Once again this past few weeks, the ongoing education debate in the United States occupied the headlines, bylines and cable news scrolls. NBC launched its second annual "Education Nation Summit", billed as a way "to engage the country in a solutions-focused conversation about the state of education in America".
Meanwhile, President Obama, approaching warp speed on the campaign trail to try to convince us he's actually the transformational guy from 2008 - as opposed to the chary chap we've found running our country since - made a fresh pitch in his weekly radio address for his version of education reform. Obama tied it to the economic future of our country, and discussed waivers to allow states to opt out of provisions of his predecessor's much-maligned legislation, the No Child Left Behind Act.
Of course, the problem is that we're not having an honest conversation about education in the US, because many of the broader trends degrading our overall political culture are also at work with this issue. Although some people really want to improve the system for our children, there are also those who see our schools as a way to bring about their vision of a 21st-century America - which sometimes looks a lot like 1984.
This whole cast of characters will seem familiar - much like that coffee stain you just can't get out of the carpet, or overacting in a Nicolas Cage movie.
First, there is the science-despising Christian Right, who think school is for fairy tales and the teachings of the unimpeachable sources at their weekly snake handling. If their Bible said that gravity didn't exist, it wouldn't. If you walked off a building and fell straight to the pavement a la "The Happening", it would be your fault for a three-martini lunch you had in April of 1996, or for being married as many times as Rush Limbaugh.
Don't fool yourself into thinking these people don't have a lot of influence. If you don't believe me, see "Texas Board of Education" and "textbooks".
So is it any wonder, then, that in December 2010 the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development released a study showing the US ranking 17th in the world in science and 25th in maths?