Your collectivist and elitist thinking (providing "the right" guidance to the working class; "instilling self-confidence" (promoting "self-esteem" is big in California!) is part of the problem. The lesson of Eric Hoffer is his autonomy. He read books. He reflected upon what he read. He, truly, was self-educated. Here is how you respond to the students' "individual needs": Teach the kids to read and write and show them the public library.
I agree that every student should learn the basics...how to read and write and do arithmetic. I agree that promoting self esteem is a double edged sword...and the way it is done now certainly has had some negative effects. But I think that is because they are doing it wrong. What they are doing wrong exactly is they are teaching kids exactly alike and telling them they are good at everything!
1. By high school kids know what they have an aptitude for....they are should be able to choose the subjects best suited to their career needs.
2.Pay a decent living wage to all employed. If someone works, they should be able to afford, food and shelter, insurance, etc.
I agree that Eric Hoffer was 'self-educated', but he was lucky to be interested in books and reading. What about the student who is not? What do they become? A drain on society? Perhaps they are not equipped to be a writer....they might be equipped to be a longshoreman....or a waitress...or something else. What I am saying is there is no crime in working.
I am not saying raise their self esteem by lying to them and saying..."you would be a great mathematician if you only applied yourself!" The student knows this is not going to happen. And it belittles his own area of expertise!
Both my sons attended Magnet schools here which are very successful....one went to a school for advanced technology and the other started out at a school for culinary...but then changed after the first semester because he hated it...he also ended up at the school for advanced technology.
I believe that by going to schools that specialized in a particular field of study helped them in the lesson of autonomy. It builds real self esteem instead of the 'fake' esteem that you mention.