.”

My apologies for quoting at such length from a biography, but I have seen his Pietà in Rome on several occasions, and it seems clear to me that it took a gifted young man, with great acquired skill in the craft of shaping marble with hammer and chisel, perhaps two years to achieve this masterwork.

Continue reading Art Without Craft

Unready in MA

Many Mass. graduates unprepared in college
Thousands need remedial classes, are dropout risks
By Peter Schworm
Boston Globe Staff / April 16, 2008
Thousands of Massachusetts public high school graduates arrive at college unprepared for even the most basic math and English classes, forcing them to take remedial courses that discourage many from staying in school, according to a statewide study released yesterday.
The problem is particularly acute in urban districts and vocational schools, according to the first-of-its kind study. At three high schools in Boston and two in Worcester, at least 70 percent of students were forced to take at least one remedial class because they scored poorly on a college placement test.
The study raises concern that the state’s public schools are not doing enough to prepare all of their students for college, despite years of overhauls and large infusions of money.
The findings are also worrisome because students who take remedial courses, which do not count toward a degree, are far more likely to drop out of college, often without the skills needed to land a good job. That has broad implications for the state’s workforce, economy, and social mobility.
The report, conducted jointly by the state Departments of Elementary and Secondary Education and Higher Education, found that the problem crossed socioeconomic lines. One third of high school graduates in suburban Hanover took remedial classes, as did 27 percent of graduates in Lynnfield and Needham.

Continue reading Unready in MA


Back in the day [1980], Articulation was the name given to the process to ensure that elementary students were not surprised by the demands of seventh grade, and middle school students were not surprised by the demands of ninth grade (or tenth grade).
Educators had meetings in which they discussed articulation – not better diction for all, but a better fit between different levels of schooling – and it was always a problem. Each level wanted control over what it taught and when, and what academic standards would be enforced, and there was a lamentable inclination by high school educators to look down a bit on middle school educators and for middle school educators to look down a bit on elementary school educators.
While I am sure that this never happens now, in the new Millennium, there is another articulation problem which I believe gets far less attention than students deserve. It has been reported recently that nationally about 30% of our high school students in general drop out of high school and that the percentage rises to a shocking 50% for black and Hispanic students.
But what about the 70% (or 50%) who do graduate and get the diploma certifying that they have met the requirements of an American high school education? In Massachusetts, of those who pass the Massachusetts Comprehensive Assessment System [MCAS] tests and get their diplomas, 37% are now found to be “not ready for college work,” according to a report last month in The Boston Globe.
In an article on on student writing in Texas, Donna Garner quoted a parent who said about the writing her daughter is doing for the Texas Assessment of Knowledge and Skills [TAKS] tests: “She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS.” And Donna Garner observed: “It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready.”

Continue reading ARTICULATION

Creative Nonfiction

There is a new genre of teenage writing in town: Creative Nonfiction. It allows high school students (mostly girls) to complete writing assignments and participate in “essay contests” by writing about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, as well as more existential questions such as “How do I look?” and “What should I wear to school?”
This kind of writing is celebrated by Teen Voices, where teen girls can publish their thoughts about their hopes, experiences, doubts, relationships, worries, victimization (if any), and parents, etc. and by contests such as the one sponsored by Imagine, the magazine of the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth.
College admissions officers also ask applicants to write about themselves, rather than, for example, asking to see their best extended research paper from high school. The outcome is that many of our public high school graduates encounter college term paper assignments which ask them to learn and write about something other than themselves, and thanks to the kudzu of Creative Nonfiction, this they are unprepared to do.
How teen autobiography came to be a substitute for nonfiction reading and academic writing is a long story, but clearly many now feel that a pumped-up diary entry is worthy of prizes in high school “essay contests,” and may be required in college application materials.
Of course teen girls should write about anything they want in their diaries, that is what diaries are for, after all, but it is a crime and a shame to try to confine their academic writing experiences in such a small, and poorly-gilded, cage of expectations.

