What Copperman maintains, in this self-assured, polemical, and ultimately somewhat irritating book, is that children have been learning less, since the mid 1960s, because they have been taught less. He traces the decline in literacy--a decline which parallels falling SAT scores, etc.--to changes in teaching, and contends that curricular reforms, loosened-up requirements, and shoulder-shrugging teachers are responsible. The president of a private reading institute in California, he makes many cogent observations: that the least competent teachers are often the most aggressive in defending their work, that electronic gadgetry is seriously misused, that American society has saddled school systems with more than educational problems. He's also fiercely dogmatic about his opponents (Silberman's Crisis in the Classroom ""is one of the most damaging pieces of educational writing. . . in the past twenty years"") and strangely shortsighted on solutions. ""I do not believe young people should be given the freedom not to learn,"" he intones, and goes on to outline a recovery program: not only a return to a more demanding academic curriculum (which many school systems have already attempted) but an end to trendy courses--his favorite targets are film, science fiction, feminism, and world revolutions. Authority would be restored to school leaders: principals determine the quality of a school. And advisers would choose--not merely rubber-stamp--each student's program. By discounting or ignoring the social factors which precipitated the upheavals of the Sixties and the real gains such changes allowed, Copperman substantially weakens his case. While his observations about declining literacy are valid and well-documented, his solutions are far too limited to apply on a national scale--but that doesn't mean he won't find a chorus of approvals.