At his blog, Kevin relays the tale of the 31-year-old who did not know who Adolf Hitler was.
I once worked with a young woman who was outgoing, fairly bright, had enrolled in the local VooTee's nursing program, and did not know that snakes were vertebrates. Or that stars were other suns like ours.
She was not stupid by any means, and yet had somehow managed to slide through twelve years of basic education without anyone really ever engaging her desire to learn. Now she was in college and trying gamely, but had an uphill fight ahead of her.
It's often been joked that you can ascertain someone's politics by asking them how they feel about prayer in public schools. If they say "I'm against it!" you have a liberal; if they say "I'm in favor of it!" you have a conservative; and if they say "Public schools?!?" you have a libertarian. We're spending a ton of money on each kid for twelve years and all too frequently winding up with bupkis. We might as well just close the schools and buy them all new Jaguars instead. They'd still be illiterate, but at least they'd have nice cars to show for all the cash we set on fire.
I don't pretend to know what the answer is, but what we're doing now isn't it.