I'm ecstatic.

I'm not happy just because our nation's angry attention is off education - for the time being.No, I'm overjoyed because Washington's ongoing, bitter fiscal struggle provides the perfect metaphor for education reform. Like its academic counterpart, it proves the selfish, undisciplined depths to which we Americans have descended in our response to calls for the national good.

Both public education and the budget were better off decades ago because we Americans, all of us, practiced patriotic self-discipline and self-sacrifice. To paraphrase the late John F. Kennedy, we didn't ask what our schools could do for us, we asked what we could do for our children's education.

Unfortunately, we Americans refuse to make the difficult sacrifices that serious education requires. Education, we reason, is the schools' job. That wasn't always the case, and public education was better because of it.

Too many churches, for instance, have given up on young people, and programs for them have dwindled in number and quality. By contrast, many of us can remember cutting our reading teeth on the King James Bible, the Baltimore Catechism, the papal encyclicals or the Torah. Besides that, our churches and synagogues gave us values, strong and simple, that support us still.

And how did we keep up with current events those decades ago? Certainly not in social studies classes. We weren't simply "dumped off" by parents who expected the schools to do all the educating. On Sundays, right after Dale and Roy Rogers finished warbling "Happy Trails to You," Sister Miriam would switch the channel, and we orphans would watch "Meet the Press." Every weeknight, we watched the "Huntley-Brinkley Report." Compare that with the number of households that watch the national news these days.

Education reform will require that same spirit, that grunt-work mentality, and the same sacrifices as fiscal reform. Families will have to increase academic spending, not necessarily in taxes, but in books, magazines, newspapers, notebook paper, dictionaries and thesauruses. Teenagers will have to save money, not for revved-up cars when they turn 16, but for a computer before they get to college.

Schools will have to cut back the plethora of social programs and admit that they can't - and shouldn't - solve all of America's social problems. Then, too, our academic institutions will have to swallow hard, confess to uncritical thinking and dismantle the Channel One systems and television monitors now so popular. "Educational TV," a contradiction in terms, isn't going to teach Johnnie or Mary how to think, read or write.

Many parents will have to sacrifice that second, often unnecessary, income and actually admit that parenting, a full-time job, is not the responsibility of day-care centers or the schools, however competent.

Whew! Well, there's one education reform package. Will you vote down this one, too?