Continue reading Creative Nonfiction

Texas Student Writing

She basically just writes about her feelings on anything of her choice and often is encouraged to just make things up as long as it is flowery and emotional. This is apparently what they look for on TAKS.”

“It is no wonder that college professors think our Texas high-school graduates are not ready for college. The brutal fact is that they are not ready.”

“An Expose of the TAKS Tests” (excerpts)
[TAKS: Texas Assessment of Knowledge/Skills
ELA: English/Language Arts]
by Donna Garner
Education Policy Commentator
10 April 2008
….Please note that each scorer spends approximately three minutes to read, decipher, and score each student’s handwritten essay. (Having been an English teacher for over 33 years, I have often spent over three minutes just trying to decipher a student’s poor handwriting.) Imagine spending three minutes to score an entire two-page essay that counts for 22 % of the total score and determines whether a student is allowed to take dual-credit courses. A student cannot take dual-credit classes unless he/she makes a “3” or a “4” on the ELA TAKS essay…
The scorers spend only about three minutes scanning the essays and do not grade students down for incorrect grammar, punctuation, spelling, and capitalization unless the errors interfere significantly with the communication of ideas. Students are allowed to use an English language dictionary and a thesaurus throughout the composition portion of the test, and they can spend as much time on the essay as they so choose…

Continue reading Texas Student Writing


At Harvard University, the Harvard Graduate School of Law is called Harvard Law School, the Harvard Graduate School of Medicine is called Harvard Medical School, but Harvard Education School is called the Harvard Graduate School of Education—surely that indicates something…
In any case, Harvard Education School is kind enough to offer, on its website, an insight into the research interests of its faculty. Their centers for research include: “The Center on the Developing Child; Change Leadership Group; Chartering Practice Project; Civil Rights Project; Collaborative on Academic Careers in Higher Education; Dynamic Development Laboratory; Everyday Antiracism Working Group; GoodWork Project; Harvard Family Research Project; Language Diversity & Literacy Development Research Group; National Center for the Study of Adult Learning and Literacy (NCSALL); NICHD Study of Early Child Care & Youth Development; Project IF; Project on the Next Generation of Teachers; Project Zero; Projects in Language Development; Project for Policy Innovation in Education; Public Education Leadership Project (PELP); and Understanding the Roots of Tolerance and Prejudice.”
The mission of some may be less clear. The “GoodWork®” Project explains that: “The GoodWork® Project is a large scale effort to identify individuals and institutions that exemplify good work—work that is excellent in quality, socially responsible, and meaningful to its practitioners—and to determine how best to increase the incidence of good work in our society.” There is no indication that they are interested in good academic homework. Project IF is about “Inventing the Future.” Project Zero is home to work on multiple intelligences, among other things.
If you dig down further into the research interests of individual faculty, also kindly provided on the site, you may have the same difficulty I do in finding anyone interested in the work of the schools in teaching math, science, history, literature and foreign languages. There may be exceptions, but the overall impression is that academic work, of the sort we are asking students to do in our schools, gets little attention.
There is concern for finding and retaining teachers, but not too much for seeing that they have the academic preparation to be successful in promoting the study of math, science, history, literature, and foreign languages among their students.


