Part of the reason public schools, and high school in particular, get trashed is that many people who write well and public were smart and went on to far more interesting experiences. This column by Paul Graham is an example. A PhD in computer science from Harvard, author of books, program language designer, and painter gives some pretty good thoughts to high school students, but includes these comments:
When I ask people what they regret most about high school, they nearly all say the same thing: that they wasted so much time. If you're wondering what you're doing now that you'll regret most later, that's probably it.
Right now most of you feel your job in life is to be a promising college applicant. But that means you're designing your life to satisfy a process so mindless that there's a whole industry devoted to subverting it. No wonder you become cynical. The malaise you feel is the same that a producer of reality TV shows or a tobacco industry executive feels. And you don't even get paid a lot.
So what do you do? What you should not do is rebel. That's what I did, and it was a mistake. I didn't realize exactly what was happening to us, but I smelled a major rat. And so I just gave up. Obviously the world sucked, so why bother?
When I discovered that one of our teachers was herself using Cliff's Notes, it seemed par for the course. Surely it meant nothing to get a good grade in such a class.
In retrospect this was stupid. It was like someone getting fouled in a soccer game and saying, hey, you fouled me, that's against the rules, and walking off the field in indignation. Fouls happen. The thing to do when you get fouled is not to lose your cool. Just keep playing.
By putting you in this situation, society has fouled you. Yes, as you suspect, a lot of the stuff you learn in your classes is crap. And yes, as you suspect, the college admissions process is largely a charade. But like many fouls, this one was unintentional.  So just keep playing.
Pretty harsh. But not undeserved. We don't ask most kids in high school to do much that's hard. We let them not even try, then give them opportunities to avoid real consequences. (They didn't do home work during the year and failed? Let's make summer school so easy they can't fail. After all, we wouldn't want them to drop out. Think I'm making this up? Nope. Happened while I was on the MNPS school board. When I suggested to the academic council that we not make summer school available to students unless they had at least done their home work, one teacher looked at me and said, "None of them would fail if they did that.")