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Yesterday on his radio show, Rush Limbaugh read a Wall Street Journal article summarizing the National Association of Scholars (NAS) study about Bowdoin, and quoted the finding that Bowdoin doesn’t require history majors to take an American history class.

Limbaugh declared:

So a history major at Bowdoin College is taught about the intrinsic discrimination against blacks, women, gays, lesbians, transgender, bisexuals. That’s all they are taught. A history major coming out of Bowdoin College is not taught for one minute about the American founding. There is not one moment of traditional American history taught, and this is just the history department. What’s taught is how immoral and unjust America has been since its founding and how its founding featured institutional racism, segregation, sexism, homophobia, and all that.
The NAS Report doesn’t say a single word about what is actually taught in Bowdoin’s history classes, so Limbaugh’s claim that history majors are “not taught for one minute about the American founding” is simply a lie.

NAS president Peter Wood wrote to me in response to my questions about Limbaugh’s comments that Limbaugh “blurred a couple of points. A history major at Bowdoin CAN graduate without taking ‘one minute’ of formal coursework on the American founding. History majors are not required to take any American history.”

But, Wood added, “American history courses are, of course, offered. Whether it is accurate to say ‘traditional American history’ is not taught depends, of course, on what weight to give the word ‘traditional.’ I’d say that the generalization is fairly accurate in the sense that the Bowdoin History Department is thoroughly imbued with the spirit and the practice of teaching social history, which is conceived of as a repudiation of the methods and aims of traditional history.”

I think Wood is wrong, because even in history courses taught with an emphasis on social history, some traditional history is still taught. Limbaugh’s assertion of “not one moment” is simply unsupported by the facts.

Limbaugh made a very common intellectual error: the assumption that students don’t learn something unless it’s required. Unfortunately, it’s the same error made by the NAS itself, in calling its report, “What Does Bowdoin Teach?” But nothing in the report actually analyzes what goes on in Bowdoin’s classes, because the NAS didn’t study any of that. Instead, they looked at the titles of classes taught, and then imagined, like Limbaugh, that they could use their psychic powers to assume what was taught and how it was taught.

Alex Williams, a recent Bowdoin graduate, wrote a critique of the accuracy of the NAS study (pdf) in which he noted that while he was a student at Bowdoin, the history classes taught included HIST 233c (American Society in the New Nation, 1763–1840) and HIST 274c (The Shot Heard ‘Round the World: The History of the American Revolution). Even without the class devoted solely to the American Revolution, Limbaugh’s “not taught for one minute about the American founding” would be a lie. And the NAS makes no such claim.

I wrote extensively about the problems with the NAS study in a post for Academe Blog. But I didn't address the misleading attacks on Bowdoin's willingness to give students the freedom to choose their classes.

Because Bowdoin tends not to require classes, it’s easy to smear the college by denouncing them for failing to require a certain course. But in reality, Bowdoin’s approach is a wise one. As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, I avoided the survey courses beloved by the NAS like the plague, and sought out the kind of small specialized seminars taught at Bowdoin. The survey classes were taught in large lecture halls with uninterested students and frustrated professors, they were dumbed down and largely repeated the same failed survey classes everyone took in high school and elementary school. Bowdoin shouldn’t be condemned for being one of the rare colleges to liberate its students from the stupidity of survey courses; they should be imitated as a model for what higher education could be.

Limbaugh also attacked Bowdoin’s first-year seminars (which were mistakenly referred to as year-long by the Wall Street Journal):

Now, the students at Bowdoin College are required to take a year-long seminar as freshmen. They get to choose from 37 different offerings, such as “Affirmative Action in US Society,” or “the Fictions of Freedom,” or “Racism,” or “Queer Gardens,” or “the Sexual Life of Colonialism,” or “the Modern Western Prostitutes.” They have to take one of those courses, as a seminar, but they’re not taught anything about the American founding other than it was racist and immoral.
Actually, among the first-year seminars at Bowdoin were classes with titles such as “Political Leadership,” “Human Being and Citizen,” and “Power and Participation in American Politics.” Attacking the first-year seminars at Bowdoin, the NAS admits, “Some of these courses are solid,” but it condemns some of them for being too specialized, based strictly on the title and a vague description. However, even the NAS would never make the absurd that Bowdoin students are “not taught anything about the American founding…” Peter Wood told me, “I think he is wrong that none of them teach anything about the American founding.”

