Bill Whittle: The Struggle for Stupidity

Sci-Fi Author Jerry Pournelle recently re-published a sixth grade reader from 1914. In his latest FIREWALL, Bill Whittle explains how full comprehension of a single paragraph from that hundred-year-old elementary school textbook eludes virtually all of today’s college graduates; shows why it is such a sin, and reveals the Progressive Struggle for Stupidity in all of its undeniable venality.



Hi everybody. I’m Bill Whittle and this is the Firewall.

Science fiction writer Jerry Pournelle has republished, with his additional commentary, a completely forgotten – but far from forgettable – book called Literature Reader, Sixth Year, by Leroy E. Armstrong.

Literature Reader, Sixth Year, by Leroy E. Armstrong is not a novel or a scientific treatise or a book or Mr. Armstrong’s poetry. It’s a textbook – a California textbook: a collection of written tales and their analyses, the basics of literature, story structure and all the rest: that’s it and that’s all.

On a whim, I looked it up on Amazon, and on another whim, I clicked on a random link, and scanned the first paragraph I laid eyes on, which read:

Then Jason lighted the pile, and burnt the carcass of the bull; and they went to their ship and sailed eastward, like men who have a work to do. Three thousand years and more they sailed away, into the unknown Eastern seas; and great nations have come and gone since then, and many a storm has swept the earth; and many a mighty armament, to which Argo would be but one small boat; English and French, Turkish and Russian, have sailed those waters since; yet the fame of that small Argo lives forever, and her name is a proverb among men.

This is what sixth graders were reading one hundred years ago, in 1914, but if a college kid today graduated with a full and complete understanding of that one single paragraph they would be better educated than they are after a quarter-million dollars or so of student debt.

Reduced to a movie – which would be the only way to get a 6th grader to meet Jason and the Argonauts today – It would be:


Jason lights fire to the bull. After a moment, his men turn and walk to the ship. Casting off the lines, they set sail out into the harbor.


He looks out to sea, a look of determination on his face.


And that would be it. But that’s just the surface of the paragraph, and that’s all 6th graders in 2016 get – the only the surface of everything. A hundred years ago, these same-aged children would have imagined – they would have seen in their minds – the great ship setting sail for the eastern sea, and then be shocked that the Greek author did not talk abut sailing for three hundred miles bur rather for three thousand years. They saw the mighty fleets of the English and French and Turks and Russians – sailing ships, battleships – come and go and only the small Argo remain on these waters of eternity. Only this small band of men, in a little boat, sailing across the ocean of history and legend human history, like men who have a work to do.

For a random paragraph from an obscure textbook, that is a profound insight. No doubt it is why Leroy E. Armstrong decided to include it in his reader.

The Progressives have had to fight against that 1895 or 1914 level of education, and it hasn’t been easy for them. It took them at least half a century to win this struggle for stupidity: elimination of standards, grading on the curve, the self-esteem movement, new math, gender studies, speech codes and all the rest – the det-ritus of the battle against educated citizens, in harness to the socialist paradise that is so obviously doomed to failure – well…obvious to people who know math, history, and economics, anyway.

And now, with Common Core, soon it will be against the law for your child to hit the jackpot, against all odds, and end up with a Leroy E. Armstrong. No, the final battle in the Struggle for Stupidity will be to make it illegal to be taught anything other than Standard State Stupid. They have succeeded in taking a generation that go to the moon with slide rules, doing the math in their head, to a generation that is amazed to discover that the movie Titanic is based on a true story.

And through it all – through the rise and fall of England and France and Turkey and Russia and now us, the United States of America – the Argo sails on alone, unread, undiscovered, waiting for a time when people begin to search for her once again.

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  • De Doc

    How true! One of the great joys for me during grade school (1970s) was learning about all the great folklore and myths of the ages routinely taught in any Western society. I ask grade school kids today about what they know of these timeless tales and they look at me like I have lobsters crawling from my ears. When we trade the timeless and heroic tales of Homer for “Little Debbie has Two Mommies”, soon our culture melts away into the twilight.

    All learning now is distilled to the lowest common denominator, which, unfortunately, is pretty darn pitiful lest your kid goes to a top flight charter or private school. And Common Core instruction? It is downright obtuse judging by some of the homework samples I’ve seen recently.

    • johnnywood

      Common Core should be regarded as a crime.

  • aspacia

    I have taught 9th grade high school students Edith Hamilton’s Mythology which utilizes the same vocabulary and syntax of the primer. I am not an elementary school or middle-school instructor, but many of my students only had 3 years of formal education before entering my class.

    It is administration’s fault that students are passed through the system, not the teacher’s which I believe is your point, but teachers will benefit if you stress this.

    • johnnywood

      Passing little ignoramuses on to the next grade started years ago and can be blamed on the Dept. of Education,(which educates no one), and the national teachers unions.

  • Digli

    A very simplistic appraisal of the education system.
    Kids lined up to buy every Harry Potter book and read them and reread them in a few days. The Giver? Enders Game? Dune? Twilight?
    Sure they’re not Homer or Shakespeare but don’t be idiots.
    Some kids can’t read and that could be fixed but there are many who are literate and articulate and educated.

    • mkat68

      “Literate” and “articulate” and “educated”? Kids who don’t even know the Titanic was real? And comparing Harry Potter to Jason and the Argonauts? Ludicrous.

    • El Duderino

      The difference is, 100 years ago you HAD to be able to read at that level to keep advancing. It wasn’t left to chance or choice. Now, the kids who choose to read and learn on their own are doing great, but the majority just float with the tide, get their diploma (or GED), and try to make their way into adulthood with almost zero useful skills.

    • AndRebecca

      This article is not a simplistic approach to education. Thinking a kid who reads Harry Potter is educated is very simplistic, and dumb. The kids of a hundred years ago had hard textbooks, and most finished only the eight grade. The eight grade education back then was worth a four year college degree of today. How do I know, educators have said so.

    • pslinger

      Yes there are many kids who are literate, articulate and educated. But those kids have either been home schooled or sent to private schools, not public schools.

  • Debbie G

    This really made my heart sink. If we don’t get rid of Common Core, it will be up to parents and grandparents to read novels to their offspring and/or encourage the older kids to read for themselves.