America’s proud heritage: ‘uneducated, illiterate, barefooted, gun-toting hayseeds’?

Aiming for brevity, trying to avoid long strings of documentation already presented many times, I posted on Nov. 11 at a response to a letter-writing government schoolmarm who contends she should not be held responsible for the failure of her young charges to learn anything, since it’s all their parents’ fault.

I answered, in part:

“Teachers from 1620 through 1950 didn’t go home with their kids to tuck them in, either. Yet Americans with eighth grade educations through all those centuries could read, write, spell, and do basic arithmetic well enough to run circles around your pathetic charges — and this was all accomplished for less than one-tenth today’s expenditure per student — even if today’s pathetic inmates sit through a full 12 years of your progressively more worthless tutelage.”

In response, a character identifying himself only as “Patrick” posted a Web comment: “What a joke this guy is. Comparing the illiterate masses who roamed this country between 1620 and 19-whatever to the least educated student in this country today as some ‘proof’ of how well the country functioned before.

“I’ll match the worst F student today with any of the uneducated, white, illiterate bare footed, freedom loving, gun toting, hay seed Vin would chose to match wits, if only that were possible.

“The only good thing about this guy is that he has such little regard for what he writes, or who reads it, that he never adds comments defending it. Saves the rest of us the time to deal with what would undoubtedly be just more stupidity.”

Another respondent, billing himself only as “Spike,” added:

“The fact is that the MOST ignorant senior in any ‘socialist’ high school today knows more than ANY college graduate from the 1800’s, just as the most impoverished person today, ‘lives’ better than 99 percent of the citizens of this country lived during those years.

“Sad that someone who is probably one of the most ignorant writers (and this is saying something) who writes for this ‘newspaper’ just can’t see what is right in front of his face; probably can’t see over the top of his NRA hat though.”

One “Ben Deho,” writing from a keyboard that apparently lacks an apostrophe key (except when needed to form a plural), added:

“Another example of a blowhard saying whatever pops into his head and having people believe it as absolute fact. The majority of americans couldnt even read until around the 20’s and 30’s . Before that, education was primarily for the upper class folk. This is basic stuff that can be found with even a little research. I love this notion of this mythical, perfect america that has fallen from grace. It never existed and exists only in the minds of people like this guy. In the end though, maybe Vin is right. everything wrong is the fault of a teacher somehow. If Vin’s history teacher hadnt been such a crappy teacher, maybe he would have actually learned his history.”


And so “The worst F student today” is offered up with a guarantee of favorable comparison to “any of the uneducated, white, illiterate bare footed, freedom loving, gun toting, hay seeds” of America’s 18th and 19th centuries, including the generation that produced Washington, Madison, Jefferson, John Adams, and Benjamin Franklin. (And no, Ben Franklin was not “of the upper class folk.”)

These learned skeptics fail to make the most obvious argument — that today’s students no longer need to learn the Latin, French, geometry, and calculus once required to enter college, since it’s more important for them to master computer technology.

Just as well, since that argument fails: Today’s high school graduates certainly know how to turn on their electronic devices and e-mail each other crotch shots and quasi-literate text messages. But I doubt one in a hundred could diagram the simplest electrical circuit imprinted in the chips of those devices, let alone design and build one.

(In the 1930s, my father, a poor kid sleeping three-to-a-bed in the Polish ghetto in Middletown, Conn. — from a family that had never dreamed of sending anyone to college — could not afford to buy a radio. So, not yet 15, he acquired a quartz crystal, found a diagram in a magazine, and built himself a radio receiver inside an old cigar box. It worked.)

Presumably none of these geniuses has so much as cracked the cover of de Tocqueville’s Democracy in America, in which the visiting Frenchman found the average working man in America, gathering in his tavern 180 years ago (not as recently as “the 20’s and 30’s,” kids), to be far better educated than his opposite number in any Western European country, well-read in numerous periodicals of the time, able to debate issues of public policy with an incisiveness and detail that astonished the visitor.

Fast forward to today. On December 20, 2000, the brilliant economist Walter Williams of George Mason University wrote: “In Florida’s Duval County, many black voters voted for two presidential candidates after being instructed by Democratic election workers to punch every page. This led to the invalidation of some 27,000 votes in black precincts in Duval County alone. According to a story by (the) Village Voice, a 1993 study puts the black adult functional illiteracy rate in Duval County at 47 percent.

“While such an illiteracy rate is tragic, in a sense it’s poetic justice for civil-rights leaders and the Democratic Party: Their staunch support for public schools and the rotten education they produce just might have helped deliver a constituency that can’t manage simple voting instructions.”

On Dec. 26, 2002, professor Williams wrote: “If one didn’t know better, one would think that Washington’s predominantly black public school system was being run by the grand dragon of the Ku Klux Klan, hell-bent on a mission to sabotage black academic excellence. Instead, it’s a system being run by blacks for blacks. …

“In only one of the city’s 19 high schools do as many as 50 percent of its students test as proficient in reading, and at no school are 50 percent of the students proficient in math. At nine high schools, only 5 percent or fewer of its students test proficient in reading; and in 11 high schools, only 5 percent or less are proficient in math. …

“But that’s not the worst of the story: Each year, more than 80 percent — and up to 96 percent — of high school students are promoted to the next grade.”

On Oct. 21, 2009, professor Williams further reported: “Today’s college students are generally dumber than their predecessors. An article in the Wall Street Journal (1/30/97) reported that a ‘bachelor of Arts degree in 1997 may not be the equal of a graduation certificate from an academic high school in 1947.’ …

“According a recent National Assessment of Adult Literacy, the percentage of college graduates proficient in prose literacy has declined from 40 percent to 31 percent within the past decade. Employers report that many college graduates lack the basic skills of critical thinking, writing and problem-solving and some employers find they must hire English and math teachers to teach them how to write memos and perform simple computations.”

On Oct. 13, 2009, at, Sherwood Ross reported in an article headlined “Newspaper decline traced to widespread illiteracy”:

“The reason for the decline of newspaper circulation is that 42 million Americans are illiterate and roughly 50 million more are semi-literate, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Christopher Hedges says. What’s more, he adds, 80 percent of U.S. households last year did not buy a book.

“‘The rates of illiteracy or semi-literacy — meaning people reading at a fourth or fifth grade level — now comprise one-third of the United States,’ says Hedges.”


But things were worse “in the 1800s,” our correspondents insist.


John Taylor Gatto, the 1991 New York state (public-school) Teacher of the Year, and author of four fine books on the current state of American public “education,” writes at (and at other Web sites):

“Looking back, abundant data exist from states like Connecticut and Massachusetts to show that by 1840 the incidence of complex literacy in the United States was between 93 and 100 percent wherever such a thing mattered. According to the Connecticut census of 1840, only one citizen out of every 579 was illiterate, and you probably don’t want to know, not really, what people in those days considered literate; it’s too embarrassing.

“Popular novels of the period give a clue: Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, published in 1826, sold so well that a contemporary equivalent would have to move 10 million copies to match it. If you pick up an uncut version, you find yourself in a dense thicket of philosophy, history, culture, manners, politics, geography, astute analysis of human motives and actions, all conveyed in data-rich periodic sentences so formidable that only a determined and well-educated reader can handle it nowadays. …

“By 1940, the literacy figure for all states stood at 96 percent for whites, 80 percent for blacks. Notice for all the disadvantages blacks labored under, four of five were still literate. Six decades later, at the end of the twentieth century, the National Adult Literacy Survey and the National Assessment of Educational Progress say 40 percent blacks and 17 percent of whites can’t read at all. Put another way, black illiteracy doubled, and white illiteracy quadrupled.

“Before you think of anything else in regard to these numbers, think of this: we spend three to four times as much real money on schooling as we did 60 years ago, but 60 years ago virtually everyone, black or white, could read. …”

If this wasn’t caused by heredity — a thesis which he rejects — “what then?” Gatto asks. “Well, one change is indisputable, well documented, and easy to track. During WWII, American public schools massively converted to non-phonetic ways of teaching reading. They stopped teaching students to look at words as combinations of letters, sounding them out, and instead started using the disastrous whole-word method, which has students memorize the meanings of entire words through sheer repetition. …


“Back in 1952 the Army quietly began hiring hundreds of psychologists to find out how 600,000 high school graduates had successfully faked illiteracy,” Mr Gatto points out.

“Regna Wood sums up the episode this way: ‘After the psychologists told the officers that the graduates weren’t faking, Defense Department administrators knew that something terrible had happened in grade school reading instruction. And they knew it had started in the thirties. Why they remained silent, no one knows. The switch back to reading instruction that worked for everyone should have been made then. But it wasn’t.’

“In 1882, fifth-graders read these authors in their Appleton School Reader: William Shakespeare, Henry Thoreau, George Washington, Sir Walter Scott, Mark Twain, Benjamin Franklin, Oliver Wendell Holmes, John Bunyan, Daniel Webster, Samuel Johnson, Lewis Carroll, Thomas Jefferson, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and others like them.

“In 1995, a student-teacher of fifth-graders in Minneapolis wrote to the local newspaper: ‘I was told children are not to be expected to spell the following words correctly: back, big, call, came, can, day, did, dog, down, get, good, have, he, home, if, in, is, it, like, little, man, morning, mother, my, night, off, out, over, people, play, ran, said, saw, she, some, soon, their, them, there, time, two, too, up, us, very, water, we, went, where, when, will, would, etc. Is this nuts?’”

A reviewer of Mr. Gatto’s work at reports: “I can vouch for this dumbing down. I have my mother’s 1920s first grade Elson Reader. When I first saw this as a child, I was astounded. First graders were reading THIS? I would place it at about third grade level. When I was in the first grade, we read the Dick and Jane monosyllables.”

The government schools are a vast social engineering project designed to dumb students down, alienate them from their families, teach them that books are boring, shorten their attention spans, get them to shout out their government-propaganda sound bites with increasing scorn, derision, and anger at anyone who disagrees, and finally to respond with arrogant hostility, sarcasm, and ad hominem attacks on anyone who tries to point all this out to them.

9 Comments to “America’s proud heritage: ‘uneducated, illiterate, barefooted, gun-toting hayseeds’?”

  1. Shooterman Says:

    Kudos, Mister Suprynowicz for the article and the slapdown of the detractors. A few years ago, when my oldest grandson was still in high school, I perused his history and civics book and quite frankly was appalled the Bill of Rights had roughly a half page devoted to it. Considering the Bill of Rights is the most astounding work ever devised to protect the freedoms of Americans, and that the author, George Mason, and one of the chief supporters, Patrick Henry would not sign off on the ratification of the Constitution, a compact among states, BTW, without a Bill of Rights, leads me to wonder at the inefficacy of the ‘dumbing down of America’ called the public schools. Again, Sir, kudos, and do not let the liberal nincompoops get to you.

  2. Sue Grue Says:

    Amen and God Bless You. I first taught 8th grade math in 1966 in Michigan and then high school until 2004 in Minnesota. The drop off in ability was incredible. Most of what I taught in Junior High in 1966 (before a Dept. of Education nationally) my high school students in 2004 could not do.
    Social promotion made it unnecessary for students to work hard if inclined not too. Parents changed from trusting teachers to accusing them for all failure and behavior of their child. Calls home were met with comments that they can’t get their child to do assignments. What more could I tell a parent like that? I have a great love of history and politics but was appalled with the ignorance of today’s young History/Social Studies teachers. Without a good knowledge of history, we are condemned to repeat mistakes. They shunned me and refused to enter into discussions since I asked tough questions that revealed their paltry knowledge of history. I didn’t toe the union line so I was marginalized. I actually failed students who could not use the math they were being taught. As a woman, I was insulted to think I needed training to help girls become interested in science/math. What was I? A counterexample?

    Early in the 70’s I had excellent student teachers but toward the 80’s it became apparent that the best and brightest were no longer choosing education. Why should women and minorities choose the horrible societal expectations of parents and the mind numbing positions of the union? They had so many opportunities available to them. Teaching is now full of mediocre teachers and the few really dedicated, SMART people are few and far between IF they can stand staying in the field.

    Administrations are full of people that couldn’t hack it in the classroom and want to make more money. That is truly sad. I had wonderful mentors, administrators who weren’t looking for a new job every 3 years. Now, big city administrators move more often than a free agent.

    As a coda, I spent almost all of my career in inner city Minneapolis, not in the suburbs. I was also unable to persuade my son-in-law to not become a math teacher this year. Check out his blog starting in Sept. ( Don’t worry, he doesn’t have the time to post very often but when he does, it is very insightful.

  3. Cucharon Says:

    I am an engineer who found himself unemployed at the beginning of these economic times. I am now licensed to teach math, science and drafting. I can give some facts about barefooted, gun-toting hayseeds. Have folks read “October Skies” [aka “Rocket Boys”]. My wife and her brothers are from West Virginia, home of hayseeds some suppose. They worked and retired from NASA or are engineering paper plants in Europe.

    But then they did not receive today’s education. Today my students do not know the multiplication tables or how to divide 10/2. Yet they manged to be placed in eighth grade Algebra. I am known for requiring lots of homework and writing. I get done grading [really checking off] their problems at 2200 hours most nights. I enjoy teaching, but need less interference from “new, research based ideas” and more time to prepare and to actually teach.

    I earned a masters degree in education while holding down three jobs. Yet only one of those courses attempted to teach me how to teach. I did learn much about how the communists teach and how we should all collaborate together [wasn’t that what got POWs in Korea in trouble?]

    If the earlier teachers would set high standards in math and science, then I could teach even more and even [God forbid {Sorry, that can’t be said in the classroom}] how to analyze and think out problems; rather than use a cookbook.

  4. a Duoist Says:

    Nationwide, the most dramatic correlation is found between poorest academic performance and highest per-pupil funding. The school districts which spend the most per pupil are the same districts where the student performances are worst.

    But the teacher’s labor unions have a lock on the Democratic Party, so no meaningful reform of education in America will ever be possible. As a result, home-schooling will only continue to grow.

  5. Publius1960 Says:

    Right on Vin! I taught myself from 6th grade on. Became an engineer and raised my sons to not depend on their schools to teach them what they needed to know. One is a Surveyor,one is a Air Traffic Controller and one is studying math at a major university.

  6. Ren Decatur Says:

    Dear Sir: I have been teaching college English for the past quarter-century (actually since 1976, if we consider grad school stipend-funded courses). I have seen the decline in intellect over that span, though, when I taught freshman English at the University of (name withheld to protect the ignorant), most students (80%) couldn’t define a noun. These were students at a major land-grant university in the northwest. I was astounded. I am still astounded at how little students know when they come to college, and I am astounded moreso by how little they expect to have to do in order to complete a college course. I have been incorporating extra reading assignments which include such titles as “The Shadows of Power” (Perloff), “Defensive Racism” (Steele), “Patriots: Surviving the Coming Collapse” (Rawles), “Tornado in a Junkyard” (Perloff), among others, in order to awaken my students to what’s really going on. I also include vocabulary assignments in some classes, although I find that to be rather beneath this level of instruction, yet necessary because the reading/comprehension levels of my students are so pathetically low. I have recommended (to those who listen) that they read Iserbyt’s book, “The Deliberate Dumbing Down of America” so they know what has happened to them, and tell them that they may not be at fault for how little they know, but they are NOW individually responsible for correcting that situation if they expect to succeed as thinkers and movers in their lives.
    Those bimbos who responded negatively to your article are only more evidence of the horrendous state of educational deficiency we face in this nation. Unfortunately, those who need to “face the music” are intellectually incapable of understanding or accepting the truths you present. Thank you from one in the “trenches” who continually strives to introduce critical thinking skills to our youth without lowering his standards.

    Ren Decatur
    North Carolina

  7. MiniMonster Schlüsselanhänger Says:

    Very good post. I definitely love this site. Thanks!

  8. Leslie Fish Says:

    I don’t think the problem is the teachers’ unions (which one? There are at least four, nationwide) but the incredibly bureaucratized and politicized administrations. That’s the story I’ve heard everywhere from former teachers who got out of the public school racket and into other forms of education. In my merrily misspent youth I had three girlfriends who had studied Education and became teachers, all of them dedicated to their craft; 20 years later, only one remained in public school teaching, and she taught kindergarten. Of the other two, one became an Adult Education teacher at community night-school, and the other — if you please — became a karate instructor.

    Why did they quit? In detail, they couldn’t stand the blatant politicking, the massive and useless paperwork, and the constantly changing, and conflicting, instructions they got from the administrators. Their local teachers’ union (I forget which one it was) did not lean on the school administration to keep incompetent teachers in their jobs; it defended highly competent teachers from being fired for ‘political incorrectitude’. As for support from the parents, the teachers couldn’t decide which was worse: the religious fanatics who wanted the schools to teach that Every Last Word in the Bible was literally true, or the illiterate bullies who hollered ‘racism!’ if their kids were given failing grades for not knowing — or bothering to learn — how to spell ‘back’, ‘dog’ or ‘would’. The apathetic and indifferent parents were actually easier to deal with because at least they wouldn’t interfere with their kids actually being taught.

    Yes, the public schools are a massive failure, but aim your blame in the right direction.

  9. minute-man Says:


    I work for a fairly small, rural, NYS school. The -only- work available for anyone over 30 around here –because of the corrupt “Leadership” of the governor & his min-Yons…Over the years I’ve worked in this region as a fill-in instructor in numerous disciplines in “BOCES” the state run trade school as well as a study hall monitor in the school itself, -and through it all, I also serve daily as a fill-in driver for the entire school; meaning I ‘fill-in’ for any driver who takes the day off sick, -or maybe just wants a day off to ‘recuperate’ from yesterday’s run in with a lily white ‘child’, a moron ‘parent’ and an inflexible, post turtle of an administrator…
    “Well,… That’s the way we’ve alwaaaays done it! “

    I have to say that your last paragraph says it ALL:
    “… government schools are a vast social engineering project designed to dumb students down, alienate them from their families, teach them that books are boring, shorten their attention spans, get them to shout out their government-propaganda sound bites with increasing scorn, derision, and anger at anyone who disagrees, and finally to respond with arrogant hostility, sarcasm, and ad hominem attacks on anyone who tries to point all this out to them.”

    You really didn’t need the entire article. THAT alone sums it all up succinctly