Honoring an outstanding teacher and student

Joe Nathan
ECM Contributing Writer

Today’s column honors two heroes: a teacher, now in his 70s, and a high school senior in her teens.

Teacher Will Fitzhugh, and Woodbury East Ridge High School student Anushua (Shua) Bhattacharya are connected because of the outstanding research paper that Bhattacharya wrote. Fitzhugh has published it in the latest issue of The Concord Review (TCR) www.tcr.org.

Because I believe so strongly in what these two have accomplished, later in the column I’m offering to pay half of ten schools’ subscription to this celebration of student writing.

After teaching for a decade, Fitzhugh decided, in 1987, that he wanted to give more attention to excellent academic work, specifically, outstanding writing about history. He wrote, “Varsity athletics and athletes are celebrated everywhere. We celebrate Varsity Academics®.”

Fitzhugh rightly points out that while the Internet has virtually limitless information, “…there is no better way to comprehend, consider, and digest information for oneself than to write a serious paper.” He has urged a “page per year” plan. First graders would write a page, with one reference, eighth graders eight pages with eight references, etc.

Since 1987, the quarterly TCR, has published more than 980 essays from students in 46 states and 38 countries. It’s a remarkable, unique publication.

Shua’s essay leads the current Review. Students from California to New York and Korea wrote other featured essays on topics such as the Invasion of New Mexico to Scottish Immigrant, and the Rise of India.

Her essay asks whether the United States under Franklin Roosevelt (could) have saved more Jews. Her “visit to the Holocaust Museum provoked me to study this question.” Her answer is “yes!” Her essay is “Dedicated to those who might have been saved.”

After high school, Shua hopes to “major in Neuroscience … and be immersed in some Shakespearean or Classic Literature.”

She wrote this paper for Darren Reiter’s 2010-11 Advanced Placement World History class, at East Ridge High School. Reiter believes “Shua is an amazing young adult with limitless potential.”

Gretchen Romain, East Ridge Assistant Principal calls Shua “a leader within her class and the school … She is one of the strongest academic students I have encountered.”

Bhattacharya and Fitzhugh are united in a quest for excellence.

Ten years ago, Fitzhugh worked with the University of Connecticut to interview 400 randomly selected history teachers around the country. They found:

• 95 percent of teachers surveyed believed writing a research term paper is important or very important

• 62 percent of teachers never assign a paper of 3,000 – 5000 words

• 81 percent never assign a paper of over 5000 words

Fitzhugh acknowledges that reading and commenting on such papers takes time. He has urged schools to provide time for educators to read and comment on them.

Having assigned and graded high school and college research papers, I agree with Fitzhugh that such papers are valuable, and require a major commitment from an educator, as well as students. Responsibilities for research papers should be spread out among teachers. No teacher should be expected to grade more than one class set per semester.

Because I believe so strongly in honoring outstanding student academic work, and in TCR, here’s an offer: for the first ten people who contact me, I’ll pay half of the $40 one year (4 issue) TCR subscription for a school. Fitzhugh also offers a 40 percent discount for class sets of 26 or more.

Great research writing deserves just as much attention as great goaltending.

Joe Nathan has been a Minnesota public school teacher and administrator. He directs the Center for School Change at Macalester. Reactions welcome, jnathan@macalester.edu

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