One of our genetic predispositions, Michael Strong reminds us, is to be influenced by our peers:
The desire for acceptance, recognition, and respect from our peers and from our society is very powerful.
It is largely futile to try as individuals, or even as families, to form isolated bulwarks against the overwhelming force of pop culture. The fundamentalist Christians realize this, which is why they are so insistent on mobilizing en masse on political issues and why they are eager to home school, send their children to Christian schools, and create a voucher system as a first step in eliminating public schools. (It is also the reason why they have created Christian rock, Christian radio, Christian bookstores, Christian television stations, etc. They realize the importance of mounting a coherent, coordinated cultural campaign against pop culture.) Advocates of new culture, advocates of a more just, kind, and humane world, those who believe in human potential, all need to realize that their goals are also best realized by means of freeing education from government control.
Although a certain percentage of the high school population is working hard in order to get into competitive colleges (perhaps 20-30%), the vast majority of high school students are devoting only a small fraction of their intellectual and moral energies towards learning. For most middle and high school students, school is a social activity, a kind of game in which the goal is to obtain adequate grades while doing as little real learning as possible. The number of hours wasted, the number of dollars wasted, and the sum of human energy wasted, is colossal. No other sector of the economy has as great a potential for improvements in efficiency.
As someone who has brought numerous adult professionals into the classroom, I can say that most professional adults, who themselves worked reasonably hard in school and were reasonably polite (they were almost invariably among the 30% who actually worked in school), are shocked when they first teach contemporary students. The level of apathy and indifference to learning — the disrespect for authority — is astounding. “Beavis and Butthead” is a joke very much based in reality. Anyone who doubts this should substitute teach in a local government high school for a week. Be sure to get a course schedule that includes a few non-honors courses; the view from the high end may be misleading.