Dan, appreciate your post & I generally agree with your thoughts.
However, regarding the thought that smart individuals should be "able to absorb and digest all the possible opportunities, costs, roadblocks, rewards, and emotional roller coaster rides that accompany each and every potential choice". . .
I believe that the reason some intelligent young people *don't* pursue ivy league educations, high-end internships, travel abroad or certain employment opportunities is simply because it never occurs to them as a possibility. They can't navigate what they don't envision for themselves, regardless of innate intelligence.
A few key factors can dramatically impact a student's future: - early exposure to opportunities and ideas- a cheerleader who believes in that student's potential- a mentor to help navigate chosen pathways
All of these things can happen regardless of the student's socio-economic situation, school situation, etc. But it takes effort and dedication from that student's community (teachers, family, neighbors, non-profit orgs, mentorship programs, guidance counselors, others). Sure, these people might have their own reasons for influencing a student's direction, but if that student is presented with enough choices he/she will be empowered to make a good choice.
If a student does choose -- for financial or other reasons -- vocational school or community college, that doesn't mean s/he can't be exposed to the kind of "renaissance education" that helps foster innovation and critical thinking. The key is to include humanities disciplines in *all* educational settings and create support networks for students that encourage and guide them to pursue areas that spark interest.
If working class students have one disadvantage it's that they're not always made aware of opportunities that exist. Better marketing of innovative educational models and targeted mentoring programs could help shift that equation.