"The curricular activities are designed to make students feel like failures." Clayton Christensen
When Christensen talks about designing things as an interesting activity for students, I think it’s pretty clear that this is a real world application of mathematics. This problem he talks about, where students have to first learn a bunch of mathematics before doing anything really interesting or powerful with it, is not just confined to the United States. It’s a problem here in Canada too. I’m sure it’s a problem all over the world.
We can design curriculum so that students get to work on really interesting problems. In fact, it’s been done.
(I recommend checking out a series of textbooks published by the Consortium for Mathematics and Its Applications. I’ve looked through the books, and while they won’t replace a good teacher searching for resources, they are a terrific way to start with real problems and look at solving those problems using mathematics.)