The very notion in America of four years of a post-high school liberal arts education as a default experience for people between 18 and 21 is a post-World War II novelty. It is unclear that it has created a populace significantly better informed or intellectually curious. Consider our rampant voter apathy, the ever dismaying revelations of general ignorance as shown in the recent Pew Forum poll on knowledge about religion, and the fact that many younger people get most of their news from a satiric television show.
Ideally, high school should be a more concentrated experience than it is now, possibly extending through a 13th grade. Its curriculum would inculcate a healthy volume of knowledge, reasoning skills, and aesthetic awareness. Schools like Bard College at Simon’s Rock, immersing students in college-level work after tenth instead of 12th grade, prove year after year that young people can thrive under such conditions (I was one of them). Or – remember the Civil War soldiers’ letters. It was typical then to leave school after eighth grade, and people then had the same mental equipment as we do.