Tasking public institutions with multiple objectives causes confusion. Take the Federal Reserve, for instance. Politicians treat it as having a dual mandate: to curb both inflation and unemployment. The following passage is from the Federal Reserve website:
As the website admits, the goals of low unemployment and manageable inflation often work at cross purposes. This makes fed policy, at times, if not utterly incoherent, downright cryptic.
Colleges and Universities have a similar problem. Modern culture expects them to serve two purposes which are often in conflict. The first purpose is career training. A bachelor's degree, in modern America, is equivalent to a slip of paper that says "this person is hirable." The 4% unemployment rate among those with a bachelor's degree reflects this fact. The second purpose of college-level education is more in line with the original idea of a University: to cultivate good citizens by exposing them to the humanities.
It is a sad indictment of America's education system that both of these two objectives would be better achieved by two years of mandatory military service than by four years at public University. And, yes, I am including Ivy League universities. The most sophisticated schools in America are now creating a class of graduates who are better trained for safe spaces than a competitive job market and who are more likely to scoff at public virtue than to practice it. If you doubt me, be honest and ask yourself the following question. Who is more likely to act like a gentleman: a recent Yale grad or a fourth-year military recruit?
A similar problem affects America's lower schools, which also serve two purposes. The first is babysitting. Our culture expects both parents to work, so many couples off-load a portion of their parental responsibilities onto primary schools. They leave their children with low-paid government employees who are barely allowed to discipline them. Schools end up addressing behavior problems by recommending medication (sedation?) so often that, in America, 1 in 4 male students will be diagnosed with a mental "disorder."
The second purpose of primary education is preparation for college. Unfortunately, the demands of babysitting misbehaved students and accommodating the "special needs" of struggling students with things like "safe spaces" make the task of education more and more difficult. Luckily for teachers, the standards for college admission are dropping to accommodate the lowest common denominator.
Why do our schools suck? Because our culture sucks. And because we task our public institutions with multiple, conflicting goals.