There are four sins of public education: equalitarianism, technicalism, progressivism, and egotism.
...We have long been tending to reduce our educational problem to the lowest common denominator. In our anxiety to make equal those whom God created unequal, we have been as industrious, although not as successful, as was Colonel Colt. ...It does no harm for a teacher to lecture in a tone somewhat lofty for his average pupil; the dull student gains something, the average student is stirred to curiosity, and the intelligent student is pleased. This soldier never learned anything from men who came down to his level; admiration of knowledge, followed by emulation, is more effective. We talk of education for leadership; but actually we educate for mediocrity.
Here he quotes Harry Hopkins, a big-shot in the FDR Administration:
....Conant and other [college] presidents view with raptures the munificent federal grants-in-aid proposed for ex-soldiers who may wish to attend college after Armageddon; Alexander Meikeljohn writes in the New Republic: “The federal government should bargain with existing colleges for the education of young women and men in time of peace just as it is now bargaining for the education of soldiers in time of war.” The American worship of the great idol Panacea is displayed here. Is there virtue in federal money to reform a system of education? Will not academic competition for public favor be supplanted only by competition for federal favor? What reason have we to suppose that the machine of state at Washington will have as much sympathy with liberal learning as have the regents of a state university or the directors of a private college?
You will recognize a foreshadowing of Solzhenitsyn here:
...In this war, fought in the name of liberalism, very few think of liberalism of knowledge. We need an Epictetus to remind us that freedom of the mind is more important than freedom of the body. If our thoughts are not liberal, we shall not know how to rule, once we find ourselves masters of the world's destiny. More important still, we shall find the taste of victory bitter, for the emptiness of our minds will be the more unendurable, once the hot excitement of battle has passed. The time has passed when we were compelled to fight for our bread. Now, when, at last, we have the leisure and the wealth and the power to spread truth and knowledge, we arc in danger of turning to Mammon rather than to Minerva....
Over the years, I've had a number of 'teaching' experiences in grade- and high-schools, and in the arena of adult education (loosely speaking.)
(I suppose that those experiences were really as an adjunct, for they were in specialized areas.)
I am empathetic with Kirk; his angst is well-placed. Students of all ages, parents, and other faculty politely but firmly resisted and/or quietly ignored pursuit of excellence (with some exceptions, of course); insistence on knowledge of the fundamentals and of growth in literary/artistic pursuit is, frankly, regarded as a strange obsession, or, perhaps, as merely 'kinky.'
We see and marvel at the greatness of coach Vince Lombardi, who was, after all, a teacher; we do not understand why he was great. He insisted on fundamentals and the pursuit of excellence based on those fundamentals, folks. There's nothing more to it than that.
Lots more at the link, worth the time.