“Most kids don’t know how to write, don’t know any history, and that’s a disgrace,” says the redoubtable Will Fitzhugh. “Writing is the most dumbed-down subject in our schools.”
He should know. Since 1987, Fitzhugh has published The Concord Review, the only academic journal to publish history papers written by high school students: 924 of them penned by teenagers from 44 states and 39 nations, according to the New York Times, which gives Fitzhugh a long-overdue star turn. But as the Times points out, Fitzhugh’s labor of love is falling on hard times. The Review’s reputation, writes Sam Dillon, has always been bigger than its revenues.
Last year, income from 1,400 subscriptions plus charitable donations totaled $131,000 — about $5,400 short of total expenses, even though Mr. Fitzhugh paid himself only $18,000. This year, with donors less generous in the recession, Mr. Fitzhugh had to stop printing hard copies of the review, publishing its most recent issues only online, at tcr.org.
Fitzhugh tells the story of a history department chair at one school who no longer assigns research papers, but has students do PowerPoint presentations instead. “Researching a history paper, Fitzhugh observes, “is not just about accumulating facts, but about developing a sense of historical context, synthesizing findings into new ideas, and wrestling with how to communicate them clearly — a challenge for many students, now that many schools do not require students to write more than five-paragraph essays.”
Fitzhugh is clearly on to something. There is broad agreement that one of the competencies crucial for college success is the academic writing. So if the ability to produce a good research paper is so important, why does The Concord Review struggle to keep its head above the water? The Times suggests Fitzhugh’s “cantankerous” personality is an issue. Or perhaps some educators see it as a showcase only for an elite.
“All but four of the 22 essays published in the two most recent issues, for example, were by private school students. But it was not always so. In the review’s first decade, more than a third of the essays were from public school students. Mr. Fitzhugh said he would love to publish more from public school students, but does not get many exemplary submissions.
“It’s not my fault,” Fitzhugh said. “They’re not doing the work.”
You call that cantakerous? If so, give us more cantankerous educators. Lots more.