For the last twenty years of so, I and others have argued, without much success, that our high schools should assign students complete nonfiction books and serious academic research papers at least once in their high school careers, so that if they decide to go on to college, they will be partly prepared for the reading lists of nonfiction books and the term paper assignments they would find there.
I now realize that I have been going about this all the wrong way. Instead of publishing 846 exemplary history research papers by high school students from 36 countries since 1987, in an effort to inspire high school students and their teachers to give more attention to real history books and research papers, I should have lobbied for a change in the academic requirements at the college level instead!
If colleges could simply extend many of their current efforts to eliminate books by dead white males, and to have students write more about themselves in expository writing courses, and could gradually guide students away from the requirements for reading nonfiction books and writing term papers, then the pressure to raise academic standards for reading and writing in our high schools could be further relaxed, relieving our students of all that pressure to become well educated.
Many colleges are leading the way in this endeavor, abandoning courses in United States history, and reducing the number of assigned books, many of which are even older than the students themselves. It is felt that movies by Oliver Stone and creative fiction about vampires may be more relevant to today’s 21st Century students than musty old plays by Shakespeare, which were not even written in today’s English, and long difficult history books written about events that probably happened before our students were even born!
Courses about the oppression of women, which inform students that all American presidents so far have been men, and courses which analyze the various Dracula movies, are much easier for many students to relate to, if they have never read a single nonfiction book or written one history research paper in their high school years.
Liberal arts courses in history, literature, philosophy, and the like have now been shown to be of little benefit in preparing students for jobs as technical support people in the computer industry or as insurance adjusters.
Of course there are those conservatives who will maintain that even computer techs, nurses, and schoolteachers need to be able to read, and even to write a little, but why can’t they see that it would be so much easier and, at least initially, so much more popular, simply to reduce the academic content and standards at the college level than to keep complaining about the one million U.S. high school graduates each year who have to enroll in remedial math, reading and writing courses when they get to college?
Nowadays, if the graduates of these new, easier, and more practical colleges find they need to know something more than they studied as undergraduates, they can look it up on Wikipedia. If they don’t have the academic background, or perhaps the reading skills, to understand what they find on the Web, then perhaps it wasn’t that important anyway.
If colleges would just further reduce their clinging to outdated views about the importance of a liberal arts education, and would continue to expand their definition of a general education to include anything that a professor wants to call a course and anything a student wants to get a grade for, all of this crazy pressure to raise academic standards at the high school level could be reduced significantly.
Again, there will be those diehards who think that high schools should continue to offer Calculus, European History, English Literature, Physics, Chemistry, Russian, Arabic, Chinese, and so on, and schools could continue to offer such courses to those students who think they might be worthwhile. But at least if colleges could cut back on or eliminate the expectation that undergraduates should be able to read nonfiction books and write term papers, then our high schools could continue to graduate the majority of their students who have not been asked to do that sort of thing.
It seems so obvious and so simple that, instead of working so hard to raise academic standards for reading and writing in the secondary schools, we could just lower them even more in our colleges. Why did it take me so long to understand that? But I still don’t recommend it.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
Consortium for Varsity Academics® 
The Concord Review 
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes 
National Writing Board 
TCR Institute 
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Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA