I can hardly criticize attempts to prepare 17-year-olds for college-level research and writing, since too many kids learn that sort of thing on the fly--or, as many of us know firsthand, they never really learn it at all.There is dirty work, or at least a positional arms race, at work.
Still, I find it a little creepy that these kids are getting their papers "published." Since 1987, The Concord Review has reprinted nearly 650 essays by ambitious high-schoolers, and the journal enjoys a convenient symbiotic relationship with The National Writing Board, an official-sounding body that will read a student's essay and send a three-page report to admissions officers at several elite colleges and universities. They'll gladly let Yale know how spiffy they think your kid is--for a $100 fee, of course.
Look, I can't fault the Concord Review/National Writing Board folks for spotting a way to cash in, and I support their stated mission to "celebrate varsity academics." What I can't get behind is their weird romanticization of the grad-school mindset, especially when humanities programs are already bursting with the next generation of grumpy, disillusioned bloggers. I mean, come on, these kids are seventeen. At that age, the accomplishment of having understood Beowulf or the Armenian genocide should be enough. Even if it's not, we should tell them that it is.Not only that, the industrial reserve army in the humanities stands to swell further.
Besides, let's be honest about "the only quarterly journal in the world to publish the academic work of secondary students." No one's reading The Concord Review for its contributors' brilliant insights on Jane Eyre or Spanish fascism. They're reading it to study examples of essays that the National Writing Board anoints, because they hope to earn the same accolade and a useful line or two on an application to an elite school. They don't respect the contributor to The Concord Review; they just want what he has.
If blogs are still big in around seven years, The Concord Review will help guarantee that the chorus of commiseration sounds depressingly familiar. "Grad school...the job market...the competition...seemed like what I was born to do...why didn't anyone tell me?"Plus ca change. I still recall the laments from university: "I always got good grades in high school. What are they doing to me?" The lament generalizes, with applicable substitution, to graduate school. Many are called, few are chosen. Deal with it.