The educational worm turns

glenn-beck-cryingAs someone who as taken an interest in what I have called the art world’s ‘pedagogical impulse’ and what others have dubbed its ‘educational turn’, I was of course tickled to read that yesterday marked the first day of classes at Glenn Beck University.  As the news outlets have reported, Beck U teaches courses such as ‘Hope’, ‘Faith’, and ‘Charity’, rewrites, apparently, of standard disciplinary topics, such as History, Religion and Economics, though inflected with Beck Inc.’s brand of newspeak and ‘taught’ by some questionable characters (only one of Beck U’s instructors is an ‘academic’ in the conventional sense).  And this for only $74.95/year.

That’s a comparative bargain, unless of course you consider iTunes U, which offers an immense array of course lectures taught by academics (some award winning) from institutions (‘esteemed’ ones we would say) with brand names such as Oxford, UC Berkley and Yale, and all for the low download price of $0.00.

Of course, Beck U’s point is that it is exactly such institutions of Higher Ed which are mired in what it would call bias and what most everyone else calls reality.  (Best that one take American History from the likes of David Barton, whose campaign against the First Amendment of the Constitution is grounded upon the persistent falsification and misattribution of historical quotation, rather than from, say, the Gilder Lehrman Institute).

Now, one cannot but view Beck U as a cynical foray into the education business (and probably something very much akin to Thomas Kinkade‘s successful foray into the art business), because a business it is, but I also cannot help thinking that part of what prepared the ground for Beck’s easy entry into this likely very lucrative landscape, aside from the obvious platform of the internet, has to do with a greater crisis of authority, institutional and otherwise, that shapes so much of what we hear and see today, both at large and in the art world itself.  And in this, I’m inclined to think that Beck U takes its place next to enterprises such as the BHQFU, or to Night School, or to any of the other ‘alternatives’ to institutionalized programs of art ‘learning’ (though of course not with nearly the same broadcast audience, a difference which is probably all the difference), insofar as they are symptoms of some particular, our particular, social pathology.

The question it seems to me then becomes this: At what turn of the screw do we stop so easily accepting, even desiring, challenges to authority (and their commodification)?  What might the project of building or securing authority entail?  Or has this notion become so infected with ‘authoritarianism’ that it’s best to let it die?

One thought on “The educational worm turns

  1. Jonathan draws what at first would appear like an unlikely comparison (Glenn Beck University and Artist-driven schools). But he may be unto something. I had a similar realization when I attended a conference this past April in London organized by the Serpentine and the Hayward, entitled “Deschooling Society”. The title of the conference was given after the famous 1971 book by the same name by the radical thinker Ivan Illich, where he argues that the education system is pretty much a dictatorship that needs to be dismantled. The assumption of course was that Illich’s call for questioning the authoritarian rule of society by through education is a parallel task to the art world’s noble attempt to reframe the educational system. But as the conference progressed, it was more and more evident to all of us that Illich’s ideas today, when scrutinized more carefully, no longer resonate with the left, but instead eerily similar to today’s right-wing, neoliberal attitude toward education: privatize, dismantle public services, deregulate, etc. Furthermore, Illich —like Glenn Beck, although of course in a highly literate fashion— is a pundit, but does not propose a methodology or an alternative, say, to actual XXth century pedagogical theory (like Freire, Boal, etc). No doubt that education urgently needs to be restructured and new models need to be found, but curiously, those in the art world who attack “institutional education” (whatever that means) most fiercely have never been educators, but instead tend to be those in the taste-maker end of the spectrum. And they are the ones who also gravitate toward exclusivity and elitism, using opaque art theory to make sure that the ignoramuses (ie. the public) stay away. To them, the term “pedagogy” (which sounds more sophisticated than “education”) is only beautiful in theory, but horrid when you actually have to deal with actual people. Apply this observation to most artist-led schools, and you will see Illich’s ghost lurking around: so far I haven’t seen an artist-led school that proposes an actual new methodology or a true alternative to education. In the worst cases these projects are simulations, performances of education, or exist mainly in press release format, and because art critics don’t know the difference between actual education and the illustration of it, most of these projects go un-scrutinized. Yet one must admit that their parties are really fun and the social networks they generate have become great career boosters— in other words, deregulation for profit, even if it is just in the reputational economy. But, mark my words, this will pass too: soon education will be a passé topic to the art world, the educational turn will be over (let’s face it, teaching is too much work anyway) and the always obscure and powerless educators banished in museum basements will continue doing their jobs teaching art to children while artists move on to new disciplinary lands to conquer.

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