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Riley's Rulebook

GETTING parents involved with their children's education hardly counts as a radical idea. Generations of mothers and fathers have regarded that involvement as a basic part of child-rearing. But as family structures and work patterns have changed in profound ways, so have the links between children and adults.

As a consequence, Secretary of Education Richard Riley, looking for ways to strengthen schools, has found it necessary to deliver an impassioned reminder to Americans. Adults, he says, must take a much greater interest in young people's education.

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In his first State of Education Address at Georgetown University last week, Mr. Riley launched a movement he calls the ``family involvement campaign.'' He said, ``We seem, as a nation, to be drifting toward a new concept of childhood which says that a child can be brought into this world and allowed to fend for himself or herself.'' He warned of ``a disconnection so pervasive between adult America and child America that we are all losing touch with one another.''

That disconnection has many causes. The growing ranks of two-career families and single-parent homes mean that many parents have less time with children. Even busing students out of neighborhood school districts makes it difficult for some parents to be involved with schools.

To his credit, Riley goes beyond generalities to offer specific suggestions for parents - suggestions he will incorporate into a book called ``Riley's Rules'' to be published this spring. Among them: Schedule regular homework time. Use television wisely. Read with children. Keep in touch with schools. Talk to teenagers. Offer praise and encouragement.

Furthermore, Riley understands that parents cannot do their job alone. His appeal extends to grandparents, aunts, uncles, and stepparents. He also wants businesses, churches, and community groups to play a greater role in helping families. Employers in particular can do much by allowing flexible work schedules.

None of this is new, of course. Simply creating another ``movement'' and launching another ``campaign,'' however well-intentioned, will not strengthen schools or families. But Riley is right when he speaks of the ``moral urgency'' that underlies families' need to reconnect, not just for the sake of schools but for the sake of families themselves. The test now will be to translate his call to action into workable solutions.

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