Want to Build Knowledge, Skills, and Grit? Assign History Research Papers

by Guest Blogger
January 28th, 2015

By Samantha Wesner

Samantha Wesner is the managing editor of The Concord Review, which publishes high school students’ research papers.

As a junior in high school taking American history, my class had two options for the final project: a PowerPoint presentation or an extended research essay. To many it was a no-brainer; the PowerPoint was definitely going to involve more pictures, fewer hours of work, and less solitude. But some of us went for the research paper, whether because we were naturally drawn to writing, seeking a new challenge, or presentation-averse (as I was). 

The daunting task loomed. The essay length: fifteen to twenty pages. The topic I had chosen: The Spanish-American War of 1898. I was a slow writer, and the longest paper I had written before was a five-page English paper on Kurt Vonnegut. The English department had seen to it that I had plenty of practice writing shorter papers. But this new assignment was a leap forward rather than a step. I might have been better off with Will Fitzhugh’s “Page Per Year” plan: With each year, I would have written a paper to correspond with my grade—one page for first grade, nine pages for ninth grade, and so on.

I scoured the textbook for the few paragraphs it offered on the subject. And then what? I would have stopped there if I hadn’t known that other students had done it. Those of us writing a paper were given examples, plus guidance on paragraph structure, quoting, balancing primary and secondary sources, and footnoting. We toured the library and some online resources to get us started. With this essential how-to knowledge in hand, the assignment inched toward the realm of the possible in my mind.

Stacks of library books, reams of notes, and a twenty-page paper later, I had written what I now consider to be the capstone of my high school education. Years later, I remember 1898 better than the great majority of what I learned in high school. To this day, I really do “remember the Maine”; I have a lasting understanding of turn-of-the-century American imperialism, the power and danger of a jingoist press, the histories of complex relationships between the U.S. and the Philippines and Cuba, and Teddy Roosevelt’s unusual path to national prominence. My initial, vague interest blossomed into a fascination that I did not expect when I first set out. I felt a sense of pride as I tucked the stack of paper neatly into a binder to be handed in. Happy to be done, but even happier to have done it, I felt as if I had summited a peak that had seemed ineffably large from below. And I had certainly needed a big push.


Wreck of the U.S.S. Maine by William Henry Jackson.

Perusing class syllabi my first semester in college, I came upon a description of a final assignment in a history class that looked interesting: a fifteen- to twenty-page research paper. “I can do that,” I thought, “I’ve done it before.”

I didn’t know how lucky I was to be in the small minority of college freshmen who had learned how to write a research paper in high school. Most American high school students graduate without ever being encouraged to explore a topic in such depth, and yet this is exactly the kind of work they will encounter in college, especially in the humanities. In an era in which the president is invested in making college an opportunity all can afford, it’s only fitting that all should be afforded the proper preparation.

We do a disservice to students when we don’t ask them to do challenging work that will hold them in good stead in college and beyond. True, hard-working teachers, some of whom have over 150 students to teach, often simply do not have the time to grade this kind of assignment. In a perfect world, there would be time and resources to spare for extensive feedback to every student. But a research paper that receives even a little feedback is better than no research paper at all. The former still immeasurably deepens a student’s knowledge, skill set, self-discipline, and confidence.

I have my high school history teacher to thank for the confidence with which I approached my first college research paper. I ended up majoring in history and was comfortable writing a senior thesis of more than one hundred pages. Now, with The Concord Review, I have the wonderful task of recognizing student achievement. And yet, I’m painfully aware that The Concord Review’s young authors are the exceptions—those high schoolers who have written extensive history research papers. Those published go on to great things; many attend top colleges and four have been named Rhodes Scholars. Without a doubt, these are bright students. But how many bright students in the public school system have brilliant papers within them? If they aren’t afforded that first push, we may never find out.

Knowledge for What?

by Guest Blogger
August 28th, 2014

By Will Fitzhugh

Will Fitzhugh is the founder and editor of the Concord Review, a scholarly history journal with well-researched essays by high school students.

