by Christopher Paslay
When it comes to Glenn Beck, adjectives like “kook,” “nut-job,” and “right-wing radical” have a tendency to get thrown around. At least these descriptors are used in more liberal circles—places like Philadelphia where 85 percent of the population is registered democrat.
My colleagues at Swenson Arts and Technology High School have used similar terms to describe Mr. Beck, so when I told them that I was going to be on the Glenn Beck show on Friday, May 6th, I received mixed reactions (I’ll get to my experience on the show in a moment).
Personally, I am a fan of Glenn Beck. Although I disagree with some of his views on education (Glenn, like most journalists and talking-heads, has a more superficial understanding of public schools), I do agree with much of what he preaches otherwise—that our country must rediscover its traditional values; that personal responsibility is the key to change; that too much reliance on government and social programs is killing America’s entrepreneurial spirit; that both the Republicans and Democrats are corrupt; and that in order to restore honor in our country we must become more principle-centered.
Interestingly, there are many people (like my mother and father) who are fans of Glenn Beck as well. His show has dominated its time slot for nearly two years, coming in at #1 on the Neilson Ratings for most of that time and never falling below #3; for the first three months of 2011, the Glenn Beck show had an audience of almost 2 million viewers.
So he has a sizable following. And the core of this following is made up of well-educated, well-informed people such as my parents and myself, people with diverse experiences and opinions; we’re hardly the right-wing radical Neanderthal “nut-jobs” we’re made out to be (to those name-callers who try to pigeon-hole Beck and his supporters I offer this challenge: watch his show every day for one week and then you can sling your mud. I mean really watch the show, watch and listen and try to see all sides of the issue).
Now back to my experience on Beck’s show. The theme of the show was “teachers who love their jobs but are frustrated with the education system.” It was an audience-participation show that featured 40 teachers from the tri-state area, myself and my father (who taught 37 years in the Philadelphia School District) included.
Before the show was taped we were each given a questionnaire to complete. It asked us, among other things, to describe the things about education that frustrated us. It also asked our opinions about teachers’ unions, and directed us to pose questions to Glenn Beck himself.
Here were two of my responses.
Concerning my frustration, I wrote: Education is one of the few professions in America in which policies are written and decisions are made by governing bodies outside the field. Doctors, lawyers, and engineers all govern themselves. Their panels and boards of directors are made up of other doctors, lawyers, and engineers. Not teachers, though. Politicians make the decisions when it comes to education in K-12 schools. So do researchers, think tanks, and lobbyists. Does it matter that most of these people have little to no experience teaching in a K-12 classroom? No, because they have the data and the power.
When it came to teachers’ unions, I wrote: Teachers unions, like everything, have pros and cons. The pros are that they protect the rights of workers and ensure teachers don’t get exploited or taken advantage of by school administrators or politicians (which was the case many years ago). Another positive is that they serve as a teacher’s voice—something that isn’t given much value in American society. On the other hand, in an effort to protect rights and maintain solidarity, unions do in some cases allow bad teachers to keep their jobs. Also, they are too heavily rooted in politics. Teachers need unions that police themselves and are more balanced politically.
When the show began (you can watch the show below), Glenn listed our concerns and frustrations with education. Some of them were:
- eliminate teachers’ tenure
- teachers unions equal political machines
- frustration with the NEA
- huge retirement packages
- teachers pensions are a problem
I must admit my gut reaction to this was anger; I felt like I’d been duped. Which teacher in the audience, I wondered, wanted tenure eliminated? Which teacher didn’t want the pension they’d been paying into their whole career? Which teacher wanted no union representation?
At this point I felt that Glenn and his producers had spun a few things, to put it lightly. Our supposed “frustrations” sounded too scripted, too much like Glenn’s preset agenda. In fact, by the end of the show, after 40 minutes of a town-hall style discussion, I felt like the whole thing was a bait-and-switch; I left the studio more frustrated than ever.
That was my initial perception. The funny thing about perceptions, however, is that they are not always accurate.
After watching the show air Friday at 5:00 pm, (after a good night’s sleep to clear my head) my overall opinion changed. Although Glenn did steer the conversation towards promoting school vouchers and reeling-in out-of-control unions, he did keep an open mind. In fact, he both welcomed and respected the push-back he received from many teachers in the audience, myself included.
In retrospect, I thought the show ended up being pretty well balanced. Even Glenn himself admitted that he supported unions (and that his mother-in-law marched with Jesse Jackson). It was the abuse of power and corruption, he noted, that he stood against, a point I must admit is valid.
In the end, my experience on Glenn Beck was a positive one. I was happy to have a discussion with such an influencial man, and to represent the concerns and issues of teachers from Philadelphia as well as the rest of America.
Please click on the video below to watch the entire episode, commercial free (my father’s comment comes at 11:58 of the tape, and my two comments come at 13:15 and 25:58).