View From Lodi, CA: In Praise Of The Senior Writing Project

have been a staunch supporter of the Lodi Unified School
District`s senior writing project since its inception.

Nothing identifies an educated individual more
definitively than his ability to structure an
intelligent written report or research paper.

while the senior project creates a good deal of grousing
by not only students but also their parents, I remain
unshakeable in my defense of the importance of good

college bound students who feel they have already
mastered essay or report writing, you`re wrong. You can
always improve.

for high school seniors who feel that the senior project
is a waste of their time because they have no university
aspirations, you`re wrong too.

Whatever the future may hold for this year`s graduating
seniors, learning to write well is a discipline that
will enrich your lives. And to be able to write well is
within the reach of anyone who puts forth the effort.

decades, I have been concerned about the abysmal quality
of prose. Whether I was reading the New York Times—where
I recently found a 63-word sentence in a front page
story—or a best selling John Grisham novel that
apparently never reached an editor`s desk, the written
word is under assault.

Earlier this week, I had an opportunity to speak with
Will Fitzhugh, founder of the

Concord Review

1987, Fitzhugh began publishing exemplary history essays
crafted by high school students throughout the
English-speaking world.

Secondary school authors from forty-three states and
thirty-three countries have had their reports—average
length 5,500 words— in the Concord Review. With the
fifty-seventh issue (Summer 2004), 638 research papers
have been published.

best of them win the Review`s Ralph Waldo Emerson Award.
Among the winning entries are original reports like

“A Blow to Labor: The Homestead Strike of 1892”
Jacob C. Goldberg and

“The Treason Debate: Ezra Pound and His Rome Radio
by Jonas Doberman.

Fitzhugh is confident that high school students, given
the proper instruction and encouragement, can produce
quality writing.

Fitzhugh frets that the traditional high school research
report is on the way out as more and more emphasis is
placed on the short essay.

Even more troubling, Fitzhugh is convinced that the
majority of high school seniors graduate without reading
a non-fiction book cover to cover.

evidence supports Fitzhugh. According to a

sponsored by the Concord Review and conducted
by the Center for Survey Research and Analysis at the
University of Connecticut, while 95% of all teachers
surveyed believed that writing a research paper is
important, 82% never assign a report of over 5,000 words
and 62% never require more than 3,000 words.

bottom line says Fitzhugh is that kids miss out on a
wonderful opportunity to learn.

Fitzhugh told New York Times education columnist
Michael Winerip, “I tell people, the topic doesn`t
matter, it`s the quality that matters, so a kid learns
the joy of scholarship. If you learn what it means to go
in depth, you also realize when you`re being

A Vital Touchstone for High Schools
New York Times,

Ultimately, the Concord Review is about scholarship. But
there are intangible benefits to good writing. On May 9,
“60 Minutes” aired a segment titled “Couldn`t
Keep It To Myself”
about female inmates doing
hard time at Connecticut`s only maximum security prison.

enrolled in a writer`s workshop found to their surprise
and delight that their essays were eventually published
in a critically acclaimed anthology,

“Couldn`t Keep It To Myself.”

Any high
school student debating the senior project`s merit might
be interested in what the women and their instructor had
to say about the positive impact that writing had on
their lives.

Instructor Wally Lamb: I`m
not a therapist. But I could see that there was
therapeutic value in the writing.  People`s body
language began to change. People`s level of

Robin, a student: “What I saw was transformation.  I
saw women that just came in damaged, broken. And they
just started to open up and bloom into beautiful
flowers. Brand new people.”

CBS correspondent Steve Kroft concluded, “The writing
program was worth fighting for. It provided one of the
few opportunities for growth and rehabilitation.”

final word of advice to reluctant seniors is that good
writing will separate you from your peers. Fitzhugh told
me that the overall quality of writing is so poor that
law firms now routinely offer remedial writing courses
for their new hires.

Seniors, take advantage of the opportunity before you.
Throw yourself into your last high school project with
enthusiasm and dedication.

Joe Guzzardi [email
him], an instructor in English
at the Lodi Adult School, has been writing a weekly
column since 1988. It currently appears in the

Lodi News-Sentinel