Education is an important issue these days, which is both good and bad. Good, because we need to pay more attention to the work of our schools these days, and not so good, because lots of people who know all about convertible debentures, initial public offerings, etc., think they must know a lot about teaching and learning as well.

There is prolonged debate about the role of education in promoting citizenship, character, lifelong learning (try living without learning sometime), career readiness, environmental awareness, respect for diversity, and on and on.

What I find missing most of the time is any suggestion that after an education (and during an education) it might be nice to have gained some knowledge. “How did so many countries and peoples get involved in World War I?” for example. “How did Jefferson feel when he had to change his mind about presidential prerogatives under the Constitution when the Louisiana territory came up for sale?” “What was the crucial insight that led Watson and Crick to the understanding of the double helix?”

When people raise the question of “Knowledge for What?” my response is usually: for its own sake. E. D. Hirsch and others have shown that having knowledge is what makes it possible to gain more knowledge. And being able to gain more knowledge is really necessary in life, I would agree. In addition, perhaps this is just my bias as an editor and publisher of interesting history research papers, I also feel that gaining knowledge is really one of the essential pleasures in life. Jefferson said: “I could not live without books.” I don’t think that was only because some books could aid him in the many architectural and agricultural innovations he cared about.

James Madison wrote: “Knowledge will forever govern ignorance; and a people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives…. What spectacle can be more edifying or more seasonable, than that of liberty and learning, each leaning on the other for their mutual and surest support?”

I have been told that Jefferson may even have been able to play some of Mozart’s new work on his violin, and it seems likely he valued that, whether or not he could prove it made him a more efficient farmer, or a more productive President.

Sometimes, I would suggest, in our vigorous (frantic) pursuit of the practical, we skip over some of the things that are of the greatest (practical) value. Once Sir Alexander Fleming was given a tour of the brand-new gleaming headquarters of the Salk Institute by an eager young Ph.D. After the tour, the guide could not help but say: “Just think what you could have discovered if you had only had this state-of-the-art equipment!?!” And Sir Alexander Fleming said, perhaps kindly, “Not penicillin.”

So, by all means, let us introduce more computer technology, more vocational training, more college- and career-ready standards for critical thinking, textual analysis, deeper reading and all of that. But let’s also remember that one of the goals of education must be the acquisition of knowledge, including knowledge of history. We can never be completely sure, at the time we acquire it, when or in what ways some knowledge may be useful in itself in our brief lives as human beings.


Essential pleasures courtesy of Shutterstock.


TTBOMK, Paying Attention Is MIA. NISM?

by Guest Blogger
May 15th, 2013

Translation: To the best of my knowledge, paying attention is missing in action. Need I say more?

I don’t need to say more about the problem, so let’s get right into what to do. Many thanks to Dan Willingham for drawing attention to, as he put it, “the 21st century skill students really lack”:

It’s unlikely that they are incapable of paying attention, but rather that they are quick to deem things not worth the effort.

We might wonder if patience would not come easier to a student who had had the experience of sustaining attention in the face of boredom, and then later finding that patience was rewarded….

Students today have so many options that being mildly bored can be successfully avoided most of the time.

Most students are able to avoid being mildly bored, but the result may be that they become boring people. I doubt it is possible to learn a great deal about the world—to make “the inside of your head … an interesting place to spend the rest of your life”—without enduring some boredom. Many great books pull you in slowly—it’s only after 50 or so pages that you’re hooked. Likewise, many academic subjects only become fascinating when you’re far enough in for contradictory details to emerge and for questions that once seemed clear to become debatable. I was one of those teenagers who thought that learning about raindrops as prisms would ruin the rainbow. It didn’t. The textbook diagram was dry, but the next rainbow was more vibrant. Suddenly, I was glad that I had diligently studied that textbook, not merely crammed for the test.

Paying attention and then being unexpectedly rewarded for it is an experience many of us have had—but we can’t just assume all students will be so fortunate. As Willingham wrote, “If we are concerned that students today are too quick to allow their attention to be yanked to the brightest object (or to willfully redirect it once their very low threshold of boredom is surpassed), we need to consider ways that we can bring home to them the potential reward of sustained attention.”

