Glenn Beck Takes His Campaign Against Common Core To The Big Screen

Conservative commentator Glenn Beck hosted a live, interactive "night of action" against the Common Core State Standards. He has long fought against the learning benchmarks in reading and math now being used in 43 states. Events such as these, and the Common Core itself, could continue to play a role in the 2014 midterm campaigns.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

We begin this hour with the Common Core, which is getting a little less common. The writing and math standards for kids - excuse me - the reading and math standards for kids from kindergarten through high school were adopted by most states in the country. But growing opposition has led to a handful of repeals. We'll have more on those in just a minute. First, last night the Core's most outspoken critic, talk-show host Glenn Beck, took his fight to some 700 movie theaters across the country. NPR's Tamara Keith went to a screening in Germantown, Maryland.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: There were no transformers or giant lizards, no special effects, just Glenn Beck, talking directly to the camera, as he does so well.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WE WILL NOT CONFORM")

GLENN BECK: Hello America and welcome to "We Will Not Conform," live from the Mercury Studios here in Dallas, Texas.

KEITH: The tickets were $18 a piece and it was a Tuesday night. Still, some drove as far as a half an hour to sit in the darkness with some 30 others similarly concerned about the Core. Polls show conservatives are more likely to oppose or strongly oppose Common Core. And Beck of course is known from his days on Fox News as a conservative firebrand. But he went out of his way to argue this isn't a partisan thing.

(SOUNDBITE OF FILM, "WE WILL NOT CONFORM")

BECK: This fight transcends partisan bickering. We're talking about the education of our nation's most valuable asset. We are talking about our children and our children don't care who we voted for.

KEITH: The feature presentation was essentially a two hour grassroots strategy session. On the soundstage, Beck assembled several panels of experts and activists. They described the Core as a federal overreach fed by corporate interests. They talked about it as a litmus test for politicians and encourage parents to boycott high stakes standardized tests. They also gave concrete advice about how to fight the Core at the local level and as time was winding down, Beck asked one person in each theater to stand up, to organize everyone else in the room who wanted to get involved. At the theater in Germantown, a man did standup.

(AUDIENCE CROSSTALK)

KEITH: About a dozen members of the audience gathered in a hallway, excited and energized though not quite sure what the next step should be. This is exactly what Beck and others involved in the event were hoping for. Adam Brandon is Executive Vice President of FreedomWorks, a conservative activist's group that cosponsored the screening.

ADAM BRANDON: One thing that's important is to connect people and even if only - if 50 people or 5 people or 500 people show up at a theater, it gives them a chance to network with those people around them and that's when the thing - strength in numbers.

KEITH: Tara-Lynn Butler (ph) is a mother of six, all in public school. She came to the event to learn more and says her daughter had been getting an A in algebra all year until she took the high-stakes standardized final. She failed it, as did a large share of other students in the district.

TARA-LYNN BUTLER: Why are they trying to break their heart, their will, their - who they are? It seems like by designing things that make them fail, it breaks them. Why? Why do we want to do this to our kids?

KEITH: Near the end of the event, Glenn Beck read questions people had sent in via text and Twitter, including one from Butler.

BUTLER: I was like that's mine. That's my question, I did that (laughing).

KEITH: And more than the thrill of seeing her question on the big screen, Butler felt like she had been heard.

BUTLER: They really do pay attention. They really do address them as opposed to our public leaders that - you never hear anything from except a form letter reply. It's clear they really don't care what the people think.

KEITH: Butler says she doesn't identify with either of the major political parties. But on this issue, she's energized. People like Beck and groups like FreedomWorks are hoping to harness that energy. Tamara Keith, NPR News, Washington.

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