Has there ever been an age in which middle-aged or elderly men have rejoiced at the rising standard of education among the young? The very idea seems absurd, almost against the nature of things. But just because a lament is an old one (that the standard of education is falling) it does not mean that it is untrue. Not every catastrophe happens that is predicted, but predicted catastrophes do sometimes happen.

The author of this book takes it for granted that American educational standards are low and getting lower. But low by comparison with what? With what they once were? With what they should be? With those of America’s competitors, now mainly Asian? Certainly, his pessimistic assumptions are to be heard in all Western European countries: I have, for example, a whole shelf of books about the decline of the once-vaunted French educational system.

Professor Weissberg is a slaughterer of sacred cows, many of which...