Willingham mentioned a Harvard art professor, Jennifer Roberts, who “asks her students to select a painting from a Boston museum, on which they are to write an in-depth research paper. Then the student must go the museum and study the painting. For three hours.”

Some boredom is assured, but would be painting be ruined or enhanced? Roberts explains that it is enhanced as students see more details. Willingham notes that students’ patience is rewarded, revealing the value of persisting and paying attention.

I think there is one more element here—the quality of the work being studied. Students were not to spend three hours gazing upon any painting; it had to be one in a Boston museum.  This assures that they are looking at the original work, and that the work itself has been judged by several experts to be worthy of preservation.

We should indeed encourage students to pay attention—and we must also hold ourselves accountable for giving them things worthy of their attention.

That said, how do we help more students learn to value paying attention and persisting through initial boredom? I hope Willingham will answer that question with rigorous research. Meanwhile, I’ll offer a common sense approach: start early and build slowly.

Just that happens in Core Knowledge Language Arts and Will Fitzhugh’s Page Per Year Plan.

In Core Knowledge Language Arts (CKLA)—a knowledge-building reading, writing, speaking, and listening program for preschool through third grade—teachers slowly develop students’ ability to pay attention by reading aloud. Importantly, the read-alouds start short and grow longer over the course of the school year and across school years. The read-alouds also provide information worth learning and are grouped by domain so that students have time to grasp concepts and acquire new vocabulary. Even better, the domains themselves are carefully sequenced, with early studies of topics like plants and farms providing a foundation for later studies of pilgrims and ecology. Squirmy young children quickly grow into attentive students as they realize that these fiction and nonfiction read-alouds contain interesting stories and answer questions about the world.

Fitzhugh is the founder of the Concord Review, a scholarly history journal with well-researched essays by high school students. Fitzhugh often laments that the traditional history term paper is quickly becoming a relic. He hopes to reinstate the term paper through his Page Per Year Plan:

Each first grader would be required to write a one-page paper on a subject other than herself or himself, with at least one source.

A page would be added each year to the required academic writing, such that, for example, fifth graders would have to write a five-page paper, ninth graders would have to write a nine-page research paper, with sources, and so on, until each senior could be asked to prepare a 12-page academic research paper, with endnotes and bibliography, on some historical topic.

This would gradually prepare students for future academic writing tasks, and each senior could graduate from high school knowing more about some important topic than anyone else in the class, and he/she may also have read at least one nonfiction (history) book before college. This should reduce the need for remedial instruction in writing (and perhaps in remedial reading as well) at the college level.

I believe there’s one more benefit: sustained attention. Year by year, students would have to put forth a little more effort, take a little more time, and grasp a little bit more deeply the learning that results from researching and writing about a topic. I’d bet that those Harvard students who dutifully studied a painting for three hours (as well as wrote a research paper on it) were prepared for the task with similarly rigorous studies throughout their K – 12 years.

Today’s typical 12th grader would likely struggle to write a 12-page history paper. YKWIM? (Translation: You know what I mean?) But a 12th grader who had already written 11 other history papers would likely succeed beautifully. Fitzhugh has been touting his Page Per Year Plan for more than a decade. Maybe it’s time we listened.

NVNG! (Translation: Nothing ventured, nothing gained!)


Students Have “Complete and Ultimate Control” Over Achievement

by Robert Pondiscio
August 26th, 2011

Will Fitzhugh didn’t get the memo.

Everybody knows that teachers are the alpha and omega in education.  The only thing standing between every child, a college degree and a lifetime of prosperity is that child’s teacher.   This is “settled wisdom among Funderpundits and those to whom they give their grants,” observes Fitzhugh.  But students still exercise “complete and ultimate control over how much academic achievement there will be” in a school, he notes.

“This may seem unacceptably heterodox to those in government and the private sector who have committed billions of dollars to focusing on the selection, training, supervision, and control of K-12 teachers, while giving no thought to whether K-12 students are actually doing the academic work which they are assigned.”

Fitzhugh, the publisher of The Concord Review, the only known journal to publish research papers written by high school students, laments a view of education and ed policy that does not acknowledge students’ responsibility for their own performance, and instead assumes they are merely “passive recipients of their teachers’ influence.”

