All things excellent are as difficult as they are rare.
—Benedict de Spinoza

We Applaud Ourselves.
—Poster seen in a school entrance hall

Of the many dispiriting statistics cited in William Henry’s brief but important new book, In Defense of Elitism, perhaps the most dispiriting comes from a recent (1992) study by the Department of Education. Based on a survey of more than twenty-six thousand adults, this study estimates that fifteen million American adults are entirely illiterate. It also projects that an additional seventy-five million American adults have only minimal reading and computational skills: a third of this group can just manage to tote up the weekly grocery bill, almost none can compose a simple business letter. Even if this projection overstates the case by 50 percent, it is still a...


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