Home >> A Issues >> Issues >> Putting Scholarship at Varsity Level

Search form

Putting Scholarship at Varsity Level

Hoping to establish the same recognition for academics that athletics receives, former high school history teacher Will Fitzhugh founded The Concord Review, a quarterly journal of outstanding high school history essays. Showing students examples of good writing and research is a way of getting them to aim higher, he says. Information about the content of the The Concord Review.

Connections between the 19th-century American spiritualist and feminist movements and comparisons of Civil War guerilla leaders John Hunt Morgan and John Singleton Mosby may sound like topics for doctoral theses. Surprise! -- they are just some of the subjects high school students researched for papers that have appeared in The Concord Review, the only American magazine that publishes history papers written by high school students.

Founded in 1988 by former Concord-Carlisle (Massachusetts) Regional High School history teacher William Fitzhugh, the quarterly publishes about 11 essays in each edition. A total of 528 essays from students in 42 states and 33 countries have been printed since the review was founded.

By publishing what he considers outstanding work, Fitzhugh hopes to inspire other students to do their own research. "Samuel Johnson said, `Example is always more efficacious than precept,'" Fitzhugh tells Education World. "I'm trying to publish the best work I can find, to encourage other kids to work hard."

Elaine Reed, director of the National Council for History Education, agreed. "I think it's one of the hidden jewels of history education," Reed says. "There is no other place for serious academic essays by students. Some teachers use it as an example with students. The writing styles, how other kids do research, and the topics are useful to other students."


Fitzhugh, who reads and selects the essays himself, looks for work that shows plenty of passion as well as an understanding of the subject matter. "It's like when someone reads one or two books and they learn something and want to share it."

Most of the essays were written as class assignments, although some were independent research projects. In selecting papers for publication, Fitzhugh said, he looks for evidence of knowledge, thought, and good writing. "I want to put out something that other kids want to read," he explains. "A lot of kids don't read non-fiction books anymore. I've had students and teachers say that the essays are more interesting than books."

Fitzhugh also sees himself as setting a "varsity-level" standard for academics so scholars can garner the same recognition athletics receive. "I figure at least 50,000 high school kids hear from college coaches every year," he says. "Probably 50 hear from professors. I'm just trying to counter that message."

Ron Briley, who teaches American history at Sandia School in Albuquerque, New Mexico, says two of his students have had essays published in The Concord Review and thinks it is a valuable showcase for student work. He shows the journal to his 11th- and 12th-grade students as an example of the kind of work high school students can accomplish. "I believe that we sometimes expect too little of our students, and The Concord Reviewdemonstrates the excellence of which they are capable."


Fitzhugh began thinking of a way to encourage students to do research when he was interviewing a high school student who wanted to attend Harvard University, his alma mater. The student told Fitzhugh he wanted to major in history in college but had never read a history book on his own.

Fitzhugh started working on the review in 1987 and 1988, while he was still teaching, and published the first edition in the fall of 1988. He then left teaching to work on the review full-time. He also founded and serves on the National Writing Board, a panel that comments on essays students might want to submit to colleges as writing samples. Essays are read by two board members, and each student essay receives a three-page critique.

When he is not reading and editing, Fitzhugh hunts for grants to help keep the review in print. The review has almost 1,000 subscribers at $40 a year, but that is not enough to cover costs. For the first 12 years, Fitzhugh worked by himself and drew no salary. His wife, who also is a teacher, supported the family. Twice he had to suspend publication for lack of funds.

Surprisingly, Fitzhugh says, he has received a cool reception from some education organizations. Some people have said that only a handful of students are capable of the level of research seen in The Concord Review essays.

Fitzhugh explained that he believes that if standards are high, students will strive to meet them. He notes that large numbers of girls flocked to gymnastics classes after seeing the gold-medal performances of Soviet gymnast Olga Korbut in the 1972 Summer Olympics, during which Korbut displayed skills far superior to those of the other gymnasts. "I don't think kids will wilt from a challenge," he maintained.