Back in tenth grade US history class, I was indoctrinated into the wonder of National History Day. This event was a celebration of world and American history, designed to encourage students to pursue what might not be taught in the textbooks. The two main components of this contest were a research paper and some sort of visual project. Prior to this exercise, I had never written a research paper longer than the standard five. Although now I only panic at the thought of twenty pages or beyond, back then the thought of an extended research paper terrified me.
William Fitzhugh says, “writing is the most dumbed-down subject in America.” In deference to the continuation of writing skills, Fitzhugh created The Concord Review, a journal that publishes high school students’ research papers. Students from all over the world submit to the Review, hoping to be accepted into the prestigious journal.
The Concord Review began as a response to his fellow history teacher colleagues in 1977, when he was told to assign only five-to-seven page papers, if he assigned any at all. Just a decade later, The Concord Review was created when Fitzhugh saw the true potential of his students. One student had handed in a twenty-eight page research paper, and in doing so, convinced Fitzhugh that students needed to be better challenged.
Although it started humbly, the prestige of the Review has grown so much that Harvard considers acceptance to the journal “impressive.” The Review receives hundreds of applicants’ essays each year, all vying for a coveted spot in the journal.
There is a disparity between the amount of submissions Fitzhugh receives from public and private schools. The public schools are in the minority, and Fitzhugh, based on his own experience, believes it is the result of a lack of encouragement from teachers. The research paper is no longer a significant feature of high school education, and Fitzhugh has found that many educators no longer feel that it is relevant. With easy access to research via the internet, it is not as necessary to write long research papers. But Fitzhugh disagrees, arguing that these papers are not just compiled facts. Instead, they require careful research—especially with the wealth of information out now, finding the most relevant facts—and good writing.
Writing skills seem to be underappreciated, perhaps in response to the ease of technology. Whatever the reason, Fitzhugh has noted that high school writers have underdeveloped skills and experience difficulty in expressing themselves. This is partially to blame from limited exposure; most students are only familiar with writing five paragraph essays, just like I was.
Whatever the relevancy of research papers, Fitzhugh has proved that writing skills should not be overlooked and will exceed long into the future any high school requirements.