Glenn Beck Uses Simulcast Theater Event to Target Common Core

By Mark Walsh — July 23, 2014 5 min read
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Leesburg, Va.

TV host Glenn Beck on Tuesday night leveraged a variety of media tools—including a nationwide simulcast at movie theaters, social media, and his own loyal audience—to call on Americans to rise up against the Common Core State Standards by persuading state lawmakers to reverse their states’ participation.

“Tonight, with your help, we’re going to use this soundstage ... to make common core history,” Beck said during his “We Will Not Conform” event, a two-hour simulcast beamed from a TV studio in Dallas to what he said was some 700 movie theaters nationwide, including an upscale multiplex here in outlying suburban Washington that drew about 50 attendees.

Stacey Smith, a health-industry employee from Berryville, Va., watched the event with her husband, Mark, and their 13-year-old son. She wanted to become armed with information to help guarantee that Virginia—one of a handful of states that never adopted the common core—stays in that category. The common core “pushes storytelling out of the curriculum,” she said.

Beck, the 50-year-old conservative media maven, said that the “creative freedom to explore and innovate is being systematically wiped out in our best teachers” by the common standards, now in effect in most states.

“Instead of encouraging teachers to take risks, they’re now being told to be common. To conform,” he said. “To just take the test and give the test. That’s it. And these tests are created by bureaucrats who have already conformed.”

The simulcast was co-hosted by Beck’s Mercury Radio Arts (home of his Web-based TV and radio channel, The Blaze) as well as FreedomWorks, a Washington-based conservative advocacy group.The $20-per-ticket event was built to a large degree around Beck’s recent book (with co-author Kyle Olson), Conform: Exposing the Truth About Common Core and Public Education.

While the book was mentioned a couple of times, Beck didn’t relentlessly promote it during the event. Instead, the simulcast was built around conversations at five or six tables of “working groups"—handpicked participants discussing such themes as research and resources, grassroots, politics, messaging, and alternatives to public education.

Michelle Malkin, a conservative blogger, was one of the more strident voices during the evening, referring several times to the “cabals” that were pushing common core.

“We’re talking about not just the standards ... but the bigger picture that’s at play here,” she said. “For most people, the first experience they had with common core or ‘fed ed’ is when they open up their kid’s backpack and they see something that doesn’t make sense. They start asking questions, and what do they get in response, from their administrators, from the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, from whatever special interest is plying this? They get a set of regurgitated talking points and a platform that is just demonstrably not true.”

No Primer Offered

One curious aspect of the event: It seemed to expect a certain level of basic knowledge about the debate over common core. Even though participants were asked to invite a friend or neighbor who may be unfamiliar with the debate, there were no primers or taped background pieces.

Several participants made oblique references to common-core-inspired math worksheets that students and parents found perplexing and overly complicated, but there were no displays of specific examples. (Later, though, parents and other activists were encouraged to post such materials online to help build opposition.)

Beck said during the simulcast there were many packed theaters across the country, and some that might be near-empty. One in Union Square in New York City that had attracted a sparse crowd for past Beck events had 35 participants present, he said. (A spokesman for Beck’s company said Wednesday that final attendance figures were not yet available.)

“And if you’re in a D.C. suburb and you are by yourself, know that you are not alone,” Beck said. “In your case, the NSA is watching you.”

That drew laughs among the four dozen or so people watching at the upscale Cobb 12 theaters here in Leesburg, in largely conservative Loudoun County, about 40 minutes outside of Washington. The We Will Not Conform event played adjacent to theaters showing such first-run movies as “Sex Tape” and “Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.”

Stacey Smith said she and her husband are huge fans of Beck and have attended other live events of his. She said she knew from advance discussions on The Blaze not to expect a “Common Core 101" discussion.

Ed and Charlene Godish, retirees who drove from Petersburg, W. Va., to the Leesburg cinema, said they were concerned about what common core might mean for their youngest grandchildren.

The standards represent “a government takeover as opposed to the parents having control of their children’s education,” said Charlene Godish, 66.

Ed Godish, 71, said he had read Beck’s book on the common core. “They’re taking history out, which concerns me,” he said, reflecting a perception among some critics that the standards, which cover mathematics and English/language arts, are crowding out other subjects.

Standards Vs. Curriculum

Some messages offered by participants in the simulcast tended to conflate the common-core standards and the tests geared around them with school curriculum.

“Common core is without common sense,” Beck said. “None of this curriculum has been tested, right?”

Proponents of the standards say they do not dictate a specific curriculum. The opponents take issue with that.

Beck, dressed in a summer-weight blazer and tie, jeans, and sneakers, moved around the large studio, though his table captains sometimes led discussions. Some lighter moments came with the interactive participation by the nationwide audience. This was through Twitter, email, and a number of instant polls conducted via text message.

For example, audience members were asked to name a national politician who might best serve as a leader against the common core. The winners were U.S. Senators Ted Cruz, R-Texas, and Rand Paul, R-Ky.

In another instant poll, two-thirds of participants said taking to Twitter would be the most effective tactic to battle the standards, followed by 17 percent for Facebook, and single digits for options such as circulating petitions and contacting the traditional news media.

Indeed, a number of parents and educators in the studio discussed how they have been using social media to build opposition to the common core. But older techniques such as showing up at state capitals were important, too, they said.

“Face to face is the way to do this,” Beck said.

A version of this news article first appeared in the Education and the Media blog.