Social Studies

Students See Value in History-Writing Venue

March 17, 2009 3 min read
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It is difficult to figure why some education ventures attract impressive financial and political support, while others flounder despite their value to the field. For years, I’ve written about The Concord Review and the really amazing history- research papers it publishes from high school authors/scholars.

The review has won praise from renowned historians, lawmakers, and educators, yet has failed to ever draw sufficient funding. The range of topics is as impressive as the volume of work by high school students: In 77 issues, the 846 published papers have covered topics from Joan of Arc to women’s suffrage, from surgery during the Civil War to the history of laser technology. (The papers average more than 7,000 words, and all have been vetted for accuracy and quality. Many of the students do these research papers for the experience and knowledge they gain, not for school credit.)

But here’s the kicker: It operates on a shoestring, as Founder and Publisher Will Fitzhugh reminds me often. Fitzhugh, who has struggled for years to keep the operation afloat, challenges students to do rigorous scholarly work and to delve deeply into history. His success at inspiring great academic work is juxtaposed against his failure to get anyone with money to take notice.

Well, if the grown-ups in the world have failed to recognize and reward the review for its 22 years of contributions, the students themselves have not.

Fitzhugh has shared many of the letters he receives from students whose work has been published in The Concord Review over the years. Yesterday, he shared with me one of the most memorable of those letters, which arrived recently at his Sudbury, Mass., office.

Nicole Heise won one of the review’s Emerson Prize awards for excellence this year. The senior at Ithaca High School in Upstate New York sent the check back, with this note:

“As you well know, for high school-aged scholars, a forum of this caliber and the incentives it creates for academic excellence are rare. I also know that keeping The Concord Review active requires resources. So, please allow me to put my Emerson award money to the best possible use I can imagine by donating it to The Concord Review so that another young scholar can experience the thrill of seeing his or her work published.”

The prize was no pittance either. Each of the winners received $800, thanks to a $5,000 donation from Douglas B. Reeves, CEO of the Leadership and Learning Foundation in Salem, Mass. Reeves, and a couple dozen member schools, are all that help Fitzhugh continue publishing. Now the student-scholars themselves are starting to pool their pennies.

I keep wondering just what will it take for the review to get the kind of attention, and support, it deserves? Maybe some of the Wall Street executives can follow Heise’s lead and put some of those huge “retention awards” they’ve received—some at taxpayer expense—into this worthy cause, or at least donate it back to the U.S. Treasury.

Here’s a complete list of the winners of the 2009 Emerson Prize, some of whom are now studying at some of the nation’s top universities:

2009 Paul Armstrong, of Richard Montgomery High School, in Rockville, Md. (Fall 2007 issue: the historical relationship between Poland and Lithuania)

2009 Pamela Ban, of Thomas Worthington High School, in Worthington, Ohio, (Summer 2008 issue: the stages of Chinese economic reform)

2009 Nicole Heise, of Ithaca High School in Ithaca, N.Y. (Winter 2007 issue: the Tu Quoque defense at Nuremberg and after)

2009 Benjamin Loffredo, of the Fieldston School in the Bronx, N.Y. (Winter 2007 issue; the Philippine War)

2009 Colin Sellers Harris, of Sidwell Friends School, in Washington, D.C. (Fall 2007 issue: the United Arab Republic)

2009 Elize S. Zevitz, of the Prairie School, in Racine, Wis.. (Spring 2008 issue: the Northern and Southern reactions to Uncle Tom’s Cabin).

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Curriculum Matters blog.

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