Absolutely our basic interests are the same. Our perceptions are different.
I only have my own experience to draw on, but government schools absolutely failed in my case. I was in constant trouble for not participating in the curriculum when the curriculum was not challenging. I was getting unsatisfactories in reading because I couldn't be bothered to answer reading comprehension crap about Fun with Dick and Jane since that would interfere with my own reading of far more advanced books that I brought from home. Today I'd be medicated until I wasn't a burden or challenge to the teacher. By the time I got to seventh grade, I was failing multiple subjects each year since I wouldn't let the hoop jumping disrupt my own search for knowledge. I actually had to repeat my ninth grade year, which I made up for by quitting high school after my Junior year (U of D didn't ask if I had graduated, and I didn't tell them). Of course, I didn't make it through college for similar reasons; no one but me knows what I need to know but me, and rules fostering so-called length and breadth knowledge do little but allow more money to be made and more indoctrination to occur (while the pursuit of a 'well-rounded' education is admirable, I think I've done a fine job of picking up what I need to know and more).
I was branded an underachiever at a very early age due to the idiotic insistence that I hoop-jump. This branding has affected my self-image ever since. Today, I can look at my various employments (secondary caregiver to a pack of wolves, architect at Red Menace providing technical leadership and mentoring to dozens of people with advanced degrees in multiple countries, primary IT consultant to a factory, Vermont’s fastest growing business, responsible for keeping all of their technology running on a daily basis so that they can produce and ship product), my volunteer work (firefighter, EMT in three towns, assistant coordinator of one squad responsible for all aspects of the squad to the state board of health and district medical board, wilderness search and rescue technician, PFF senior staff), and my extra-curricular crap (pilot's license, healthy knowledge of history) and I still end up thinking I'm a fricking idiot that hasn't done a darned thing with his life half the time. I lay the blame for this damage squarely at the feet of the government schools who adopted a scorched-earth policy with my psyche after they couldn't hammer my square-peg self into their round hole.
I made up my mind early that I would not inflict similar experiences on my kids.
In rabidkitten's case, she had similar problems, especially with teachers taking issue with her informed disagreement with politically-correct propaganda disguised as truth.
So, I would find it hard to say that the best place for any child is in a one-size-fits-all environment; I think the best thing to do with a child is to remove the fetters that bind them to a learning pace calculated to cater to the least common denominator.
As to whether the government schools contribute to decay of society and inhibit individual growth, I really can't say, except, as noted before, in my own case. Other than my aforementioned vow to not put my kids into the same environment that stunted my growth, I can't say what effect it has on others. I haven't read the books on the subject that rabidkitten has or reviewed the rest of the research she has done, so I can't say if I agree with her results. I do know that rabidkitten does know how to research and follows her research where it leads, regardless of whether it supports her initial assumptions or disproves them, so when she tells me something, I tend to believe her. When I don't, I look at her research and then I do my own research in addition, the same way I approach any other idea that I disagree with.
Certainly the government schools provide for the education of children whose parents do not care to provide instruction; that is undeniable. Is the quality of education better today than it was in 1850? Can't say, either. Going with your earlier suggestion that many kids worked in the fields, if that were the case, certainly those kids or any kids working with a skill or as an apprentice would have a better understanding of math and spoken and written English than do many of the kids being sent through the system today without the benefit of involved parents. Please note here that I know you are an involved parent. For the kids without parents who will coach them and show them support, early employment in the form of apprenticeship would probably be way better than government schooling. That's my own uninformed two cents on the subject, though, and certainly not any belief I've developed through my own research.