We had a series of books from which we used to read when I was in early elementary school at a (private) Montessori place, that were quite interesting. I've forgotten the name of the series, unfortunately. I remember that one story featured a child thief, one involved the idea of government-mandated "handicapping" to dumb-down smart people, and one featured a swear word (I forget which word). They were written by real authors, not committees. They were a little disturbing but obviously our teachers didn't think they would scar us (and they didn't), although I cannot imagine them being used now. They were much more challenging to discuss and MUCH more interesting than the things we had to read when I went back to public school. I'm only 25, so I haven't even been out of elementary school that long.
Frankly, I don't remember ever learning that much in school until I got to college. Most of my education was the result of my parents' interests and encouragement. I went to some really bad schools in really bad neighborhoods and the emphasis was more on holding the chaos at bay and keeping the gangs out than teaching. I can't "blame" anyone in particular for this--I certainly had some incompetent teachers but I also went to school with some thoroghly impossible kids whose parents had neither the educational background nor the interest/energy to support them.
The area I live in now is mostly affluent middle- to upper-middle class, and they are into old-fashioned German discipline and old-fashioned Bible rhetoric. I've been asked why I don't teach (I have a history degree) but, even if I wanted to, I couldn't do it.