on the 17th of never, 2011
Senator, please allow me to express my thanks for including me in these vital hearings on the readiness of our high school graduates for college work.
It would be my sad duty to report to you that if high school football coaches no longer ask their athletes to learn to block and tackle, that would fail to prepare them for college teams. Oh–wait, Senator, that is not correct. (Shuffles papers, starts over).
It would be my sad duty to report that if our high school basketball coaches no longer taught their athletes to dribble, pass, and shoot baskets, then they too would fail at basketball in college.
Oh–my apologies, Senator, that is not my testimony–just a little bad joke. Of course our high school coaches take athletics much too seriously to allow that sort of thing to happen to our kids. In fact, The Boston Globe has more than 100 pages a year on high school athletes. No, Senator, there is no coverage for high school academic achievement.
But I am sorry to have to report that our History and English teachers at the high school level no longer ask our students to read complete nonfiction books or to write substantial research papers, and naturally, this unfits them for the nonfiction books they will be asked to read and the substantial research papers they will be asked to write at the postsecondary level, in what we might call Upper Education.
The famous and influential American educator, John Dewey, wrote in 1896 that: “The centrality of reading and writing was ‘one of education’s great mistakes.'” In following in his footsteps, many of our educators have pushed academic reading and writing so far to the periphery of the curriculum that, for too many of our high school students, they might just as well have fallen off the edge of the flat earth of American secondary education.
The California State College System recently reported that 47% of their Freshmen were required to take remedial reading courses. Of course they can’t handle nonfiction books as they have never been assigned one in their whole high school career.
I have had the privilege of publishing 956 serious (average 6,000 words) history research papers by secondary students from all over this country and from 38 other countries, and I have formed the opinion in the process that high school students are fully capable of reading complete nonfiction books and of writing serious research papers.
But it should be no surprise that so long as our educators never assign nonfiction books or ask students for research papers, they will continue to believe that their students may be able somehow to manage Calculus, European history, Latin, Chemistry, British Literature and the like, but they must still not be able, for some unexplained reason, to read a history book or write a real term paper.
While our colleges do complain, persistently, about the poor preparation in reading and writing of the students who come to them, what do they do in setting requirements for admission?
Senator, hard as it may be to believe, all the writing that colleges ask for is a 500-word “college” essay about the life of the applicant. It is hard to conceive of a more nonacademic task than that, or one more likely to retard the assignment of serious reading and writing at the high school level.
When we celebrate athletes and ignore scholars in our high schools, and when we set such low standards for the high school diploma and for college admission, we should not be surprised that more than one million of our high school graduates need to be in remedial courses when they get to college every year, and that more than half of those will never graduate.
Yes, Senator, I believe that until we take reading and writing more seriously at the secondary level, we can continue to push more and more students into college, but more and more of them will be sadly unprepared to take advantage of that academic opportunities there, and more and more of them will drop out before they graduate from college.
Thanks again for the opportunity to discuss these problems.
“Teach by Example”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
The Concord Review 
Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes 
National Writing Board 
TCR Institute 
730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24
Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776-3371 USA
on the 17th of never, 2011