Glenn Beck illuminates education problems

Posted on October 15, 2010 by


As I was reading various news releases about recent debates, I stumbled across a Glenn Beck video called “Bad Education”. I just finished my teaching degree this past May, and so issues focusing on education attract my attention. I decided to watch the video

(I forgive you for not watching the whole thing, Beck is hard to sit through for 20 minutes). What I found is that Beck’s 20 minute rant is a microcosm for how little Americans actually know about their public school system, and why ballot issues like amendment 60 in Colorado will destroy an already struggling system.

Public Schools and Progressives

Glenn Beck uses the word Progressive like it’s a dirty word. But he gets called out for using “progressive” resources like the library. I’m sure he also went to public school, another byproduct of the evil progressive movement. The Progressive movement made public schools, before there were mainly parochial schools and private tutors. These forms of education inherently privilege the upper class because they are the only ones who can afford it. The progressive movement made education a right of the people and a basic tenet of democracy. Without an educated populous, how can people be expected to understand their country’s history, and thus where it should go in the future.

Beck alludes to how great things were in 1910, about the time the progressive movement started to gain traction, possibly trying to make a point that times would be better if we went back to 1910. Does he know that only 17.8% of students who were of age to being in high school (14-17) were in school? That number is at 94% in 2000, and probably lingers around that today. I doubt that he would have been included in that 18%.

Other fundamental misunderstandings

Glenn Beck likes to talk about the federal government and how awful they are, a lot. The problem is that he tries to apply this to schools. Granted the federal government has become a lot more involved in schools in the past 30-40 years, with arguably the largest federal government action being No Child Left Behind under the Bush administration. Before that it was the school meals program, started in 1946 and extended to breakfast in 1966, which Beck attacks in this video.

President Harry S. Truman began the national school lunch program in 1946 as a measure of national security. He did so after reading a study that revealed many young men had been rejected from the World War II draft due to medical conditions caused by childhood malnutrition.

The program was extended to breakfast because a child who has not eaten breakfast cannot concentrate in the classroom. These programs typically support lower income students because their parents can’t afford to feed them breakfast, or have a job that doesn’t allow them to be home in the mornings to feed their children. Beck attacks the programs because recent childhood obesity statistics have caused many school districts to crack down on what is being served in their cafeterias. There is a direct relationship between poverty and obesity, so it would seem that targeting the free and reduced lunch programs for healthy overhaul makes sense.

Beck also attacks the federal government for these recent crackdowns, but the federal government has very little control over the day to day activities of schools. Schools have always been run by state governments, and in Colorado, individual school districts have much more power over their choices then any state governing body. Each school district makes their own choices about what food to serve in their cafeterias. Even the vending machine law in Colorado only states that 50% of choices available in vending machines have to meet certain nutritional guidelines, though many school districts have gotten rid of all pop vending machines (except for the secret one in the teachers lounge). So school districts are acting individually, this isn’t some evil mandate coming down from the feds, its school districts doing what they have always said they would do, promoting the best interest of the child.

Beck also goes on a rant about a charter school in Arizona that will only let students eat non-processed foods. Somehow, Beck has made it seem like students must have been forced to go to this school and therefore are being tortured into eating only healthy natural foods. The whole point of a charter school is that it gives parents a choice on where to send their students. Charter schools are funded by the public school system in that area, but they are not held to the same rules as what we think of as regular public schools. It is likely that the food rules were a part of the school’s charter (because when charter schools apply, they have to include a description of every little detail) and many parents probably chose that school because they agreed with that mission and were already doing much to enforce it in their own homes.

How Amendment 60 is a result of America’s poor understanding of public education

Schools are funded almost entirely by property taxes and state funds.

Amendment 60:

Shall there be an amendment to the Colorado constitution concerning government charges on property, and, in connection therewith, allowing petitions in all districts for elections to lower property taxes; specifying requirements for property tax elections; requiring enterprises and authorities to pay property taxes but offsetting the revenues with lower tax rates; prohibiting enterprises and unelected boards from levying fees or taxes on property; setting expiration dates for certain tax rate and revenue increases; requiring school districts to reduce property tax rates and replacing the revenue with state aid; and eliminating property taxes that exceed the dollar amount included in an approved ballot question, that exceed state property tax laws, policies, and limits existing in 1992 that have been violated, changed, or weakened without state voter approval, or that were not approved by voters without certain ballot language?

So lower property taxes sound great, but the state government is now responsible for paying the difference created by these lower taxes (read: deficit). All of that money will be taken from other programs that the state finances like prisons and higher education. In order to actually be able to pay for the K-12 expenses lumped into state finances, you can bet they are going to have to make cuts to public education, again.

From personal experience, I can tell you that it is pretty difficult to manage a classroom of 30 students, and I have heard stories from teachers who worked in other, more impoverished districts that had groups of up to 40. Classrooms were never designed to hold that many students, some kids get to class and they have to stand because there aren’t enough desks. Teachers are being laid off because there isn’t enough money to pay them, which only increases the number of students in the leftover classrooms. Teachers with a genuine desire to teach and help students don’t have the avenues to do so because the job pool in public education is shrining with the funding for it. The problems in public education today are immense, and the tax cuts proposed in Amendment 60 are only going to make it worse. The fact that an issue such as 60 even made it to the ballot shows that Coloradoan do not understand the basis or importance of public education, or the dire situation our public schools are facing.

If Glenn Beck were truly concerned with the state of our nation’s schools, he would spend a day teaching in one. he advocates for the value of hard work, but I doubt that the $32 million dollars he earned last year for writing a book and spending an hour or two a day talking really compare to spending 8 hours a day with teenagers in a small space with no room to sit and not enough books. If he really believes that the progressives had it all wrong in trying to educate a populous, maybe we should take that right from his children, because if they lived in Colorado, it can’t really be that far off if 60 passes.

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