Americans seem to suffer from an educational dichotomy. They support the ambitious educational goals espoused by President Bush and the country's governors but don't appear to really believe the goals are achievable.

The 1991 Gallup/Phi Delta Kappa poll on education shows considerable skepticism, raising the question of how successful the push for school restructuring is going to be.Maybe those who responded to the poll are tacitly exposing an underlying reality that nobody wants to verbalize - we want something better in the United States, and we hope for something better - but we aren't quite sure we want to make the commitments that improvement would require.

It would require more than a financial commitment. It would demand that the country's adults create an environment more supportive of education.

The old saying that "where there's a will there's a way" is still valid, I believe. But if there is a lack of belief, the country isn't likely to generate the will to find the way to improve education.

The poll itself held a sizable clue to the dichotomy. It was consistent with others taken in recent years in indicating that the public perceives drug use, lack of discipline and lack of adequate funding as the three top problems confronting America's schools.

In other words, it isn't the teaching/

learning process per se that stands in the way of excellence, but general societal problems that stand in the way of the process.

Removing those impediments to excellence means curing deeply entrenched modern American social flaws.

No amount of tinkering with curricula and methodology and school structure is likely to make a significant change if the underlying problems can't be addressed.

The adults who responded to the poll recognized the problems in their children, but I wonder if they (and all of us American adults) recognize the ultimate source of the attitudes that create the problems.

We created the world in which our children live. The lack of discipline we decry in our students reflects a lack of discipline in our homes and in society in general.

Drug abuse certainly isn't confined to adolescents. And sometimes young people turn to drugs to fill a void the adults in their lives have left unfilled.

If education is underfunded, it's the adult policymakers and taxpayers who have made the decisions that leave schools short-changed.

In the poll, the majority of respondents say they favor a school year of 210 days.

Increasing concern that American students don't compete well with those from countries that already have longer school years is leading to the logical conclusion that our children, too, need to spend more time in school.

That costs. In Utah, the per-day cost of education is approximately $6 million. Adding 30 days to the state's current 180-day school year would require taxpayers to dig deeper to the tune of about $180 million.

Smarter use of resources and teaching staffs could trim a bit from that figure, but the reality is that we'd have to pay more to get more.

Our children are, for better or for worse, little pawns that we adults push around the educational chessboard.

If we want better results from them, we (and I speak for myself first of all) must become better parents, grandparents, social supporters, leaders and role models for those who follow.