“Apart from scores on math and reading tests after all, student academic work is ignored by all those interested in paying to change the schools.  What students do in literature, Latin, chemistry, history, and Asian history classes is of no interest to them.  Liberal education is not only on the back burner for those focused on basic skills and job readiness as they define them, but that burner is also turned off at present.”

The view that teachers are the prime movers is not just wrong, but stupid, Fitzhugh concludes. “Alfred North Whitehead (or someone else) once wrote that, ‘For education, a man’s books and teachers are but a help, the real work is his.’”

Yetis, UFOs and Term Papers

by Robert Pondiscio
August 9th, 2011

Update:  Cedar Reiner posts a research paper-length blog post on this from his perspective as a college professor and cognitive scientist.  Stick with it.  The conclusion is worth the wait.

Ask a high school student – any high school student – when they were last required to submit a research paper.  Not a five paragraph essay or a “personal response,” but a paper – an in-depth piece of academic research and original writing, drawing upon deep reading of multiple sources.  Think footnotes.  A bibliography.  The MLA Handbook.  Research papers are the academic equivalent of the Yeti or UFOs: sightings are rare and those who argue for their existence are routinely dismissed as cranks or nuts.  You may be surprised to learn, therefore, that research papers are the sum and symbol of all that ails American education.

You didn’t know? 

Writing in the New York Times, Virginia Heffernan becomes, by my rough calculation, the 18,938th pundit to suggest that the real problem of American education is its adherence to a 19th century model.  What we need, she writes, is a “digital-age upgrade.”   She cites the wholly imaginary “statistic” that 65% of today’s grade school aged kids “may end up doing work that hasn’t been invented yet.”   Thus, we can’t keep preparing students “for a world that doesn’t exist.”

“Abigail won’t be doing genetic counseling. Oliver won’t be developing Android apps for currency traders or co-chairing Google’s philanthropic division. Even those digital-age careers will be old hat. Maybe the grown-up Oliver and Abigail will program Web-enabled barrettes or quilt with scraps of Berber tents. Or maybe they’ll be plying a trade none of us old-timers will even recognize as work.”

(Psst!  Have a look at the Bureau of Labor Statistics at the 10 most common occupations for Americans.  Shockingly low-skill, low-pay, and low-tech, isn’t it?   Clearly there are some old-timers who don’t recognize what work looks like right now.  Digital careers?  Tens of millions of Americans are still working with their digits.)

We cannot, Heffernan insists, “keep ignoring the formidable cognitive skills they’re developing on their own.”  Set aside for a moment the curious notion that we should reimagine education around skills kids are developing on their own.   No, what’s really “inhibiting today’s students” is their teachers’ and professors’ insistence that students write papers.  “Semester after semester, year after year, ‘papers’ are styled as the highest form of writing,” she writes. “And semester after semester, teachers and professors are freshly appalled when they turn up terrible.”  Heffernan’s touchstone for her attack on research papers is Now You See It, a “galvanic” book by the MacArthur Foundation’s Cathy N. Davidson, which argues, per Heffernan, against the “industrial-era holdover system that still informs our unrenovated classrooms.”

“Ms. Davidson herself was appalled not long ago when her students at Duke, who produced witty and incisive blogs for their peers, turned in disgraceful, unpublishable term papers. But instead of simply carping about students with colleagues in the great faculty-lounge tradition, Ms. Davidson questioned the whole form of the research paper. “What if bad writing is a product of the form of writing required in school — the term paper — and not necessarily intrinsic to a student’s natural writing style or thought process?” She adds: ‘What if “research paper” is a category that invites, even requires, linguistic and syntactic gobbledygook?’”

Online blogs directed at peers, Davidson observed by contrast, “exhibit fewer typographical and factual errors, less plagiarism, and generally better, more elegant and persuasive prose than classroom assignments by the same writers.”  At Flypaper, Kathleen Porter-Magee, struggling heroically to overcome the handicap of her own industrial-era education, answers with an elegant and persuasive blog post of her own:

“Heffernan seems to have missed her own point. As she implies, we are no better at predicting what today’s elementary students will be doing in twenty years than Hanna-Barbera were at painting what 21st century life would look like in the Jetsons. And so, our job as educators is not hitch our wagons to the latest education fad in response to changing—and often fleeting—technology, but rather to identify the timeless knowledge and skills that all students must master to succeed in any environment.”

