Friday, March 16, 2007

Chutzpah from Europe

Sometimes it just feels as if there is something about the end of the week that encourages the chutzpah to come "from the voodverk out" (as the great Reginald Brentnor's Papa Schimmelhorn put it). This week the "voodverk" seems to be in Europe, which would have been more of a surprise had it not been for yesterday's Reuters report about the growing pains of the European Union. The real surprise was that I got this news from CNET, rather than any of my European feeds (or, for that matter, Al Jazeera). This is one of those good-news-bad-news stories, where, as might be expected, the chutzpah resides in the bad news.

The good news is that the BBC decided to commit $289 million to develop a Web site, called BBC Jam, providing free educational content to children between the ages of five and sixteen. That is about as ambitious as it is admirable, but it is also part of the charter of the BBC Trust. It is operated by a staff of 200 and has 170,000 registered users.

This is the sort of endeavor that you want to hold up by the ears and show off to American media as an example of doing things right, were it not for the bad news side of the story. The bad news is that the European Commission has approached the BBC with "a number of complaints alleging that the publicly funded BBC Jam … damages the interests of the commercial sector." Toto, I guess we're in Kansas after all; and there's the European Commission taking over our farm! A time when there is so much concern about getting quality education anywhere and by any means is not a time for "the commercial sector" to step in and dictate how things should be done. We have enough trouble with this sort of problem in the United States for the European Commission to allow it to muck up serious efforts to provide educational content. So, if Paul Taylor was right yesterday when he wrote that "the European Union still isn't sure what it wants to be when it grows up," does this mean that they are now turning to the United States as a role model?

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