“A Throwback” Review keeps light shining on high school scholars

Adam Sell:

The Concord Review is a one-man outfit run from a cluttered office on Route 20 in Sudbury.
Back issues of the academic journal featuring research by high school history students sit in stacks, and editor Will Fitzhugh keeps his computer in the corner so he can leave even more room for books.
Fitzhugh, 73, has been running the quarterly publication for 22 years in an effort to keep old-fashioned term papers alive and well. He thinks scholarly research at the high school level has declined, and students are arriving at college unprepared.
“I think we’re doing the majority of public high school students a disservice,” said Fitzhugh. “They get to college and are assigned these nonfiction books and term papers, and they flame out. The equivalent is sending kids to college math classes with only fractions and decimals.”
Yet Fitzhugh, who started the journal while on sabbatical from his teaching job in Concord (hence the name), can’t find anybody to take over when he retires. He took no salary from the journal for 14 years, and even now averages only $10,000 a year.
“It’s going to be really hard, there’s no job security. But most people don’t want to work for nothing, and they don’t want to leave the classroom,” Fitzhugh said. “I don’t know how long I can keep going.”
Despite a perpetual lack of funding for his project–Fitzhugh said he’s been turned down by 154 foundations–The Concord Review has persevered.

The number of subscribers has grown to more than 1,400, and its printing runs every three months range from 2,500 to 4,000 copies. Filling each issue are 11 articles that Fitzhugh picks from more than 200 submissions.
Papers come in from all over the world; the most recent issue features one from the American School of Antananarivo in Madagascar. Of the other 10 articles, seven were from students in private schools, which Fitzhugh said is roughly the average proportion.
And these are no simple book reports the students are writing. This issue includes papers titled “Rise and Fall of Cahokia,” “Andersonville Prison,” “Arquebus in Japan,” and “Civil War Medicine.”
“Obviously it’s been difficult in some ways, but I’ve been inspired by the work of the kids,” Fitzhugh said.
One of those is Jonathan Weinstein. When he started writing a research paper for his Asian studies class at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School, Weinstein said, he expected it to come out around 10 pages, roughly the assigned length. But as he kept digging into information on HIV/AIDS in China, his paper grew.
“As I got into the topic, there wasn’t any way to do a proper analysis without making it around 34 pages,” Weinstein said. He started looking toward other avenues of publication, and settled on The Concord Review.
Sandra Crawford, Weinstein’s teacher at Lincoln-Sudbury, hopes the recognition he got for his report might drive other students to attempt the same.
“I know it’s made me think about when I have students do excellent papers, how can I bring those to a wider audience?” Crawford said.
Though public schools contribute fewer of the papers Fitzhugh publishes, The Concord Review has a fan in Robert Furey, head of the history department at Concord-Carlisle Regional High School.
“It’s an extraordinary opportunity for kids to have their work viewed by a wider audience,” said Furey. “I think there needs to be a Concord Review to give the most serious history students the chance to have their work read.”
But not all teachers are sold. Todd Whitten, who teaches Advanced Placement courses at Burlington High School and was formerly a department head at Beaver Country Day School in Brookline, says the standards that The Concord Review sets are a throwback to a different era of teaching history.
I think it’s feeling more and more anachronistic,” Whitten said. Term papers “are the way college works, it’s a format that needs to be taught, but anecdotally, it’s been taken over by English departments.”
Whitten said from his perspective, history and social studies departments aren’t having students write Fitzhugh’s style of paper anymore. “The focus is on being generalists, not specialists. You’re trying to cover the surface of a lot of stuff,” Whitten said.
For Fitzhugh, it boils down to showing that high school students are capable of outstanding academic work. The Concord Review is just one facet of his Varsity Academics initiative. If he can help inspire students to strive beyond their own expectations, even if The Concord Review folds, he will have done his job, Fitzhugh said.
“Athletics are performed publicly. Good academics are a secret.”
© Copyright 2009 The New York Times Company
© Copyright 2009 Globe Newspaper Company.
“Teach by Example”
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 01776-3371 USA
978-443-0022; 800-331-5007
www.tcr.org; fitzhugh@tcr.org
Varsity Academics®