The Whole Child

Here in Massachusetts these days, we are hearing more and more from the Governor and educators about “The Whole Child.” They say we should be sure, in our schools, not to get distracted from a focus, in a holistic way, on the whole child.
I have heard about this “whole child,” but I have yet to have anyone explain what that could mean. I know that it has been said, of boys, for instance, that they are made of “snakes and snails and puppy dogs’ tails,” and of girls, that they are mostly “sugar and spice and everything nice,” but I can’t believe that completes the inventory.
Each student may be considered from a neuro-psychological, socio-economic, philosophical, dental, muscular-skeletal, ethnic, spiritual, academic, motivational, personality configuration, family, allergic, drug-resistant, blood-type, intellectual, gastrointestinal and athletic point of view, among a large group of other perspectives.
This raises the question of what parts of the whole child the school might be best qualified and equipped to work with? Surely no imaginable set of teachers, nurses, hall monitors, principals, bus drivers, coaches, and so on can deal with all the various characteristics of each human being who comes as a student to their school.
It would appear that a school and its staff might have to choose which aspects of the whole child should be their focus. In recent decades, self-esteem, tolerance, social consciousness, respect for differences, and environmental awareness have taken up a good deal of time in the schools. Perhaps as a consequence, our students tend to be in-numerate and a-literate. The Boston Globe reports today that: “37 percent of public high school graduates who enter public higher education may not be ready.”

Continue reading The Whole Child

Clarion Call: “Windows on College Readiness”

“Your essay, which I have now read twice, is terrific.
You are way ahead of everyone on this.”
email 17 January 2008 from: Education Reporter Sara Rimer of the New York Times

This is the one she refers to:
The Bridgespan Group, working for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, has just released a report called “Reclaiming the American Dream.” The study was intended to find out how to get more U.S. high school students prepared for and through college.
Much of the report is about getting kids to go to college, and it finds that if there is enough money provided, and if parents, peers, counselors and teachers say going to college is important, more high school students are likely to go.
The major weakness of the report, in my view, is its suggestions for the kind of high school work that will help students to do college work and to graduate.
One of the concluding statements is that “Inertia is particularly difficult to overcome when people are unaware that a problem exists or that the potential for solving it is real.” What a useful insight. What they recommend for high school students is “a rigorous college preparatory curriculum.” What could be wrong with that?
Two very simple and basic things are wrong with that. Current “college preparatory” curricula, including AP courses, do not include the reading of complete nonfiction books or the writing of serious research papers.
That is almost as if we had a crisis in preparing high school football players for success in college and recommended a standard preparation program which did not give them practice in running, blocking and tackling. ACT found last spring that 49 percent of the high school students it tested could not read at the level of college freshman texts. And the Chronicle of Higher Education reported on a survey in which 90 percent of college professors thought high school students were not well prepared in reading, writing and doing research. A true college education requires reading serious books and writing substantial papers although many schools have watered their requirements down. High school students should be ready for in-depth study.

Continue reading Clarion Call: “Windows on College Readiness”


When was the last time a college history professor made it her business to find out the names and schools of the best high school history students in the United States?
When was the last time a college basketball coach sat in his office and waited for the admissions office to deliver a good crop of recruits for the team?
When was the last time a high school history teacher got scores of phone calls and dozens of visits from college professors when he had an unusually promising history student?
When was the last time a high school athlete who was unusually productive in a major sport heard from no one at the college level?
Not one of these things happens, for some good reasons and some not-so-good reasons.
Before you think of the reasons however, we should be aware that sometimes the high school coach who is besieged with interest from the colleges is the same person who is ignored by colleges as a teacher. And sometimes the athlete who gets a number of offers from college coaches is the same person who, as an outstanding student, draws no interest at all. Not only do they observe this demonstration of our placing a higher value on athletics than on academics at the high school level, but their peers, both faculty and student, see it as well, and it teaches them a lesson.
Now it is obvious that if college coaches don’t scramble for the best high school athletes they can find, they may start to lose games, and, before long, perhaps their jobs as well.

Continue reading DOUBLE VISION

Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog

When I took my first serious history course in college, the president of the university (a history buff himself) spoke to our class and encouraged us to submit our papers to various journals for publication. Being rather inexperienced, it had never occurred to me to submit anything I had ever written to anyone for publication. In my mind, I was “just” a student and couldn’t imagine anyone being interested in what I wrote.
Now it is possible not only for serious college students to publish their work, but it is also possible for serious high school history students to publish the papers that they have researched. The Concord Review gives young people this opportunity. The Review is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic expository research papers of secondary history students. Papers may be on any historical topic, ancient or modern, foreign or domestic.
Many of these young authors have sent reprints of their papers along with their college application materials. Their research has helped them to gain admission to some of the nation’s (and world’’s) best universities.

