Using Rush Limbaugh to Teach the Civil War to 3rd Graders

If you meet an 8-year-old who thinks slavery ended because of American exceptionalism, this may be why.
Rush Limbaugh's historical fiction for kids is promoted in this image of the radio host dressed like Paul Revere near a flag with a anachronistic number of stars. (Screenshot/TwoIfByTea.com)

A woman named Ivy, an elementary-school teacher from Summerville, South Carolina, is using material from a Rush Limbaugh book as part of the history curriculum for her third graders. Her husband alerted her to the children's title, Rush Revere and the Brave Pilgrims: Time Travel Adventures With Brave Americans. She read it immediately. "And I said, 'Okay, how am I gonna incorporate this book into the classroom?' because the kids need to hear it," she explained during a Wednesday call to Rush Limbaugh's program. "They need to read this book."

She recognized just one problem. "The dilemma is that we don't teach the Pilgrims in the third grade," she said. But a popular talk-radio host had written a book! The mere fact that it covered a period of history her students weren't learning about wasn't going to dissuade her from getting Limbaugh into the classroom.

"So what I decided to do was to use your author's note that explains the principles of the founders in our country as a way to introduce the Civil War," she explained. "And from there, I decided, well, I'm gonna go ahead and read a little bit of this book 'cause I need these kids to get excited about it. Even if I can't finish it, I'll give a book talk and then they can go out to the library and get it, and so forth."

So to review her lesson plan:

  1. Use the author's note of a Rush Limbaugh book about time-traveling with a Rush Limbaugh/Paul Revere hybrid to introduce her third graders to the American Civil War.
  2. Having introduced the Civil War, take a quick break from it, because while it's important, making sure her kids are excited about Rush Revere's adventures is important too.

At this point, the caller got cut off for a moment, and Limbaugh took the opportunity to read the text of the author's note that she used to introduce the Civil War. As you'll recall, the war was preceded by the brutal, centuries-long enslavement of black people, as well as the secession of numerous states, like South Carolina, that hoped to perpetuate slavery and white supremacy forever more. In one third-grade classroom, students were nevertheless introduced to the subject with these words:

We live in the greatest country on earth, the United States of America. But what makes it so great? Why do some call the United States a miracle? How did we become such a tremendous country in such a short period of time? After all, the United States is less than 250 years old! I want to try to help you understand what "American Exceptionalism" and greatness is all about. It does not mean that we Americans are better than anyone else. It does not mean that there is something uniquely different about us as human beings compared to other people in the world. It does not mean that we as a country have never faced problems of our own.

American Exceptionalism and greatness means that America is special because it is different from all other countries in history. It is a land built on true freedom and individual liberty and it defends both around the world. The role of the United States is to encourage individuals to be the best that they can be, to try to improve their lives, reach their goals, and make their dreams come true. In most parts of the world, dreams never become more than dreams. In the United States, dreams come true every day. There are so many stories of Americans who started with very little, yet dreamed big, worked very hard, and became extremely successful.

The sad reality is that since the beginning of time, most citizens of the world have not been free. For hundreds and thousands of years, many people in other civilizations and countries were servants to their kings, leaders, and government. It didn't matter how hard these people worked to improve their lives, because their lives were not their own.

They often feared for their lives and could not get out from under a ruling class no matter how hard they tried. Many of these people lived and continue to live in extreme poverty, with no clean water, limited food, and none of the luxuries that we often take for granted. Many citizens in the world were punished, sometimes severely, for having their own ideas, beliefs, and hopes for a better future.

The United States of America is unique because it is the exception to all this. Our country is the first country ever to be founded on the principle that all human beings are created as free people. The Founders of this phenomenal country believed all people were born to be free as individuals. And so, they established a government and leadership that recognized and established this for the first time ever in the world.

That sets up the Civil War about as well as you'd expect of a Limbaugh-authored children's book about the Pilgrims. Shortly after he finished reading the excerpt, the third-grade teacher came back on the line and explained her pedagogical theory—the best explanation she could've given, under the circumstances.

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Conor Friedersdorf is a staff writer at The Atlantic, where he focuses on politics and national affairs. He lives in Venice, California, and is the founding editor of The Best of Journalism, a newsletter devoted to exceptional nonfiction.

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