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THE COLLEGE BOARD LOWERS STANDARDS

Sep 9, 2015 by

keep it simple
Will Fitzhugh
The Concord Review
9 September 2015
 
The College Board and Atlantic Magazine, recently joined their forces to lower standards for academic expository writing in the English-speaking world. Although their efforts did not match in scope and daring those of groups like InBloom, Amplify, and others, they persuaded 3,000 secondary students to meet their contest guidelines. They asked for papers of less than 2,000 words, on a single document, and published the “winner,” a piece from a student in New Zealand on the benefits of Martin Luther King’s I Have a Dream speech for better relations with the Maori.
 
High School students interested in being published in The Concord Review—the only journal in the world for the history papers of secondary students—must understand that their serious academic history research papers could not meet the guidelines for The College Board and Atlantic Magazine. Essays in the Fall 2015 issue, for example, (#106), averaged 7,400 words in length, with endnotes and bibliography, not on one speech, but on dozens of sources—books, articles, and others. Their topics included the Tape v. Hurley case in California, Abraham Lincoln’s changing attitudes about Christianity, Margaret Sanger’s fights with feminist groups of her day, Augustus’ imperial cult in Rome, varying identities among the Manchus in the Qing Dynasty, the records of women in combat in ancient Greece and China, relations among Nietzsche, Wagner and Mahler, the influence of Friedrich Hegel, Footbinding in China, the denial about AIDS in the South African government, and the development of the Socialist Parties in France.
 
Clearly, they were not limited to a single document or prevented from writing a paper longer than 2,000 words, as The College Board and Atlantic Magazine demanded for their submissions. Some years ago one of The Concord Review’s authors wrote: 

I am extremely honored in having my paper on Chinese Communism published in the The Concord Review. I truly thank you for providing the wonderful opportunity and motivation for students like me passionately to pursue research and history.

I wrote this paper independently, during my own time out of school. My motives for doing so were both academic and personal. Although history has always been my favorite subject, I had never written a paper with this extensive research before. After reading the high quality of essays in The Concord Review, I was very inspired to try to write one myself. I thought it was a significant opportunity to challenge and expand my academic horizons. Thus during the summer before my Senior year, I began doing the research for my own paper.

Choosing the topic of Chinese Communism was not difficult. As I briefly mentioned in my biographical information, my own Chinese heritage greatly influenced me to study this subject. My own family past has been touched by the often scarring effects of Communism. For instance, my paternal great-grandmother—the wife of a landlord—was a victim of the Communists’ “authorized” land redistribution. Like many members of China’s property classes, she and my grandmother were thrown off their land and survived the next few years by begging on the streets. From the chaotic Cultural Revolution to the outrageous Tiananmen Massacre in 1989, I have often been told firsthand of the devastating effects of Communism. From all of these background experiences, a singular and upsetting question emerged in my mind: if Communism has had so many damaging effects on the Chinese people, why and how did it succeed in taking over the country in the first place? As in many cases, only the past provided the answers. It was the determination to find them that empowered me to write this paper.

Furthermore, by choosing a topic so intimate to my own family background, I was able to experience history on a new and more exciting level. Exploring places and events which once had involved my own ancestors gave history an almost magical sense of life and vivacity. All in all, writing this paper has definitely been a rewarding experience in every way. By exploring China during the 1930s and 1940s, I am now better able to understand and bond with my grandparents (who have been constantly impressed—and a bit surprised—that their American granddaughter can tell them the exact route of the Long March).

Next year, I will be attending Columbia University as a John Jay National Scholar—an honor given to incoming students who demonstrate a variety of achievements and independence in thinking. I plan to major in Economics-Political Science and/or East Asian Studies. Given Columbia’s excellent humanities departments, I cannot imagine a better choice for me. Needless to say, I am very excited about starting my college career, one that will no doubt be happily filled with many history classes and continued research.
 
Fortunately, this young lady was better prepared for college because she did not have to shrink her research and her academic expository writing in history to the dumbed-down requirements of The College Board and Atlantic Magazine. Nevertheless, by asking for and publishing the short paper they made their “winner,” these two organizations have only limited the academic horizons of the many secondary students they have been able to reach with their “contest.” Other students have been able to read, see, or hear of The Concord Review, and they know there is a place with the high academic standards that more than 1,000 of their peers from 41 countries have met since 1987, and quite a few of them still decide that they would like to meet those standards for themselves.
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