Glenn Beck’s Educational Utopia

“A place of real learning.”

What will life be like when Glenn Beck is finally made Emperor of the Universe?  More interesting for ILYBYGTH, what will education be like?

Beck recently outlined his vision of paradise.  As usual with Beck, the plan is short on details but expansive in its claims.  In short, it seems Glenn Beck’s perfect educational system would have three important components:

1.) apprenticeships;

2.) homeschooling;

3.) intellectual inoculation.

Image source: The Blaze

Image source: The Blaze

Beck described his vision of utopia in his plans for a new theme park, Independence, USA.  Like Walt Disney’s early visions, Beck wants a new kind of park, one that embodies Beck’s vision of proper American culture and society.

Parts of that vision include a radical de-schooling.  As Beck promoted it, this park would include a chance for students to learn by doing.  He asks (video 1—3:25),

“Does everybody have to go to an Ivy League university?  Or can we teach craft, can we teach business, can we teach things?  Are there people willing to teach through apprenticeships? . . . If it’s not possible, then America’s golden streets are dead.”

More profoundly, Beck insists, “Schools are a thing of the past the way we’ve designed them.”  For those who would live inside the boundaries of Beck’s Potemkin, children would learn in “neighborhood” clusters.  Children would be freed from the artificial constraints of institutional education, freed to learn by downloading content directly from the archives in Independence USA.

For those who insist on attending traditional schools, maybe even Ivy League colleges, Beck promises a handy inoculant.  Families should bring their college-age children to Independence for a week of authentic education.  Young people as well as old could receive a thorough training in Beck’s vision of American history and culture.  Such a week, Beck insists, will protect young people exposed to the lies and distortions in mainstream higher education.  Working with David Barton, Beck will teach young people, presumably, that the United States was created as an explicitly Christian nation, and that such Christian principles ought to remain at the center of American public life.  As Beck puts it (video 2—9:11),

“Before you send your kids to college, you come with us.  And you come here.  You spend a week.  You have a kid that’s going into college, you spend a week with us.  We’re going to tell them exactly, we will show them the truth, we will tell that what they’re going to try to do.  And we will deprogram them.  Every summer if you care.”

One is tempted to ask if any of this makes sense, as several commenters have done (see here and here for examples).  In this video, he offers only the vaguest sketches of his utopia, several aspects of which sound at best contradictory and at worst totalitarian.  More intriguing is the combination Beck demonstrates of a fairly radical anti-institutionalism with a keen, combative patriotism.  Beck combines an aggressive distrust of some of the central institutions of American life with an in-your-face defense of the American way of life.  Schools and colleges can’t be trusted, Beck insists, yet American traditions and culture are the strongest in the history of the world.  Young people need to be freed and protected from mainstream education, yet the theme-park plans—if they are to succeed at all—must appeal to large numbers of presumably mainstream folk.

For students of conservative education thinking in the United States, Beck’s paradoxes offer a unique window into the complex attitudes toward education among many American conservatives.  Beck, of course, is enough of an odd duck that his nostrums must not be taken as representative.  Yet he is popular enough that we can assume his fantasies resonate with at least a large number of his followers.

School, in this vision, has become something intellectually dangerous.  Young people, at the very least, need an intense counter-training, an intellectual inoculation against the false notions peddled in colleges.  If possible, in this plan, children should be freed from the outmoded walls of brick-and-mortar schools entirely.  Such institutions, Beck implies, have outlasted their usefulness.  Schools, Beck argues, have become the problem, not the solution.  Yet unlike the unschoolers of the cultural left, such as Ivan Illich, Paul Goodman, or John Holt, Beck’s deschooling promises a return to his vision of authentic American values of hard work, thrift, patriotism and religion.

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2 Comments

  1. kdillmanjones

     /  January 25, 2013

    How very interesting, that a.) Beck still believes in his imagined, utopian America that we need to return to and b.) that non-schooling families (like unschoolers) are now forced to clarify that we are not part of this conservative resistance to the imagined threat of socialism. (See Forbes this week.) Thanks for sharing this and drawing a line between Illichean critique and Beckean circus-shows.

    Reply
    • @ kdillmanjones: Thanks for the Forbes article reference. For those who want to take a look, you can find the article here. I don’t usually read Forbes, but that seems like a rather extreme position for the magazine to include. If you haven’t seen it yet, Milton Gaither published a great article recently in History of Education Quarterly about the libertarian tradition in educational history. It’s subscription-only, I’m afraid, but the good Professor Gaither also has an open-access blog that explores many of the same issues.

      Reply

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