Monday, January 10, 2011

Great Value in Research Papers -- So Why So Few Assignments Given?

Maybe I am simply strange. Certainly my daughter would agree -- and suggest I keep my opinions to myself. The evidence of my strangeness? I enjoyed writing major research papers in high school and think kids should have at least one major paper a year, in history or English.

Developing such a paper requires organization, logic, strong arguments, persuasive use of research data -- and good, solid writing. At least one person agrees with me. William H. Fitzhugh publishes The Concord Review, which features high school research papers. Fitzhugh, by the way, is dean of admissions at Harvard. He so believes in keeping the research paper alive that he has been publishing the review for 23 years, supporting the endeavor with grants.

Here's what really made me cry. Only four of the 22 essays published in the last two issues were by public school students. So the experience of writing a major paper -- and gaining all sorts of skills (and confidence)-- is becoming relegated to the privileged. The reason, and I do understand the problem, is time. Public school teachers, teaching many fairly large classes, simply don't have the ability to read and grade long papers. Can't we come up with a solution so that our children gain experience in this kind of research and writing?

The papers I wrote in high school and college were challenging and stretched my brain in ways that studying for a test never can. I hope my daughter is assigned one or two such papers in high school. Even if she hates me for bringing up the subject.

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