An Interview with Will Fitzhugh: Peer Scholars Helping and Mentoring Budding Scholars

Jul 16, 2014 by

Michael F. Shaughnessy

1)     Will, you have been editing The Concord Review for ages. When did you begin, and what are you trying to accomplish?


     Since 1987, when I got started, the goals have been to: (1) find and celebrate exemplary history research papers by secondary students from the English-speaking world, and (2) to distribute their work as widely as possible to challenge and inspire their peers to read more history and to work on serious history term papers of their own.

2)       Currently, very few high school students who want substantial robust feedback about their writing are able to procure it. How are you attempting to address this problem?


     In 2002, The Concord Review commissioned a national study of term papers assigned in public high schools. The principal finding was that serious term papers (like the IB Extended Essay) are not being assigned. Our National Writing Board has, since 1998, been providing a unique assessment service for high school history papers, but we now feel that a more direct kind of help can be offered through The Concord Review Tutoring Services, which we are just getting set up.

3)     It seems to me that a published author should be able to provide some assistance to a high school student. What is your current plan?


     The Concord Review Tutoring Services will connect former authors (293 have gone to Harvard, Princeton or Yale, and 51 to Stanford) published in The Concord Review with high school students who want to work hard on a serious history research paper. Through Skype, it will be possible to provide more personal tutoring and feedback to guide diligent students through their work on a paper that most would not be asked to do in their school. In this way, they will be better prepared for college nonfiction reading and writing tasks. Of course they will be free to submit their papers to The Concord Review, but as we publish only 5% of the ones we get, there is no guarantee of a place. 

4)     It seems that the focus in high schools across America is sports rather than scholarly research. Any thoughts as to why this is so?


    There are untold millions of dollars regularly spent here to provide high school (and younger) athletes with special coaches, summer programs, mentoring and other services to help them compete at the next level. In addition there are untold millions of dollars for athletic scholarships to colleges (including for cheerleading). This kind of support is simply tiny or absent for students who are as serious about their academic work as the athletes are about their sports. If there are any college scholarships available, for example, for the exemplary work in history done by authors published in The Concord Review over the past 27 years, I have not heard about them.

5)      I would think that this would be a mutually beneficial experience. Paul Torrance used to talk about the importance of mentoring others. Is this part of your plan?


    The old story is that the mentor/teacher learns a great deal in guiding a student through an academic task, and I have no doubt that will be true for Tutors working with The Concord Review Tutoring Services. But high school students with a chance to work online one-on-one with a published Ivy League history student should not only learn to write better, but also it is likely that their knowledge of history and their confidence as new scholars will be strengthened as well.

6)     Will, The Concord Review just publishes an amazing number of first quality high school students’ history papers on a wide variety of topics. I would think The     Concord Review would be a great addition to any high school library—Is this possible?


    Bless all high school librarians, but they want to obtain what the teachers ask for, and too many teachers are just as happy for their students not to be exposed to the 8,000- and 12,000-word history research papers we publish in the journal. They may not want their students to start asking for the opportunity to do such challenging assignments themselves. More and more of our best papers are coming in as Independent Study efforts, because the schools do not ask students to do their best work in history, so some students who see the work of our authors just decide, as many of them have, to set higher academic standards for their own work.

7)      As they say—the world has gone on-line—Is The Concord Review available online?


     I am happy to report that our website (www.tcr.org) has just passed 927,000 visitors from across the United States and from more than 100 other countries, with a couple of million page views. All of the 1,110 history essays I have published so far are available in pdf for students who express an interest in seeing them. In addition, in our bookstore online (www.tcr.org/bookstore) there is a good selection of recent issues and there are a number of one-essay “Singles” available for purchase by anyone who wants to read such exemplary work by high school students of history.

8)     Where can people get more information or make a donation to The Concord Review?


     My favorite question! Because we are interested in the most diligent and successful high school students and those who aspire to be more like them, we have been near the bottom of the list of those thought worthy of support over the last 27 years. But we have been a nonprofit Massachusetts corporation since 1987 and we got our 501(c)(3) designation in June 1988. There is a “Donate” button on the website at www.tcr.org and we also accept checks at The Concord Review, 730 Boston Post Road, Suite 24, Sudbury, Massachusetts 01776 USA. I also welcome questions and comments at fitzhugh@tcr.org.
9) What have I neglected to ask?

I hope that we may all start to ask why we are so reluctant to support, encourage, challenge and inspire our most serious high school students, while at the same time nearly overwhelming our young athletes with scholarships and many other kinds of special help and attention? Of course sports are very important. But can’t we at least ask why the exemplary academic work of our most serious and diligent high school students should be so widely ignored? But our trademark is Varsity Academics®—so we are making an effort!
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