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A Vital Field

Classical studies: A vital field

Dan Axmacher

A couple of weeks ago, Rush Limbaugh railed against classical studies on his talk show. When I read the transcript, I was livid. As a classical studies major, I am used to taking some flak for choosing to pursue something so “useless,” and am used to occasionally defending the relevancy of not only learning a “dead” language, but immersing myself in the study of the culture that spoke it.

I have long been tired of answering the question “So, what’re you gonna do with that?” and I have occasionally responded curtly: “I’m going to get a degree.” This is an avoidance of not only the question, but also the issue.

Like many students in the humanities, I find myself with limited options. One student of the classics voiced their frustration at this situation on the Internet, in the form of a ‘99%’ note: “I graduate college in seven months with a ‘useless’ degree in classical studies. I have worked very hard and am on track to graduate with highest Latin honors. I am in a Greek organization with many volunteer hours under my belt. My job prospects? 0. I am one of the lucky ones, but I am still the 99 percent. Welcome to the American nightmare.”

Limbaugh’s response: “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?” With this laughable response, Limbaugh betrays his own stupidity. But that’s not what upset me. He went on to not only dismiss classical studies, but to dismiss the liberal arts, and the entirety of higher education. He claimed that liberal arts institutions are lying to students, promising us well paying jobs upon graduating with our “useless” diplomas. We know what we’re getting ourselves into. As did this student airing her frustration with an economic crisis that is not only affecting kids with humanities degrees. It’s rough all over, and we have no illusions about it. Even engineering students and business-econ majors may have a hard time  finding employment in their field.

Limbaugh also claims that “it is relatively new, two generations, that worthless degrees are being constructed and taught and awarded.” As if classical studies isn’t one of the oldest disciplines there is, as if it hasn’t been a field of study for the past two thousand years, as if our founding fathers, whom pundits like Limbaugh hold in such high esteem, were totally ignorant of the philosophies of the Greeks, who invented Democracy (from demokratia, “rule of the people”), and the Romans, whose republic served as a model for our own.

Limbaugh says that these degrees are being “constructed” by the “socialists” who run colleges, for the purpose of “indoctrinating” students like us. All of us here at Wooster know that this is total nonsense. What’s heartbreaking is that there are people out there buying this anti-intellectual, anti-education nonsense. A caller towards the end of the segment said that she pulled her kids out of “blue-ribbon public schools,” and put them in a “classical Christian” school where they were learning Latin, and learning to “think critically,” because the public schools were indoctrinating her kids. In an environment like Wooster, it becomes easy to dismiss people like Limbaugh as ignorant jerks. But he has the number one most-listened-to talk radio show in the country, garnering over 15 million listeners weekly (the only other radio show, talk or otherwise, that garners more listeners is the American Top 40, while Sean Hannity is right behind Limbaugh).

How can someone who claims public schools are brainwashing stations and that higher education is a waste of time (Limbaugh didn’t graduate college. “He flunked everything,” according to his mother), have that many listeners? How can someone who suggests that women should wear burqas if they don’t want to be sexually assaulted, as Limbaugh did last week, pull that much weight? What is wrong with this picture?

As students at a liberal arts institution, we should all be personally offended by Limbaugh’s statements, and even more offended, or perhaps ashamed, at our fellow citizen’s tolerance and outright support of such ignorant and offensive rhetoric.

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