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.

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.

"I used that as a way to introduce the Civil War because we were about to enter a discussion on the time when slavery existed in our country," she said, "but because of what you said in the book and the way that you explained the Founders' passion for our country, it was because of that that slavery inevitably was abolished. So I felt like that would be a good way to get some conversation going."

Her heart seems to be in the right place. On the other hand, while the incompatibility of slavery with America's founding documents and professed values certainly played a role in abolitionism and emancipation, other countries without our founding principles also abolished slavery, many of them long before the United States. And it's especially bizarre to argue that our founding values made the abolition of slavery "inevitable" when, in fact, those values weren't sufficient to end slavery prior to the Civil War, or after the slave states seceded, rejecting those values, and attempted to start a new, slavery-embracing system. That ought to be apparent to a South Carolinian teaching Civil War history. Union values weren't enough to end slavery—Union guns and cannonballs were needed too.

(In fairness, the teacher has gotten at least some support. "That is brilliant on your part as a way of dealing with slavery with third graders," Rush Limbaugh said.)

If only the story ended here. While reading a portion of the Rush Revere book to her kids, the teacher discovered that Limbaugh had also written a children's book titled, Rush Revere and the First Patriots. As chance would have it, "I was able to read that book as a way to review the Revolutionary War and the events that led up to the war, because that's absolutely one of the things that we do teach in the third grade."

I'd love to know what alternative book she passed over to make room for Rush.

Of course, we're now on summer break. But it seems as though, next year, the third-grade teacher will have even more Limbaugh authored books to use in the classroom:

RUSH: ... When we finish I want you to give Mr. Snerdley a way, an address or something. I do want to ship you some things, and there's some things coming that I can't really talk about that you might find useful. Are you gonna be teaching next year as well?

CALLER: Yes, sir.

RUSH: Well, you'll find it extremely useful.

CALLER: I'm very excited about what's to come.

RUSH: Well, thank you. But the kids, once you get to reading Liberty, the talking horse, that's what got 'em?


RUSH: And they wanted to hear more and more. That's just ... I can't tell you 'cause—

CALLER:  Every day.

What an exceptionally American exchange!

Just before the show cut to commercial, Limbaugh ended the segment by saying, "Speaking of slavery, there's another thing. I made a point yesterday that I think has been illustrated in a news story today. So let me take advantage of her bringing that up and do that next when we get back." And that's exactly what he did.

Quoth the segment: "For people like Obama and Eric Holder, I believe—and there will never be any way to prove this because they would never admit this— but I believe that there is a genuine, long held, deeply felt contempt for the Constitution. And it's all about slavery," he said. "... That's the chip on their shoulder."

Perhaps Limbaugh will go on to write a children's book about Kenyan anti-colonialism.