William Fitzhugh was on sabbatical from his job as a high school history teacher in Concord, Massachusetts in 1986 when he was struck with an idea.
Acutely aware of the growing concern for educational “outcomes”–what did students know and what were they able to do, after all their years of schooling?–he determined students worldwide might be writing tens of thousands of very good research papers. Why not gather the finest ones into a journal, with the purpose of recognizing the good academic work of a few … and perhaps inspiring others to make more of an effort?
And with that, The Concord Review–the only quarterly academic journal in the world to feature exclusively the work of high school students–was born.
“If writing means academic writing,” said founder Fitzhugh, “there is really only one opportunity to be published at the high school level: The Concord Review.”
Since l987, 65 issues have been published. Any high school student in the English-speaking world may submit a research paper on any historical topic, ancient or modern, domestic or foreign. Submissions are considered for at least the next four issues; only about 8 percent of the submissions are published. The 11 essays published in each issue are chosen from a pool of about 200 each quarter.
Marci Nafziger, an 18-year-old home-schooled student from New York who will be attending New York University this fall, is one of the 11 authors showcased in the Winter 2005 issue. She spent about a month working on her essay, “Khmer Rouge in Cambodia.”
“[I] spent around two hours per day, minus weekends, reading sources and documenting information,” she said. Because she became so familiar with the topic and knew what she wanted to say about it, “writing and revising took less time than the researching.”
All students submitting essays benefit from doing the reading, thinking, and writing needed to produce a serious research paper, Fitzhugh said, but the published authors see another bonus: Publication in the Concord Review often increases their chances of being accepted into the college of their choice. About one-third of the authors published so far in the review have been accepted into Ivy League schools.
Five authors, selected from the 44 published in each volume year, are eligible to receive $3,000 Ralph Waldo Emerson Prizes, awarded to students showing outstanding academic promise in history at the secondary level. Notably, three authors published in the journal to date have won Rhodes Scholarships. The most recent winner, Jessica Leight, from Northampton, Massachusetts, currently a senior at Yale University, told Fitzhugh the Rhodes committee asked about her Concord Review essay.
Once they arrive at college, many of the Concord Review authors find that, unlike too many of their peers, they have the advantage of having done a serious history research paper while they were still in high school. It’s a skill that will help them get an edge not only in the academic world, but also when they enter the workforce.
“Students come to college with no experience in writing papers, to the continual frustration of their professors, and employers of college graduates,” Fitzhugh said.
The problem has gotten so bad, he said, that Ford Motor Company and other businesses now hold writing classes for recent college graduates to teach them to produce readable reports and memos. According to a report issued by The College Board in September 2004, American companies spend more than $3 billion a year in remedial writing courses for their employees.
Ultimately, some jobs are exported to other countries because of the lack of qualified Americans. “Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, Cisco Systems, and other tech giants now rely on their Indian teams to devise software platforms and dazzling multimedia features for next-generation devices,” MSNBC reported last August.
Nancy Salvato ([email protected]) is president of The Basics Project, a nonprofit, nonpartisan research and educational group whose mission is to promote the education of the American public on the basic elements of relevant political, legal, and social issues.
For more information …
To read the Emerson Prize-winning essays published in The Concord Review over the past 11 years, visit the Review‘s Web site at http://www.tcr.org.