So much to respond to. I hope you all will forgive me if I write something that borders on the ... precipitous.
Part of the problem that I think cannot be overestimated is that the educational enterprise has changed radically. The business of education - to parse a quote - is business (not education).
Until December last, I was teaching Composition at a community college (2-yr. post-secondary) as an adjunct. On the surface, it seems a relatively cushy post: teach anywhere from 2-5 courses per term, design your own course and choose your own materials, escape much of the departmental politics that full-timers must endure.
The fact of the matter was, I had no office space (not even a desk), no support save what I could wrangle out of various departments (I browbeat the IT people into granting me a directory on the server to maintain web pages for my classes), and you are the red-headed stepchild (interesting apellation, that) of the entire college. Your pay on an hourly (class hours) basis appears good, but it doesn't account for the fact that you're working 50-60 hrs/wk for no benefits, and have no collective bargaining rights. It is, in short, a lousy, discouraging, and occasionally even a hateful, gig.
You are subject to intense administrative scrutiny in the event of any student complaint - and here I'm speaking not of complaints of impropriety of any kind, but of things such as "He assigns too much writing." and "I don't understand why I got a B in this class - I've always gotten As in English!" Not only has the bar been lowered, but the current "Customer Service" orientation of colleges and universities in the US puts faculty on the run, and discourages anything other than efficient, corporate, and altogether un-inspired, un-inventive, and un-believably irresponsible behavior on the part of anyone who dares step into the classroom.
Unfortunately, I went from someone who loved teaching the craft of writing, the subtle ebb and flow of critical thinking, purposeful and principled argumentation, and the joy of looking at old topics in new ways, to someone who has left teaching - quite possibly for "good".
We can point fingers at the media, at parents who don't read to their kids, at the overabundance of stimuli, and the ill-trained state of our educators at whatever level - all of which play some part - but we need to understand that much of what is the basic mission of our educational institutions at all levels is profoundly, heart-rendingly broken.
What, I wonder, other than the grand hypocrisy and roaring moral cowardice that withdrawing support for our public schools is, can we do? [The preceding is the most involuted sentence in the history of the language, and for that I apologize.]