I hate lumping "trophies for all" with the other things that fill the void for the kids. There are good reasons to give awards to kids for participating in things, even if they don't win. Sportsmanship awards, "most improved" awards-these are things that can encourage a kid who struggles with a challenge to persevere and not give up too soon.
But I do agree that the general dumbing down of our society, both the general culture and many of the schools, is leading to serious problems for the current generation of youth. My SIL was told me over X-mas that their oldest child, who attends a college-prep type school within a large city school district, does not read novels (or poetry/ plays) in her English classes. Instead of reading Dickens, Hemingway, Shakespeare and the works of the Lake poets, they are reading manuals of various types. The math and science classes she takes are beyond any I took in school, but we read major novels in my high school lit classes, and in my AP class my senior year, we read both volumes of the Norton anthology of British literature (it included the unabridged Cantebury Tales, A Midsummer Night's Dream, and Henry V), and a similar one volume book of American literature. We also spent two weeks on Death of A Salesman and had to do oral presentations on a novel we chose from a list (I chose Tess of The D'Ubervilles).
The American lit part also included memorizing the Gettysburg Address, reading the essays of James Baldwin and listening to recorded speeches by JFK and MLK. All of the reading assignments had written assignments connected to them, whether a short essay or a long paper. This was in a public high school in 1978-82.
One of my college friends, who should have been kicked out of school at various times for her academic problems (but never was because she is black), was amazed when I told her if I was a high school lit teacher I'd assign the kids to 1. read Hamlet, 2. watch two different movies versions of the play, and 3. compare and contrast the movies to the script in a paper, noting things the director deleted or moved around. She thought that was expecting too much of high school students. I told her that's the problem, nobody expects anything from high school students anymore.