Book Review: CONFORM by Glenn Beck with Kyle Olson

conformRating 4/5 Stars

Recommended Audience: Any American that is concerned about education

For a long time, I have been saying that conservatives need to focus their attention on education. In my personal opinion, I think there is no more important element of society (culture certainly ranks right up with it). The education of today’s kids creates the voters and citizens of tomorrow.

I have listened and followed Beck since his early days on Fox News. When I heard that he was doing a book on education, I was really excited. I appreciate Beck’s work because I think he is one of the most open-minded conservative commentators in the nation. I also think he is one of the most well-read when it comes to the history of how we got here. Does he always get it right, no, but no one does 100% of the time.

Beck’s name may be on the front of the book, but this is not solely his work. Kyle Olson is the primary co-author. For those that don’t know Mr. Olson, you should. He runs Education Action Group and has recently started a new website called Progressives Today. The work he is doing is important because he’s helping to tell the stories that often go unreported in education. Kevin Balfe is also given an author/editor credit on the title page of the text. Other editors/contributors include Sharon Ambrose of TheBlaze Magazine, Steve Gunn, and Ben Velderman of EAGNews.

This book is the second in what Beck is calling the Control series. The first was on gun control and is very much worth your time. The idea of this series is simple: Take a topic that matters, cite the research, print it in paperback so it’s cheap, and get it into as many hands as possible. The left has been good at making activists over the years. We can play the same game on the right.

Conform is a broad sweeping book on the topic of education. It is split into two parts; problem and solution. Part 1 which takes a look at a plethora of issues in education includes 27 short and concise chapters. The chapters are group together by related topic. Chapters 1-10 discuss education unions in various ways, 11-16 deal with the Common Core State Standards, 17-19 look at health related topics (Queen Obama’s lunch program, sex education, and schools as community centers), 20-23 deal with home school, and the last four chapters, 24-27, look at school choice. Part two is about forty pages and deals with solutions: This includes Education Savings Accounts (ESAs), the importance of shifting the power in education back to local stakeholders, technology, a brief discussion of teacher certification reform, and the importance of getting the average citizen more involved in the discussion about education.

As I stated above, this book is broad and sweeping. The authors of this text ambitiously try to establish the problem in just 184 pages. At times throughout the book, I was left wanting a little more depth. Some of the chapters are really concise. It seems this book is meant more as a primer for the topic. Beck often touts the research as a selling point for the book. With regards to that, I found the research (demonstrated in about 30 pages of end notes) decent but was left wanting a little more depth. This is not to say that there is bad research, or the research provided is questionable, I just would like to see more.

One of the things that I greatly appreciated about this book is that it is not anti-teacher. The unions and educrats will claim that it is, but then again, anytime you question them and their organized cabal, they immediately cry foul. The authors did a good job of acknowledging that problems facing public education are far more complex than just bad teachers. As a teacher myself, I frankly get tired of both sides of the political aisle taking this easy route.

“…it’s not really even the bad teachers who are the problem–they should be expected–it’s the political forces that defend a system that is so clearly broken that is the problem. Blaming bad teachers for everything that ails us in public education is like blaming someone in line for food stamps for our national debt. That person isn’t responsible, they are only living within the rules that society has created.” p. 11

The chapters on the Common Core State Standards were pretty good. I have one small complaint with it, and that is the parroting of the repeated attacks on getting students to read informational text. I think it’s about time that I write a piece on this issue. I am not a Common Core supporter, but I do believe that students do need to read more informational text. What the Core actually expects is misstated, but more on that another day.

I really enjoyed the chapters on home-schooling. Some of the research cited was interesting and included some information I had never seen before. Personally, I’ve always been a supporter of home schooling even though I am a public school teacher. I believe every child’s individual needs should be met to the best extent possible. It’s impossible for me to effectively reach one hundred percent of my students. There are students and parents that could successfully home-school their child. We should never stand in their way if that’s what that family wants and that kid will thrive in that environment. People, especially teachers and unions, do education a disservice when they think that giving parents options will make things worse.

I enjoyed and agreed with the solutions offered in part two. Educational Savings Accounts have the potential to be significant game changers in the battle for better education in America. I especially liked the closing part of the solutions section. Parents MUST get involved with their local schools as much as possible. I see this on a daily basis. Many parents are overly trusting or not evenly remotely concerned about what may be happening inside of the schools they send their children to. Local school boards have no watchdogs to keep an eye on what is going on. Local newspaper coverage of school boards often do little but regurgitate whatever they have been told. To improve education one must be involved and informed on the topic.

All in all, this book is incredibly welcome in the discussion on education in America. I thank all of those involved in this project for interjecting themselves into that discussion. Please go pick up a copy of Conform and make the controllists heads explode.

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