There's a lot of buzz about education this week most of it coinciding with a new documentary that explores the failures of the American public education system. But as a classic cynic, I also suspect the education discussion is a well-timed diversion from the economy - just prior to the November elections.
Regardless of the motive, there is ample reason to discuss education in America and our slide from education excellence as measured against other nations. The new documentary "Waiting For Superman" has created a stir primarily because it calls into account the teachers' unions for resisting changes in education reform while protecting their union membership.
President Obama - who depends on union donations for his political survival - even weighed in on the teachers' unions by saying they too must be accountable if reform is to occur. Those words from this President are both shocking and appropriate.
The Obama administration has touted their Race to the Top initiative for education with mixed results in the early going. That program most certainly cannot match the No Child Left Behind program for ineptitude.
The administration points to nearly 2,000 school districts in this country that have a graduation rate less than 50 percent. If you want to find common ground in these districts, two starting points are obvious - they are concentrated in urban areas and they are represented by teachers' unions. There are other commonalities but these two factors are predominate.
In discussing education this week the President also said the words that have been missing from the discussion for far too long. In a ginger fashion to be sure, the President said that parents hold the leading role in student achievement. These words are long overdue.
And yet we tip-toe around the issue of parental involvement. To speak strongly to that topic we would have to jump into the issue of personal responsibility. That would clearly run counter to the concept of the Clintons that it takes a village to raise a child.
I have always held a clear point of view on the topic of excellence in education. Having repeated this mantra so often, I fear repetition.
But here goes.
All of the funding, all of the union reform, all of the teacher evaluation will do little if there is no re-enforcement of education within the home. Curiosity and a thirst for knowledge start at the dinner table. We don't need education reform as badly as we need parental reform. Until parents - often a single mother - accept the responsibility to embrace education for their child, all of the other discussion is just hot air.
That doesn't mean additional reforms are unneeded. It just means that substantial progress will always be lacking until parents recognize and accept their role in the process.