Regarding science, the story is the same. Although 93 percent of high school students study biology, only 54 percent take a chemistry course, and a mere 24 percent study physics. The writer Martin Gross reports, “Only 20 percent of public high school graduates—one in five—take all three basic science courses.”
As for history, it has been transformed into “social studies,” thoroughly eviscerated, and permeated with more political activism than content.
Related, because reading abilities have been severely curtailed, literature classes are severely dumbed down as well. For example, the 1922 Texas state high school reading list for the ninth grade included such works as Cooper’s The Last of the Mohicans and Scott’s Ivanhoe; the estimated grade levels for the list ranged from 8.0 to 12.9. By contrast, the 2015–16 ninth grade reading list includes Sandra Cisneros’s The House on Mango Street and Rodman Philbrick’s Freak the Mighty; the estimated grade levels for this list range from 4.5 to 6.7. It is, therefore, appalling but not surprising that, as eminent scholar Richard Pipes reports, applicants for his freshman seminar at Harvard University are “almost totally unfamiliar with the world’s great literature.”
Because academic subjects are sparsely taught, if taught at all, teachers need little mastery of them; instead, they take “education” courses. As Gross writes, “High school teachers in training typically take fewer credits in their majors than other students majoring in the same subject.” In other words, future math teachers take fewer math courses than do math majors, English teachers take fewer English courses than do English majors, and so on. One telling fact is that, whereas for decades CliffsNotes’ readership consisted largely of high school and college students, by the turn of the 21st century, their prime demographic had shifted to English teachers who had taken few literature courses, had never read the books they were now teaching, and were ill-equipped to interpret them.