In Other Words
The Concord Review
The classical curriculum always valued having students be able to speak and write well about essential subjects and to know enough to do so convincingly. The secret to doing that, was, they understood, practice.
In modern America, we fully understand the value of practice when it comes to Pop Warner football, Little League baseball, and other athletic efforts for our young people. But when it comes to preparing them to read and understand complete nonfiction books and to write serious term papers, we have largely missed the point.
Our students are not the problem with our levels of academic illiteracy. Our schools and our teachers need to be afforded the time and the expectation to guide our students toward academic competence. The Concord Review, Inc., has the registered trademark: Varsity Academics®. We need to attempt to give academic work by our students at least as much attention and support in their Academics as we now give their efforts in Athletics. Good classical schools are needed to bring this about.
It may seem hard to believe, but the majority of American high school students now graduate, and head off to college—the ones who do—without ever having read one complete nonfiction (e.g. history) book or written one serious history research paper.
Our history teachers seem, for the most part, to be content to have the English department in charge of reading and writing assignments, with the result that fiction is what is read, and the personal is often the subject of the writing.
There are exceptions. Since 1987, The Concord Review has published 103 issues, with eleven essays in each, by secondary students from forty-six states and forty other countries. These serious papers average 6,000 words in length (the average for the most recent issue was 7,500 words), and they are on a very wide variety of historical topics. (We don’t tell high school scholars what to write about.)
Many of these papers were done as independent studies, above and beyond what schools were asking these students to do. The longest we have published was 21,000 words, and that student had gone to her teacher at the Governor’s Academy and told him the paper would probably be about 57 pages, and was that ok? The teacher said yes. So there are teachers out there who do encourage their students to go beyond the 500-word “college essay.”
Our authors have been accepted at some very good colleges. Four have won Rhodes Scholarships. Many have sent reprints of their papers with their college application materials, and they have gone on to Brown (27), University of Chicago (23), Columbia (21), Cornell (16), Dartmouth (22), Harvard (125), Oxford (13), Pennsylvania (23), Princeton (64), Stanford (51), Yale (104), and a number of other fine institutions.
While foundations and private funders have been focused mostly on students who cannot read and write very well, we have received encouragement from Albert Shanker, David McCullough, Theodore Sizer, Arthur Schlesinger, Jr., Eugene Genovese, Stephen Thernstrom, and many other scholars, who value the work of serious young students of history, as we do.
But too many of our students are confined to reading and writing at levels far below what they are capable of managing, and we are sending most of them off to college quite unprepared for college reading lists and term paper assignments.
We need classical schools which will once more take seriously the task of bringing up our students as fine writers of nonfiction research papers and as readers capable of managing long important works of history.