Ten years ago, legendary Yeti hunter Will Fitzhugh, the editor of The Concord Review and an unsung hero of American education, oversaw a study of the state of the research paper in U.S. schools.  The results will surprise only digital fetishists who confuse contemporary schools with Dickensian workhouses:  While 95% teachers surveyed believed writing a research term paper is “important” or “very important,” 62% never assigned a paper of 3,000-5,000 words in length; 81% never assign a paper of over 5,000 words.  And that’s ten years ago.  Unless there has been a renaissance of scholarly rigor that I’ve somehow overlooked, I suspect the percentage of 2011 high school graduates who have ever produced a research paper of any length or substance is now a single-digit number.  A small one.

Why?  Writing a research papers, as anyone can tell you, is not an “authentic” learning task.   The average student is already far more likely to “demonstrate mastery” by creating a poster, an advertisement, a blog post, or a series of tweets than writing a research paper. If the future of education means an end to the tyranny of the paper, rest assured the future is already here. The fresh-thinking offered up by Heffernan and others who wring their hands over our anachronistic schools is as least as old as John Dewey, and its triumph is very nearly complete.  Just ask a high school student. 

What Heffernan is offering up, sorry to say, is a blander version of 21st Century skills, which privileges skills over content, and devalues actual academic work.  The sad parade continues.  We talk about rigor and academic achievement while dismissing the legitimate products of scholarship as inauthentic and anachronistic.

“Pardon my age, but if 65 percent of jobs in the future will have new names, they will all still require basic literacy, patience, honesty, responsibility, probably some knowledge of math and science, an ability to listen and to follow instructions, etc. In short, nothing new,” says Fitzhugh via email.  “I don’t forsee the day when ‘witty and incisive blogs’ will be able to take the place of legislation, annual reports, history books, judicial opinions or any  of the other vital tasks of a literate society,” he concludes.

In Praise of The Concord Review

by Robert Pondiscio
January 10th, 2011

“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.

Edupundit Myopia

by Robert Pondiscio
October 18th, 2010

“The consensus among Edupundits is that teacher quality is the most important variable in student academic achievement,” writes Will Fitzhugh, the founder of the Concord Review.  “Meanwhile, practically all of them fail to give any attention to the basic purpose of schools, which is to have students do academic work. Almost none of them seems inclined to look past the teacher to see if the students are, for instance, reading any nonfiction books or writing any term papers,” he observes.

Fitzhugh has long been a champion of non-fiction reading and writing, and high academic standards that too often students make it to college where ”they encounter nonfiction books and term paper requirements which they hadn’t been asked to manage in high school.”

One of the sad and damaging consequences of this myopia among Edupundits is that everyone but students is imagined to be responsible for student academic work. As Paul Zoch has so regularly pointed out, the message that sends down the line to students is that their job is to get through high school with a minimum of work, while it is someone else’s responsibility to educate them. The result is that, whatever gets decided about dropouts, vouchers, union contracts, budgets, textbooks, teacher selection and training, school governance, curricula in all subjects, school management issues, and the like, our students are not working hard enough on their own education.

“Far too many of our high school students are waiting for someone else to set demanding academic standards, Fitzhugh concludes.  “But after they slide through high school and emerge, they are mightily sorry they were not asked to do more and held to a higher standard for their own academic work.”

“Many students, especially those whose parents aren’t college-educated, have no idea what skills, knowledge and work habits are required to pass college classes,” adds Joanne Jacobs, commenting on Fithugh’s post.  “They pass classes labeled ’college prep’ with B’s and C’s. They think they’re doing well enough.  If they knew they were in remedial prep they might work a lot harder.”