Continue reading Prufrock’s Gifted Child Information Blog

Memory’s Forgotten Daughter

The National Endowment for the Arts has released a new study of studies of the decline of reading in the United States. Some kinds of reading were apparently not considered.
Zeus and Mnemosyne [Memory] were the parents of the nine Muses. Calliope was the muse of epic poetry, Clio was the muse of history, Erato was the muse of love poetry, Euterpe was the muse of music, Melpomene was the muse of tragedy, Polyhymnia was the muse of sacred poetry, Terpsichore was the muse of dance, Thalia was the muse of comedy, and Urania was the muse of astronomy.
Of these nine, two are now off the reservation. Urania has clearly taken Astronomy over to the Science side of the Arts, and Clio has had the misfortune of presiding over history and nonfiction, and so, at least for the National Endowment for the Arts, has evidently lost her status among the Arts.
In 2004, the National Endowment of the Arts conducted a $300,000 study of the reading habits of Americans. It found a significant decline in literary reading for pleasure among just about every group. In The Washington Post, on Friday, July 9, 2004, Jacqueline Trescott wrote that the NEA study found that an industry group “predicts that annual sales for all types of books will top $44 billion by 2008, up 59 percent from last year. Nevertheless, only 46.7 percent of adults say they are reading literature, compared with 56.9 percent two decades ago.”
Their new study of studies continues this limited focus on literary reading for pleasure.

Continue reading Memory’s Forgotten Daughter

Absent From Class

There are many important variables to consider in evaluating the causes for academic failure or success in the high school classroom. The training of the teacher, the quality of the curriculum, school safety, the availability of books, and so on, are factors studied extensively, and all of them play a part.
But I would argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, including classroom work.
Why do so many of our high school students do so little academic work? Because they can get away with it.

A close study of the academic demands on students in the vast majority of our high school classrooms would disclose, I feel certain, that one of the principal reasons for students’ boredom is that they really have nothing to do but sit still and wait for the bell.
In most classrooms, the chances of a student being called on are slight, and of being called on twice are almost non-existent. If a student is called on and has not done the required reading or other class preparation, most probably the teacher will just call on someone else. There are no real consequences for being unprepared. As a result, many, if not most, students are not contributing in class and that can only deepen their boredom.
By contrast, on the football or soccer field, every player is called on in every practice and in nearly every game. Even for players on the bench, there is a constant possibility that they will be asked to perform at any time. If they don’t know what to do then, the embarrassment and disapproval will be swift and obvious. The same also could be said for high school theater productions, performances of the band or chorus, participation in model United Nations, and most of the students’ other activities.
In extracurricular activities, the student faces a kind of peer pressure to do well that is usually lacking in the classroom. Peers in the classroom may even think it is cool for another student to “get away with” having done no preparation.

Continue reading Absent From Class

Just The Facts

f a college basketball coach is interested in a hot high school prospect this is a checklist of the kind of information that is made available to him about the student:

# of points for season yes (made available)
% of goals per game yes
# of three-pointers yes
% of three-pointers yes
# of free throws yes
% of free throws yes
# of blocked shots yes
# of rebounds yes
# of takeaways/steals yes
Average points per game yes
# of minutes per game yes
# of assists yes
# of fouls per game yes
# of suspensions yes
Height/Weight yes
Coach’s rec. yes
etc. yes

If a college history professor were interested in a hot high school prospect for the history department (there is no such interest), he could not find out:

# of history books read (no)
# of book reports written (no)
# of 2,000-word history research papers written (no)
# of 3,000-word history research papers written (no)
# of 5,000-word history research papers written (no)

Continue reading Just The Facts

Tests Shouldn’t Be Last Word on State of Writing

Katherine Kersten:

