William Fitzhugh: What If History Students Were Given the Acclaim of Athletes?

Roundup: Talking About History

[Mr. Fitzhugh is the founder of The Concord Review.]

Imagine that somewhere in the United States there is a Horace Mann High School, with a student who is a first-rate softball pitcher. Let us further imagine that although she set a new record for strikeouts for the school and the district, she was never written up in the local paper. Let us suppose that even when she broke the state record for batters retired she received no recognition from the major newspapers or other media in the state.

Imagine a high school boy who had broken the high jump record for his school, district, and state, who also never saw his picture or any story about his achievement in the media. He also would not hear from any college track coaches with a desire to interest him in becoming part of their programs.

In this improbable scenario, we could suppose that the coaches of these and other fine athletes at the high school level would never hear anything from their college counterparts, and would not be able to motivate their charges with the possibility of college scholarships if they did particularly well in their respective sports.

These fine athletes could still apply to colleges and, if their academic records, test scores, personal essays, grades, and applications were sufficiently impressive, they might be accepted at the college of their choice, but, of course they would receive no special welcome as a result of their outstanding performance on the high school athletic fields.

This is all fiction, of course, in our country at present. Outstanding athletes do receive letters from interested colleges, and even visits from coaches if they are good enough, and it is then up to the athlete to decide which college sports program they will “commit to” or “sign with,” as the process is actually described in the media. Full scholarships are often available to the best high school athletes, so that they may contribute to their college teams without worrying about paying for tuition or accumulating student debt.

In turn, high school coaches with very good athletes in fact do receive attention from college coaches, who keep in touch to find out the statistics on their most promising athletes, and to get recommendations for which ones are most worth pursuing and most worth offering scholarships to.

These high school coaches are an important agent in helping their promising athletes decide who to “commit to” or who to “sign with” when they are making their higher education plans.

On the other hand, if high school teachers have outstanding students of history, there are no scholarships available for them, no media recognition, and certainly no interest from college professors of history. For their work in identifying and nurturing the most diligent, the brightest, and the highest-achieving students of history, these academic coaches (teachers) are essentially ignored.

Those high school students of history, no matter whether they write first-class 15,000-word history research papers, like Colin Rhys Hill of Atlanta, Georgia (published in the Fall 2008 issue of The Concord Review), or a first-class 13,000-word history research paper, like Amalia Skilton of Tempe, Arizona (published in the Spring 2009 issue of The Concord Review), they will hear from no one offering them a full college scholarship for their outstanding high school academic work in history.

College professors of history will not write or call them, and they will not visit their homes to try to persuade them to “commit to” or “sign with” a particular college or university. The local media will ignore their academic achievements, because they limit their high school coverage to the athletes.

To anyone who believes the primary mission of the high schools is academic, and who pays their taxes mainly to promote that mission, this bizarre imbalance in the mechanics of recognition and support may seem strange, if they stop to think about it. But this is our culture when it comes to promoting academic achievement at the high school level. If we would like to see higher levels of academic achievement by our high school students, just as we like to see higher levels of athletic achievement by our students at the high school level, perhaps we might give some thought to changing this culture (soon).

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Nancy REYES - 6/21/2009

Actually it would make things worse if good students are acclaimed in some schools...

many black students are ridiculed for "Trying to be white" if they succeed...(Hopefully the President will counteract this problem).

And unlike athletics, where sticking together as a team is stressed, academic achievement for one means no award for another student...

and even if geeks stick together, in a fight who would you back? The jocks or the geeks?