Rigor? Who Has Time for Rigor?

by Robert Pondiscio
August 25th, 2010

Most people would agree that it would be beneficial for high school students to write the kind of research paper that Will Fitzhugh publishes in The Concord Review, the only publication in the country that features scholarly papers penned by high school students.   The ability to research and write a thoughtful, cogent research paper fairly screams “College Ready” no?

Just back from a three-day workshop with a group of “diligent, pleasant and interesting teachers” in Florida, Fitzhugh describes at the Washington Post’s Answer Sheet blog  teachers who “were genuinely interested in having their students do serious papers and be better prepared for college (and career).”   The problem is that the teachers each have at six classes of 30 or more students–180 to 210 students each.

Fitzhugh is a man of letters, but he does the math:

“After absorbing the fact of this shameful and irresponsible number of assigned students, I realized that if these teachers were to ask for the 20-page history research paper which is typical of the ones I publish in The Concord Review, they would have 3,600 pages to read, correct, and comment on when they were turned in, not to mention the extra hours guiding students through their research and writing efforts. The one teacher with 210 students would have 4,200 pages of papers presented to him at the end of term.

“It made me both sad and angry that these willing teachers, who want their students to be prepared for higher education,  have been given impossible working conditions which will most certainly prevent them from helping their students get ready for the academic reading and writing tasks which await them in college,” Fitzhugh concludes.

The man’s got a point.  Always does.   It’s easy to make grand pronouncements about college readiness, rigor, and high expectations.  It swells the chest with pride to be on the side of the angels.  Fitzhugh’s example shows the long distance between what it takes and mere homilies.

Chewing Their Kudzu

by Robert Pondiscio
May 14th, 2010

The rapid growth of teaching the “writing process” instead of allowing academic content drive writing instruction is “literacy kudzu” writes Will Fitzhugh.  And like the infamously invasive weed, it’s growing out of control in our schools.

We now have, I suggest, an analogous risk from the widespread application of “the evidence-based techniques and processes of literacy instruction, k-12.” At least one major foundation and one very old and influential college for teachers are now promoting what I have described as “guidelines, parameters, checklists, techniques, processes and the like, as props to substitute for students’ absent motivation to describe or express in writing something that they have learned.”

By privileging process over content, literacy kudzu threatens to “choke attention to the reading of complete books and the writing of serious academic papers by the students in our schools,” writes Fitzhugh, whose gloriously anachronistic Concord Review is the only journal in the world that publishes academic research papers written by high school students.  

“I hope they, including the foundations and the university consultant world, may before too long pause to re-consider their approach to literacy instruction, before we experience the damage from this pest-weed which they are presently, perhaps unwittingly, in the method-technique-process of spreading in our schools,” he concludes

The Concord Review Hits the Blogosphere

by Robert Pondiscio
January 6th, 2010

Speaking of new blogs, Will Fitzhugh, the legendary editor and proprietor The Concord Review is now blogging.  Stop by and wish him well.  TCR as you may know (or if you don’t you should) is the only place on God’s green Earth where outstanding high school students can publish essays on history–nearly 900 of them in 22 years.  Fitzhugh is a resistance fighter in the insurgency against the dumbing down of curriculum and bad writing.  His debut post bemoans the reduction of student writing to a simplistic process.

When teaching our students to write, not only are standards set very low in most high schools, limiting students to the five-paragraph essay, responses to a document-based question, or the personal (or college) essay about matters which are often no one else’s business, but we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of processes.

And one more blog that recently crossed my radar screen: the wonderfully titled Better Living Through Beowulf, which is dedicated to exploring “how great literature can change your life.”  English professor Robin Bates is the blogger.  Beautiful design, too.  Check out this post on how the argument over the Indianapolis Colts benching their starters after clinching the playoffs, despite a 14-0 record, is really a debate between romanticism and classicism:

Romantics live for the moment, celebrate individual glory, and go for the grand gesture.  Classics are practical, they subordinate the individual, and they keep their eye on the final trophy.  Romantics wanted perfection, classics could live with the Colts’ decision. 

The romantics’ credo, Bates observes, is famously captured in a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

I burn my candle at both ends
It will not last the night
But ah my foes and oh my friends
It gives a lovely light.

Great stuff.  Put ‘em both in your blog reader.