Minnesotans got what seemed like great news on the education front last month. The state Department of Education announced that in 2007, 92 percent of Minnesota 10th-graders and 91 percent of ninth-graders passed a writing test needed to graduate from high school.
Cause for celebration? I must confess to skepticism.
These through-the-roof passage rates don’t square with complaints about recent graduates’ writing skills that I’ve heard from friends who teach college or hire for businesses.
Young people’s shortcomings often range, I’m told, from limited vocabularies to difficulty writing clear, serviceable prose.
Nor do the high passing rates square with other test results. In the 2005 National Assessment of Educational Progress test of eighth-graders, 62 percent of Minnesota eighth-graders tested at basic or below in reading. A basic score denotes only “partial mastery” of the skills necessary for proficient performance.
In order to write well, you have to read well. The low NAEP reading scores suggest that Minnesota’s writing test must be easy.
Plenty of evidence
Evidence of weak writing skills is plentiful. Last fall, for example, nearly 50 percent of students entering Normandale Community College in Bloomington were required to take a remedial, or “developmental,” writing course, according to college spokesman Geoffrey Jones. Such courses merely get students ready for college-level work.
Minnesota isn’t alone in its writing deficit. Today, many kids from across the country — graduates of suburban and private high schools as well as inner-city schools — struggle to craft a logical argument, analyze ideas or otherwise convey their thoughts on paper.


There are many important variables to consider in evaluating the causes for academic failure or success in the high school classroom. The training of the teacher, the quality of the curriculum, school safety, availability of books, etc., etc., are extensively studied, and all these have a part to play.
But I would argue that the most important variable in student academic achievement is student academic work, including classroom work. Why do so many of our high school students do so little academic work? Because they can get away with it.
A close study of the academic demands on students in the vast majority of our high school classrooms would disclose, I feel certain, that one of the principal reasons for their boredom is that they really have nothing to do but sit still and wait for the bell.
In most classrooms the chances of a student being called on are slight, and of being called on twice are almost nonexistent. If a student is called on and has not done the reading or other class preparation, most probably the teacher will just call on someone else. There are no real consequences for being unprepared, and as a result many, if not most, students are unprepared, and that also contributes to their boredom.

Continue reading ABSENT FROM CLASS

Nonfiction Liberation

In the 1970s, when Ms. Magazine came out, there was a great story about three (heterosexual) couples who got together for dinner: a lawyer, a chemist, a teacher, a lawyer, a manager, and a lawyer, and one of the lawyers looked around the room and said: “This will be great, we’re all lawyers!” (the men were lawyers).
In a similar way, I feel that history books just get completely overlooked in schools. People who talk about writing in the schools, talk about fiction, and people who talk about reading (in the schools) talk as if nonfiction just did not exist. It does not seem to find a place in their thoughts. Literature Rules! (good and bad)…
I know that, in the early days of women’s liberation (1970s version), men would sometimes catch themselves, and say, “or she,” and the like, but it was a real struggle. Now in schools there may be people who mention nonfiction in the same way, but history and other nonfiction have not really moved into the mainstream. There is a glass ceiling for nonfiction so thick, that people standing on it, as a floor, do not even see nonfiction down there waiting its turn.
The Nonfiction Liberation Movement should challenge that Hegemonic monopoly and at least teach educators that to mention writing, without mentioning academic expository writing (term papers), and to talk of reading, without mentioning history, is to be politically incorrect!
Then perhaps the downtrodden brothers and sisters in the History Departments will dare to assert themselves and say, boldly, to the astonishment of their peers, “I am going to assign a complete history book this semester!” and “I am going to assign a serious Extended Research Essay this semester!” A cadre of new Nonfiction Freedom Riders will arise, and our kids will no longer be sent off to college and into the world never having read a complete history book or written one serious nonfiction term paper.
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics? [2007]
The Concord Review [1987]
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes [1995]
National Writing Board [1998]
TCR Institute [2002]
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007;