Limbaugh also tried to claim that his misleading attacks on Bowdoin College reflect all of higher education: “People are going to say, ‘Whoa, that’s unbelievable!’ It’s not the only place. You think it’s the only college?”

Limbaugh blames this kind of education for Obama’s election and the destruction of America as we know it: “It has been happening every day for tens of years. Slowly creeping toward the left’s utopia.” This is the great conspiracy imagined by the far right, and it explains their anti-intellectual hatred of education.

Crossposted at Limbaugh Book and Academe Blog.

Originally posted to JohnKWilson on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 09:45 AM PDT.

Also republished by Teachers Lounge and DAILY KOS UNIVERSITY.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (14+ / 0-)

    The Most Dangerous Man in America: Rush Limbaugh's Assault on Reason (www.limbaughbook.com).

    by JohnKWilson on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 09:45:58 AM PDT

  •  Rush only hung around college for his frosh year (11+ / 0-)

    I would like to hear him explain why someone who is majoring in Ancient Chinese history should be required to take 3 hours of American Revolution.

    If he had lasted until the end of his soph year, he would know the first 2 years are the "core courses" or generalized survey courses while American Revolution, for example, would be 300 or higher.

    Of course, since Rush is recycling Birchism, how dare a US college graduate a history major who has not had American history a la David Burton forced down his throat?  

  •  Its no trick to catch him lying , (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, SilentBrook

    the trick is catching him telling the truth .

    Do you have what it takes to listen to him long enough
    so that you can pull that off ?  

    Drop the name-calling MB 2/4/11 + Please try to use ratings properly! Kos 9/9/11

    by indycam on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:02:56 AM PDT

  •  and a hero of Little Round Top rolls in his grave (9+ / 0-)
    So a history major at Bowdoin College is taught about the intrinsic discrimination against blacks, women, gays, lesbians, transgender, bisexuals. That’s all they are taught. A history major coming out of Bowdoin College is not taught for one minute about the American founding. There is not one moment of traditional American history taught, and this is just the history department. What’s taught is how immoral and unjust America has been since its founding and how its founding featured institutional racism, segregation, sexism, homophobia, and all that.
    Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain (September 8, 1828 – February 24, 1914), born as Lawrence Joshua Chamberlain, was an American college professor from the State of Maine, who volunteered during the American Civil War to join the Union Army. Although having no earlier education in military strategies, he became a highly respected and decorated Union officer, reaching the rank of brigadier general (and brevet major general). For his gallantry at Gettysburg, he was awarded the Medal of Honor. He was given the honor of commanding the Union troops at the surrender ceremony for the infantry of Robert E. Lee's Army at Appomattox, Virginia. After the war, he entered politics as a Republican and served four one-year terms of office as the 32nd Governor of Maine. He served on the faculty, and as president, of his alma mater, Bowdoin College.

    Warning - some snark above‽ (-9.50; -7.03)‽ eState4Column5©2013 Acedia is essentially a flight from the world that leads to not caring even that one does not care

    by annieli on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:03:20 AM PDT

  •  Bowdoin's best day ever? (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    annieli, commonmass, seefleur, SilentBrook

    Nothing can get the alums to pony up like being condemned by Rush Limbaugh, if you're a New England liberal arts college.  Well, maybe except Amherst.  

    You know, I sometimes think if I could see, I'd be kicking a lot of ass. -Stevie Wonder at the Glastonbury Festival, 2010

    by Rich in PA on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:16:50 AM PDT

  •  As a proud Bowdoin alumn... (8+ / 0-)

    this entire article was just a hit piece because the author got butt hurt that Bowdoin President Barry Mills called him out on his ignorant shit in a speech.  Just absolute garbage by someone who knows absolutely nothing about my school, the curriculum, the students, or what they do or do not learn.  I would stake my entire life savings that every student on that campus has more knowledge of American history than Limbaugh, with or without taking a class on it.

