I don't have children, but I have seen my nephew and niece grow up. I can at some level appreciate that our hard-working lifestyles demand that we pool our babysitter service in this way -- and that while we're pooling those reserves we might as well have some noble motives like teaching them the patterns that are important in life -- reading, calculating, political rights they do and don't have. I am also at some level afraid of them inheriting some artificial culture of unquestioning authoritarian worship: sit in place, do not question, obey, obey, or else you're in trouble. That's a crucial but underestimated part of the problem of whininess: it's not just that your parents give you everything you ask for which makes you whiny, but it's the fact that you've lived atop this social order, and have been taught that it's proper to be bossy at the top: that that's the way you get what you want when you're an adult in front of a class of children.
When I see these rank-and-file kids and part of my subconscious inadvertently blurts out, "what a shame," I don't know what's better. One great thing I've heard from people who have been to third world countries is, "it was so beautiful, I saw kids assemble a ball out of grasses, and just play." Acquiring new skills, solving problems -- these are just sophisticated abstractions atop "you have to learn how to play." Give them a wood shop, make sure they know how to control the machines so that they don't injure themselves, then give them a goal and problem they've never solved before. Something like that.
Surely there has to be some hybrid here, if we want every child to be able to do mental arithmetic and speak a second language and so forth. But surely there is also something heroic missing from the public schools as they now stand.