They Can’t Stop Professor Beck, and it Kills Them

The colleges – especially the community colleges, for some reason – are places where weird history is taught. This weird history has very little connection with reality; in fact the weirder and more anti-truth it is, the more the colleges seem to like it.

And so, a whole generation of students has been misinformed, mis-taught, and taught things that simply are not so.

And now, Glenn Beck has emerged, teaching the things they will not teach. And it is driving them nuts:

Drive them crazy. That’s what Glenn Beck seems to specialize in doing, whether the “them” at issue is fellow radio hosts, fellow tv hosts, or, now, professors at universities. This last group is opening its own front in the war against the television king. An associate professor, Joseph Palermo of California State/Sacramento, took to the Huffington Post to mock the broadcaster as “Glenn Beck, Ph.D.” I personally noticed this since Professor Palermo mentioned me by name, in tandem with author Jonah Goldberg, as an effort to “misinform” the gullible.

The rage at first seems odd, coming from professors. Why should these serene Yodas care what a man on television bellows? Yet they are on the warpath. The academic fury is at first directed at interpretation. Mr. Beck’s explanation of how the Framers viewed religion, Mr. Beck’s depiction of how Franklin Roosevelt’s policy affected the Great Depression; Mr. Beck’s argument that regulation is currently curtailing liberty in general — all fall short in academic eyes. Prof. Palermo, for example, calls Mr. Beck’s views as “stupid and false.” But the real issue, the reason professors are on the attack, is not specific content. It is rather the professional and, in the end, economic, threat that Mr. Beck represents. To academics, Mr. Beck is more dangerous than any other radio show host, and they know it.

…unlike other hosts, who tend to pick up and drop topics, Mr. Beck has begun to develop a new canon for adults. And unlike other hosts, but indeed like a professor, Mr. Beck tends to demand a lot of his viewers. For example, he recently devoted the better part of an hour to a biography of Samuel Adams by a historian without a Ph.D., Ira Stoll, whose book highlights the revolutionary firebrand’s piety. Mr. Beck breaks other tv rules. He insists viewers read books by dead men – W. Cleon Skousen’s work on the Constitution, the “5000 Year Leap.” It is all a long way from “Oprah,” “The Newshour” or even much of public television. Mr. Beck’s broadcast was barely over when Mr. Stoll’s book shot up to the highest heights of the Amazon list, where it has resided ever since. Beck-recommended books sometimes sell as well as, heaven forfend, textbooks. I had the good fortune to experience some of this after Mr. Beck talked about my Great Depression history.

Every author is glad to sell books. But the victory is far more Mr. Beck’s than any individual writer’s or publisher’s. His genius has been in his recognition that viewers do not want merely the odd, one-off book, duly pegged to news. They want a coherent vision, a competing canon that the regulated airwaves and academy have denied them. So he, Glenn Beck, is building that canon, book by book from the forgotten shelf. Since the man is a riveting entertainer, the professors are correct to be concerned. He’s not just reacting or shaping individual thoughts. He is bringing competition into the Ed Biz.

What to do? The Glenn Beck reading list may not satisfy everyone. Some of his views are indeed worth questioning. Some of us don’t agree with important components of his politics. Beck’s personal attacks put a lot of us off. Maybe there should be yet a third new reading list. As for the guild, a better response than its own ad hominem smearing is to widen their own reading lists and lectures. Professors can blame only themselves if Mr. Beck has taken an opportunity to teach. It is they who gave it to him.

After years of developing a rather sleazy, stupid canon of scholarship, the academic historians live on their own planet, where reason and thought no longer penetrate. They teach blatantly silly things. Now, Beck comes along and challenges them, and they are going nuts.

The truth hurts, especially when you have become more high priest than academic.

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