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Will Fitzhugh: Why Students Should Read a Work of History in High School

Dec 20, 2015 by

Will Fitzhugh is the tireless publisher and editor of The Concord Review. He taught history in a public high school for many years, then stepped away from teaching to found The Concord Review. TCR publishes student work in history, original research papers that are well-written and reflect deep study. It has subscribers all over the world and submissions from students from many countries. It is a fine publication that recognizes the value of excellent historical studies in high school. But Fitzhugh has struggled throughout the life of TCR to keep it alive. He has applied to and been rejected by every foundation and government agency that he could think of. The journal gets plaudits from all who see it, but Will Fitzhugh has exhausted his savings keeping it alive. He is a man with a mission. Please consider subscribing to TCR and make sure that your history students are aware that they can submit essays for possible publication. If you happen to have a foundation, please consider subsidizing this wonderful publication so it will survive. TCR “is the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic research papers of secondary students.” It should be in every high school.

Will Fitzhugh wrote in the December 2015 issue of TCR:

When teachers say they have to spend so much time preparing for math and reading tests that they cannot give any attention to history, I always want to suggest that if they give their students history to read, they will not only get practice in reading, they will learn some history, too.

When some argue that only in literature can one find good stories of human fears, troubles, relationships, hopes, competition, and accomplishments, I have to believe that reading history was not a big part of their education.

I was a literature major in college, and only came to read history seriously afterwards. No one emphasized the benefits of history when I was in school. And I realize that the appreciation of history is a bit cumulative. That is, when a student first reads history she doesn’t know who these people are or what they are doing or why that might be important to know.

Teachers have to assume some responsibility for expressing their assurance that history is not only interesting but also essential—that is, if they are aware of that themselves. Things go slow in learning any new language. Students can’t love French poetry or Chinese philosophy right away. They have to work to learn the language basics first.

That goes for history as well. But after reading history for a few years, people and events come to be more familiar, and the chronology turns out to be no more difficult and perhaps even more interesting than irregular verbs.

People rightly defend the stories in literature. But history is nothing but stories, too, with the difference that they are true stories, about actual people, who faced and coped with real problems of very great difficulty, with varying degrees of wisdom and success.

These are the people and the stories who form the basis of the civilization the students have inherited, and neglecting them does indeed rob students of an important part of their birthright.

I believe high school students in particular, with whom I am most familiar, having taught in high school for ten years, should read at least one complete history book a year. After all, many of these students are reading Shakespeare plays, studying calculus, and perhaps Chinese and chemistry, so a good history book should be easy, and perhaps a bit of a break for them as well. And not only would they learn some history in the process, but they would experience some exemplary nonfiction writing at the same time. All our students deserve such opportunities. And most are now denied them.

Source: Will Fitzhugh: Why Students Should Read a Work of History in High School | Diane Ravitch’s blog

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