The old rule while in a social setting is to avoid the topic of politics, religion and sex. The first two were, are, and always will be gunpowder looking for the spark of someone who has had too much wine. The last one would seem inappropriate as well.
However, with the cultural revolution that this country has endured over the past forty or so years, it would seem not much is left in the ways of imagination when it comes to sexual content. So much so that the taboo has lost much of its virtue.
But nature abhors a vacuum right? What will fill the void and become the next topic that will kill the mood at a dinner party? My guess is education.
You don't really have to be at a high class social function to find this out. Play a round of golf. Go fishing or hunting. Meet some friends for lunch. All the while, bring up the topic of education at some point and you are guaranteed to solicit thoughts and feelings one way or another about it. It gets even better when there is a generational gap amongst those involved!
Everyone generally agrees that education is valuable and should be taken seriously. But this is where the road then tends to fork. I am inclined to think, much like politics and religion, that people just don't know all the ins and outs of how the educational system works. It is because of this that people have the strongest opinions. If we all knew how things worked, then we can state everything as fact and move on to play corn hole in the back yard.
The evolving nature of education has provided just about every generation alive today with different educational experiences. From disciplinary measures, interscholastic athletics, to rigorous testing. Grandparents can't relate to their grandkids in these terms, and many parents are too busy trying to make sure their kid is doing the best they can, that they don't always take the time to reflect on their experiences as a student which could provide valuable insight and perspective for their child. When a child hears their successful parent talk about mistakes they made as kids, it can remove a lot of pressure we all felt as teenagers to be perfect.
One area that is always a stick of dynamite looking for a match, is the cost of public education. When the times were good (see economic progress) I heard many parents and community members express their view that teachers should be paid more. Those were definitely the "good ol days." Talk to people today and ask if teachers are paid enough. Those sentiments are gone with the wind. Read messageboards or online forums and an overwhelming majority will not only say that they are paid enough, but rather they are paid too much. Many comments are also made by taxpayers who don't want higher taxes to pay teachers. Fair argument to a point.
One last observation is that we don't really concern ourselves with other people's education as much as our own. Former college professor now author Ken Robinson, observed that when asked, people will talk days on end about their education. They are very interested in telling you what they know.
Education has become a divisive, economic and philosophic issue in which debaters will argue passionately in ways which they will strive to demonstrate their academic prowess in the process.
Regardless how you feel about it, try bringing up education amongst friends or at a social gathering and see how long the conversation goes for. It is a ship sinking iceberg and needs to be regarded as taboo to talk about. And if someone does bring it up, the next three rounds should be on him, because your night is about to be ruined!