There’s a huge amount packed into this story. Just consider how economical the opening paragraph is (written in 1958):
Mr. Edel taught six English classes that year at Richard M. Nixon High School, and the classes averaged 75 pupils each. That was 450 boys and girls, but Mr. Edel still tried to have the names down cold by at least the third week of the semester. As English 308 stormed into his room he was aware that he was not succeeding, and that next year he would even stop trying, for in 1978 the classes would average 82 pupils instead of 75.
Setting, character and tone in a few lines, and the rest of the story’s just as dense. There’s Mr. Edel, accepting of the status quo and trying to survive in it; Dr. Fuqua, a fellow teacher who decides he’s has enough of everyone lying on their psychometric tests and tells the truth; and Foster, an ambitious student who’s technically excellent but Mr. Edel finds he keeps subconsciously marking him down. And within all this are more themes, like the nature and purpose of Shakespeare being taught, and hints of the general population degenerated into solely the mainstream. And the ending delivers a powerful punch.
Theory of Rocketry by C.M. Kornbluth
Availability: Print only
Word count: 4,100
Awards: Hugo award nominee
First published: F&SF Magazine, July 1958
Where to find it: His Share of Glory (the complete short stories of C.M. Kornbluth), 1997, NESFA Press
Eight Worlds of C.M. Kornbluth, 2010, Wildside Press