I'm the Executive Director of the ASA, and wanted to throw in my 2 cents regarding some of the issues above.
Certification, and the education and practice that goes with it, can be extremely valuable. It also evidences that you have achieved a given level of proficiency, which is helpful when chartering.
However, learning to sail and PRACTICING should be one's goal. Some people get certified and then don't go sailing. That's not the point. Certification means little if you learn in a week and don't get out on the water for a year or two. That's why diving facilities, for example, don't just ask "Are you PADI or NAUI certified," but "When is the last time you dove?"
ASA and US Sailing standards are nearly identical. Both systems have many excellent schools and instructors, and each system can claim "bragging rights" over the other in certain respects. US Sailing is the official amateur racing body for sailing in the US. ASA has more sailing schools in its network and was the first to introduce keelboat standards to the U.S. But the most important consideration is the quality of the particular school and instructor, not "which system is better."
To send identical and irrelevant postings to many different newsgroups or mailing lists. Usually this posting is something that has nothing to do with the particular topic of a newsgroup or of no real interest to the person on the mailing list. The name comes from a Monty Python song and is considered to be a serious violation of netiquette.
I would definitely recommend instruction, and if you're lucky enough to have BOTH ASA- and US Sailing-affiliated schools nearby, don't complain about it, just pick one. As the previous posted said, the actual instructor and school matter more than it's affiliation IMHO.Other than the fighting posts, I would like to thank all for posting to this as I'm trying to judge between these 2 schools and also the avenue of no school at all, just going sailing.