Washington Post columnist Robert J. Samuelson is no left-winger, and is not pro-teacher union. Which is why this column is so important.
While liberals, who formerly could be counted on to support public education, are indulging in an orgy of school bashing (witness documentaries like "Waiting for Superman" and "The Lottery"), Samuelson points out that schools alone can't be blamed or lauded for a society's flaws and successes.
"(E)conomic competitiveness depends on more than good schools, which are important but not decisive," he writes. "To take an obvious example: The Japanese have high test scores, but Japan's economy languishes."
Samuelson then goes all heretical, confounding the conventional wisdom by stating that our public schools are better than they are perceived to be. And he backs it up with research.
"American schools are better than they're commonly portrayed," writes Samuelson. "We now have a massive study of the reading abilities of 15-year-olds (roughly 10th-graders) in 65 systems worldwide showing that U.S. schools compare favorably with their foreign counterparts.
"U.S. schools do about as well as the best systems elsewhere in educating similar students," he concludes.
Not that our schools can't be improved, or that we too often fail those who would best profit by a good education. But Samuelson's column is a bracing reminder that we in public education cannot be blamed for all of society's ills, nor can we be expected to correct all of them.