Some 44 million American adults cannot read well enough to read a simple story to a child—and nearly half of adults in the United States are functionally illiterate, unable even to read a drug label. …

We have been inundated with bad news regarding the American education system for decades. For example, in 1988, a mere 5 percent of seventeen-year-old high school students could read sufficiently to comprehend information disseminated in historical documents, college textbooks, or literary essays. …

The Educational Testing Service reported in 1994 that 50 percent of college graduates in the United States could not read a bus schedule and “that only 42 percent could summarize an argument presented in a newspaper article.”

Why have we allowed this to happen to ourselves? Rather, why have we done this to ourselves? How and why is it that America, historically the most plentiful source of innovative and inventive minds, has established an educational system that cripples the mind? What caused this degradation?

Toward answering such questions, it is important to understand that American schools have not always been so bad. Indeed, at one time American education was superb.


In the Mid-Atlantic colonies during the pre-Revolutionary period, professional educators established numerous schools to satisfy widespread demand for education. Philadelphia, for instance, boasted schools for virtually every subject and interest.

Between 1740 and 1776, 125 private schoolmasters advertised their services in Philadelphia newspapers—this in a city whose population was miniscule relative to today. Professional educators provided mentoring services for English, contemporary foreign languages, science, and a wide variety of other topics.