January 24, 2011

Not What I Wanted

In the past few weeks I have started back to school for the first time in lo these many years. Two of my classes are using old PBS documentaries in class. The age of the material certainly made me wonder why they are using something so old and dated. I don't have a TV so it took some serious thinking on my part to remember that PBS isn't making quality documentaries any more. The Ken Burns series' are ok but what else is there? Every time I hear about a great new educational series it's from the BBC. Don't get me wrong, I like the BBC. I don't want to reject the great work they're doing, but what about shows like Nova? The schools are still using the old programs because they were good but don't students need up-to-date resources, especially in math and science?

What about the Discovery channel and the other cable networks? I don't know? What about them? The last thing of any worth I saw was Walking With Dinosaurs and guess what? It was from the BBC. The most expensive documentary ever produced according to the Guinness Book of World Records. Discovery just had an American replace the voiceovers.All those penguin documentaries? Same story. Where does the BBC get the money for things like that? The British government charges a TV tax for every television subscriber which is used to fund the BBC in all its many forms. It pays for a radio news service that is the most respected news source in many parts of the world. It pays for Dr Who. It pays for Radio 4 playing pop music for teenagers. It pays for a web presence that many Americans rely on for their daily news. And it pays for new science documentaries every year.

And in America PBS is a wishy-washy presence that very few people even use. It's funded primarily by donations and trusts from private individuals. The approximately 10% of its budget that comes from the federal government is constantly under threat and even now is on the chopping block. This is so similar to the American attitude toward education in general that it bears mentioning. Almost every school district in the country has had cuts this year. No one wants to pay. Everyone wants the system to work for free. The results of this attitude are evident in the fact that the US is far down the list of Best Educated Nations even though we spend more than other countries. Just like our health care. Yet we are so convinced that we're the best nation on Earth that we're incapable of taking any lessons from anyone else.

We're all gonna get what we deserve.