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No joke for Bill Cosby

THE PURSUIT of personal success is a quintessential American quest. But the quest can become a brawl, as Bill Cosby showed recently when he hammered "knuckleheads walking around who don't want to learn English," slamming black people who use slang and seem indifferent to the power and payoff of education.

"I'm talking about these people who cry when their son is standing there in an orange suit," Cosby said at a gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the landmark school desegregation case Brown v. Board of Education.

Cosby was criticized for being insensitive and praised for being honest.

There is an appeal to Cosby's analysis, the idea that destiny can be molded. A pulsing part of the American dream is that education is a ladder to greatness for anyone who climbs it as far as they can.

It's undeniable that students and parents are better off making a deep commitment to education. But commitment isn't enough.

Many students go to school and still suffer because their public schools don't offer enough math classes, have enough textbooks, or hire enough certified teachers. In Massachusetts and other states, schools have lost theater, music, art, and sports -- programs that can keep discouraged students in school.

Weak public school educations limit college opportunities, which can limit job opportunities, which can limit earnings, which can limit home buying, which can cripple a family's ability to build wealth and invest more in the education of the next generation. It's a chain-link of consequences that has been made worse by racism and segregation. And it's a problem the country still struggles to solve.

More than an African-American problem, weak public schools are a problem for even the strongest students who go off to college and discover that their academic best lags far behind the skills of students in better public and private schools.

Education is the answer, but only if it gets everyone's full commitment. 

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