It is not only the fortunes of men which are equal in America; even their requirements partake in some degree of the same uniformity. I do not believe that there is a country in the world where, in proportion to the population, there are so few uninstructed and at the same time so few learned individuals. Primary instruction is within the reach of everybody; superior instruction is scarcely to be obtained by any. This is not surprising; it is in fact the necessary consequence of what we have advanced above. Almost all the Americans are in easy circumstances, and can therefore obtain the first elements of human knowledge.
~ Alexis de Tocqueville, Democracy in America, Chapter 3, The Social Condition of the Anglo-Americans
(This entire chapter is worth reading. To put this in perspective, remember that De Tocqueville wrote this in 1831 before Horace Mann began the destruction of education in the private sector starting in Massachusetts... see Sheldon Richman, "Separating School and State.")