Since 1987 The Concord Review has published exemplary history research papers written by high-school students around the world. According to its website, the quarterly journal is the "only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students." Since its founding it has published 923 papers (average length: 5,500 words, with endnotes and bibliography). Writers have come from 44 states and 38 other countries. Publication in the Review is a prestigious honor that has helped students gain admittance to many elite colleges.
William Fitzhugh, the founder and editor of the Review, says he is encouraging "varsity academics," noting that students are often recognized for their achievements in sports and rarely for writing a brilliant research paper. Papers cover topics ranging from "The German Reformation" to "The Great Influenza Epidemic of 1918" to "The Evolution of the Idealized Chinese Poetic Aesthetic from the Late T'ang Through the Northern Sung Dynasty." In the Review's early years more submissions came from public-school students, but now the majority come from private schools-an indication that fewer high-school teachers are willing to assign and grade long research papers.
"Most kids don't know how to write, don't know any history, and that's a disgrace," Fitzhugh told The New York Times. "Writing is the most dumbed-down subject in our schools." Here's an opportunity for homeschooled students: Fitzhugh told me that he welcomes papers from them (tcr.org). Homeschoolers do well in spelling and geography bees: Here's another frontier to conquer.
Playing & learning
Childhood "experts" are finally taking play seriously. One group advocating for more play, the US PLAY Coalition, is holding a conference at Clemson University in February. The Coalition's website says the erosion of play in modern American culture leads to "greater incidences of obesity, attention deficit disorder, and limited creativity."
The Alliance for Childhood, another group advocating more play, has published studies showing that kindergarten students in Los Angeles and New York City spent four to six times more minutes in direct instruction on reading and math than in free play. Many kindergarten classrooms no longer contain blocks, sand and water tables, and props for dramatic play: "In many kindergarten classrooms there is no playtime at all. Teachers say the curriculum does not incorporate play, there isn't time for it, and many school administrators do not value it."
The Gesell Institute reports that much of the emphasis on early academics is in vain. Children aren't any smarter than they were 50 years ago. Many kindergarten children aren't developmentally able to read or sit still for academic lessons. Meanwhile they are missing out on the opportunity to develop their imaginations through play.
Even if experts understand the value of play, they might have difficulty convincing some parents of its value. Children shuttled between lessons and organized sports, and then expected to do hours of homework, don't have much time for free play. Harried parents may not have the patience for play, which can be loud, messy, and appears unproductive.
Remembering the Civil War
This year marks the beginning of many Sesquicentennial events commemorating the Civil War. Teachers, homeschoolers, and vacationers will appreciate the websites gathering historical information, providing context, maps, and timelines, and keeping track of sesquicentennial events. Here are some good places to start.
The Civil War Times and America's Civil War magazines
This website has links to partner websites including The Smithsonian, The National Archives, The Gettysburg Foundation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, and many state-level sesquicentennial committees.
Events from the war on the day they happened 150 years ago. Tweets are taken from state archives, military records, memoirs, letters, and newspapers.
Civil War Data 150
A website for computer and data crunchers. It aims to link Civil War data across state and federal archives and libraries.
Its Civil War Sesquicentennial network connects people and organizations interested in the 150th anniversary commemoration of the American Civil War.
The Civil War Trust
Gathers sesquicentennial news and maintains a calendar of upcoming events.
National Park Service
Calendar of events in the various national battlefield parks. Historical information about the war.
The Center for Civil War Photography
Some of the official state sesquicentennial groups.
• The Civil War Trust lists links to others at civilwar.org/150th-anniversary/150-quarterly-review-oct2010.html
• Virginia Sesquicentennial of the American Civil War Commission
• North Carolina Civil War Sesquicentennial Committee
• South Carolina's Civil War Sesquicentennial
• Pennsylvania Civil War 150
• Arkansas Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission
• The Tennessee Civil War Sesquicentennial Commission