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Damnant Quod Non Intelligunt: In response to Rush Limbaugh’s “sad-sack story of a classical studies scholar”

< November 1st rant about the Occupy Wall Street movement, radio talk show host Rush Limbaugh singled out Classical Studies as a worthless and unemployable pursuit.  His ridicule of students who pursue the Classics is grounded on nothing but an ignorance of the field and the liberal arts philosophy as a whole.

Limbaugh’s misunderstanding and misrepresentation of Classical Studies surfaces in a mock dialogue between his idea of a Classics student and his caricature of the modern American university.  Limbaugh’s imaginary Classicist says, ‘Well…I want to study the classics so that I can be an expert in the classics, so that I can then study them further, like, and, you know, help others.’ And then he blames the colleges for not holding their students accountable for choosing such a “mistake” of a major; Limbaugh continues, “…somebody at the university ought to say, ‘Babe, you are wasting your time in a nothing major. We are stealing your money. You’re gonna be qualified for jack excrement when you get outta here.’”

So I’m a Classics major here at Carleton.  Am I really going to leave this college qualified for jack excrement?  Only if my studies are restricted to Limbaugh’s the definition of Classics.  But wait.  How exactly is he defining Classical Studies?  Let’s pause for a moment to appreciate how clear it is that Limbaugh hasn’t a clue what Classics is.  In fact, his ignorance of the field is such that he has to ask his listeners: “Tell me, any of you at random listening all across the fruited plain, what the hell is Classical Studies? What classics are studied? Or, is it learning how to study in a classical way? Or is it learning how to study in a classy as opposed to unclassy way? And what about unClassical Studies? Why does nobody care about the unclassics?”

Those are some mighty fine questions, Mr. Limbaugh.  But before bothering to answer them, we must first get over this assumption of yours that Classics is a useless weed planted in our higher learning institutions.  You see, according to Limbaugh, “The socialists that run universities dilute the education, they offer useless majors, and then they lie about the quality of these useless majors. They lie about the happiness and the jobs and the money that awaits you after you get the degree in something like Classical Studies.” 

I’m not living a lie here in the Carleton Classics Department; I know exactly what I signed up for.  I’ve never believed that a degree in Classics is my golden ticket to a dream job with dream earnings right out of college, nor am I under any impression that a diploma will guarantee a single thing for me beyond Carleton.  My Classical training isn’t just about its concrete application to my immediate surroundings; it’s so much more about the indirect and underlying understanding of Western Civilization and its deepest roots.  As the Huffington Post’s Miranda Frum prompts us to consider in criticizing Limbaugh’s (mis)understanding, “You know, the Greeks. The Romans. The guys who the Founding Fathers were crazy about. The guys who inspired…democracy.”  Is this what you’re calling Socialism, Mr. Limbaugh?

Politics aside, I cannot accept this notion of Classical Studies as useless and unemployable.  I plan on going places with my background in the Classics, and I’m going to have quite a good time doing so.  We liberal arts students are not all “dupes” and “idiots,” as Rush Limbaugh claims; we have these ways of critical thinking, problem-solving, expressing, and connecting that have applications and value leagues and leagues beyond the college degree itself.  So call me a Socialist if you’d like, Mr. Limbaugh, but don’t tell me my future isn’t bright.

Submitted by Quinn Stuart ‘13 

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