A guide is essential for children, especially, but I have found that as an adult my education has been mostly about paying for credit, and those credits were necessary to satisfy the state in order to obtain licenses to earn a living in my chosen field. I have learned precious little in grad school that I could not have learned by reading books on my own. In fact, my independent reading has proven more valuable. Grad school introduced me to key writers and thinkers, but the classes served more as a springboard than an end in themselves.
And yes, schools kill creativity for many. NCLB has made this worse for all but those in the middle of the pack. The gifted tend to be bored with curriculum designed to help them master basic skills they already know, and struggling students are forced to take extra "intervention" classes to push them to proficiency in reading and math, thus denying them electives wherein they would likely discover their nonacademic talents and thrive.
No Child Left Behind has been dubbed No Child Left Ahead by the gifted/talented crowd while pre-vocational programs for those who would truly benefit from them have all but disappeared.
I, for one, am thankful I had the opportunity to take wood and metal shop classes in junior high. These have proven invaluable as a homeowner, especially because I rarely saw my father and when I did he sure wasn't wearing a tool belt.
Now, since schools are fast-tracking some to prison while serving as mind-numbing justification for drug abuse for others, the question remains, what to do? Gardner was on the right track, I think, but systemic change must and will and is happening whether we like it or not. I'm skeptical of the current trends because too many of the reforms are grounded in the factory model that has dominated education for over 100 years. Standards, though logical on the surface, are exacerbating the problem by making schools more like basic skills assembly lines. We need education for the 21st, not the 19th, century.