  •  Projection from a hack who couldn't (6+ / 0-)

    hack it in college and who filters history through his own limited knowledge and biased lens.

    In other words, another day that ends in "y" in Limbaugh land.

    We view "The Handmaid's Tale" as cautionary. The GOP views it as an instruction book.

    by Vita Brevis on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:22:51 AM PDT

  •  I have an odd feeling about this (4+ / 0-)

    As a professor, I am actually somewhat disturbed by the "no-requirements" approach to education.  I do believe that students need some foundational courses in both western and non-western history.  Some (usually a small number) of students who need some foundational courses avoid them when not required...focusing instead on the cool classes--the candy--at the expense of learning the basics.  For me its like art education that doesn't require drawing.  There are some fundamental skills that I think some of the more 'liberal' approaches to education pay too little attention to.  Some of these skills are no fun to learn, and require memorizing dates, and names, and all the rest.  Once those basics are down, then move onto the candy, but first make sure the basics are solid.

    Years ago I heard a improvisational Jazz musician explaining the why they need to know Jazz standards--"you can't improvise on nothing."

    That said, Limabaugh is, of course, an ass.  Even if foundation courses were required, they would not present history in any way that he wants.  It wouldn't be the celebratory bullshit that he thinks history should be.

    As for the Freshman seminars, they are great.  They allow beginning students to get a taste of what will come once they complete the foundation courses.  They get a taste of candy before doing the hard work to allow them to get more.

    "Empty vessels make the loudest sound, they have the least wit and are the greatest blabbers" Plato

    by Empty Vessel on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 10:56:44 AM PDT

  •  Rush wants the tribal epics told (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    commonmass, SilentBrook

    That's what this boils down to: another tribe's stories are being told to Bowdoin's students - especially to the white ones - and that's wrong.

  •  Why do I get the suspicion that Rush (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook

    would love to come up to Brunswick and sit in on "Modern Western Prostitutes". Hell, he'd love to teach the class.

    What is truth? -- Pontius Pilate

    by commonmass on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 11:06:16 AM PDT

  •  Limbaugh did not graduate from college. (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook, barbwires

    He's trying to gild himself by associating himself with a critique of higher education. I call that gilt by association. He indulges it whenever he attacks a prominent person in hopes of having some of the glitter rub off on himself.
    Sad. But there are a lot of people like him, who seek to counter their sense of inferiority by contrasting themselves with someone else's "success."

    We organize governments to deliver services and prevent abuse.

    by hannah on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 11:54:50 AM PDT

  •  You used "intellectual" and "Limbaugh" in the same (0+ / 0-)

    sentence.  

    Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. --Herman Melville

    by ZedMont on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 12:11:57 PM PDT

  •  The reason the offerings in those seminars are so (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Bill W, SilentBrook

    many and varied is simple.  It doesn't matter.  The seminars are a vehicle to teach freshmen how to think and reason (and write) at the university level.  That's why they're required of first year students.  Maybe they should offer a topic like "The Case Against Human Evolution: Rush Limbaugh."

    Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. --Herman Melville

    by ZedMont on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 12:18:25 PM PDT

  •  One of the most celebrated heroes of the Civil (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    SilentBrook

    War, Joshua Lawrence Chamberlain, taught at Bowdoin.  He taught rhetoric at first, then every course except math and science (Yep, a liberal wimp).

    Bayonet Charge at Little Round Top

    Yeah, Rush, that Bowdoin turns out some real un-Merkin wimps, eh?

    He later became Governor of Maine.  Something I didn't know until just now is that he was wounded so severely in 1864 that he had to wear the 19 century equivalent of a catheter (oh lordy), with a bag, plaguing him with infections and misery for the rest of his life.  Having just disconnected mine and functioning without it for the first time since surgery, I cannot imagine the agony of that.  You couldn't have gotten me out of bed, much less on a campaign trail.

    Of all the preposterous assumptions of humanity over humanity, nothing exceeds most of the criticisms made on the habits of the poor by the well-housed, well-warmed, and well-fed. --Herman Melville

    by ZedMont on Tue Apr 09, 2013 at 12:35:40 PM PDT

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