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More reading and writing in high school? No time for that.

Oct 12, 2018 by

Jay Mathews –

Will Fitzhugh has been struggling for more than 30 years to persuade high schools to let students do something they rarely do — write.

His weapon in this battle is his quarterly publication, the Concord Review. It is the only journal in the world devoted to scholarly papers written by high school students.

The more than 1,300 history research papers he has printed have shown how much schools are missing by not encouraging lots of composition. In a new essay on the problem, Fitzhugh points out this is not only a blow to writing instruction but to what should be the center of any education — reading.

It never occurs to the people who run our schools, Fitzhugh said recently on his Concord Review blog, “that if students read more, they would know more, and in that way actually have some knowledge they wanted to write about.”

“But reading and knowledge never seem to find their way into discussions of Literacy in Our Time,” he said. “When teaching our students to write, not only are standards set very low in most high schools, limiting students to the five-paragraph essay, responses to a document-based question, or the personal (or college) essay about matters which are often no one else’s business, but we often so load up students with formulae and guidelines that the importance of writing when the author has something to say gets lost in the maze of the processes.”

This is an old-fashioned argument, which is one reason I am so taken with it. The most recent approaches to composition in the Common Core State Standards have shown little progress.


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