Ignoring Gifted Student Work

Will Fitzhugh:

While Chester Finn, Andy Smarick, Amanda Ripley, and others are bringing new attention to the methods and structures for the education of our most gifted high school students, for the most part that attention does not get much beyond what the adults do, could do, or should do with gifted students. There is little or no attention to the actual academic work of such students, other than on various tests, and evidently no consideration of how examples of the best work of such students, for instance on their science research, as in the Intel and Siemens competitions or their history research papers, as seen in The Concord Review, could be used to inspire not only their gifted peers at the secondary level, as well as other students, but to demonstrate that we not only wish to recognize the best efforts of adults in the work of educating the gifted, but to honor the actual academic achievements of gifted students as well.

However, it has long been the sad case that most experts and pundits who write about the education of the gifted—and of students in general—restrict their vision to what the adults are doing, and never seem able to notice that high school students are knowledge workers too, and fact that some are writing 15,000-word history research papers of first-rate quality, or conducting, often with the advice of a college professor, original scientific research of value as well.

These EduPundits give none of their limited attention to exemplary academic work by students, so they naturally don’t see it, and they don’t include any in their discussions of the education of the gifted. They fail to notice that in our high schools there are a good number of young autodidacts, and ignoring their work continues to produce a shamefully limited discussion of gifted education in almost every case.

Scholars at several levels have learned from and been inspired by the work of their peers, and it is most unfortunate that such important opportunities have been largely overlooked by the condescension or myopia of those writing about gifted education for our more serious high school students.

A few examples of work by high school students published in The Concord Review:

Albert Shanker was one of a tiny handful of unusual individuals [24 years ago] who understood right away that The Concord Review was not meant to benefit only, or even mainly, those whose work was published, but rather was “equally important” for those students who could be inspired, by reading the diligent work of their peers in this journal, to make more of an effort with their own academic work in high school….as he wrote in The New York Times in 1990: “The Concord Review is also worth thinking about as we consider how to reform our education system. As we’ve known for a long time, factory workers who never saw the completed product and worked on only a small part of it soon became bored and demoralized, But when they were allowed to see the whole process—or better yet become involved in it—productivity and morale improved. Students are no different. When we chop up the work they do into little bits—history facts and vocabulary and grammar rules to be learned—it’s no wonder that they are bored and disengaged. The achievement of The Concord Review’s authors offers a different model of learning. Maybe it’s time for us to take it seriously.”

Jessica Leight [summa cum laude at Yale] (PDF)

Colin Rhys Hill [Christ Church College, Oxford]

Alexandra Petri [summa cum laude at Harvard]

Sarah Valkenburgh [summa cum laude at Dartmouth]

Jennifer Shingleton [summa cum laude at Princeton]

“Teach with Examples”
Will Fitzhugh [founder]
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®