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Revisiting BS Lit and thoughts about bad words

(The bullshitter) does not reject the authority of the truth, as the liar does, and oppose himself to it. He pays no attention to it at all. By virtue of this, bullshit is a greater enemy of the truth than lies are. Harry G. Frankfurt, On Bullshit

Given the current brouhaha surrounding the health care debate, I thought it might be time to brush off an old post, Bullshit Literacy. Or for those of you with scatological avoidance issues, BS Lit. (I like Bullshit Lit because it rhymes*) While ASCD, ISTE or AASL won't admit it, Bullshit Lit is the 21st Century Skill set. Embed these crucial skills in your curriculum today!

The Bullshit Literate Student will (2009):

  1. Show no social conscience or balance when deliberately distorting factoids, data, or expert opinion in presenting a conclusion.
  2. Skillfully use any medium and all persuasive techniques in order to convince others. This includes the ability to use technology to doctor images and edit published text.
  3. Consistently, vociferously, and blindly hold to a single point of view, and know that volume, repetition and rhetoric trump reason.
  4. Use purposely emotion-laded words so as not to let reason possibly interfere with judgement.
  5. Convincingly fake sincerity and deliver any message with a straight face.
  6. Ably disguise personal gain as public good.
  7. Take a single incident or news story and follow it to an illogical conclusion.
  8. Claim any idea as original.
  9. Deny prior knowledge.
  10. Create a website, wiki, blog, or podcast. (beginning level). Find a publisher, broadcaster or corporate sponsor for whom the bottom line is the bottom line. (advanced).
  11. Never, never, never show doubt.
  12. Take no responsibility for consequences that may occur down the road.
  13. Use any extreme of any financial projection or estimate.
  14. Let the retention of power or position be the deciding factor in all decisions. Doing what's right is for wimps and suckers.
  15. Offer apologies in such a way that the wrong-doer looks morally superior.

Other skills the Bullshit Literate need master?

A follow-up post with a link to Art Wolensky's rubric for measuring bullshit literacy attainment.

For Latin readers from

* I have purposely retained the term bullshit in this set of competencies, acknowledging that it will offend some readers and limit the distribution of this important skill set. However, I cannot think of another, less objectionable term that describes the act of bullshitting, a person who is a bullshitter, or a communication that is bullshit. (No, baloney does not have the gravitas.) I believe that writing "bullsh*t" or just "bull" is disingenuous since the full term pops into the reader's head anyway and simply makes them feel guilty about knowing such words.

I try to use expletives or scatological references only sparingly and purposefully. But in adult conversation they are sometimes necessary, even vital. And during times of stress or excitement, unavoidable.

After having worked some months in construction duirng my college days, I took a job as a stock clerk/delivery person in a large furniture store. My supervisor approached me not long after being hired and said, 'Doug, I don't think you are even aware of it, but did you know you can't say a single sentence without putting a profanity in it?" His comment made me think hard about not whether one uses bad language, but if one can control one's use of it.

A lesson I tried to teach my son the first time I heard him let fly a blue streak.

Thanks for letting me ramble.

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Reader Comments (3)

Holy crap that's a good post!

(Especially in these times of health care "debate" and bullshitters like Glenn Beck who would get an A on the above list).

August 28, 2009 | Unregistered Commenterteacherninja

Don't forget that bullshit literacy includes having a working crap detector.

August 30, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTim Staal

Hi Ninja,

Yeah, it's sick, but it tickles me when I read it too. Some sort of chronic narcissism, I guess.

I would say that Glenn Beck and Keith Olbermann are mirror images. Neither end of the political spectrum has a monopoly on bullshit.

All the best,


Hi Tim,

I use that expression often. I think it comes from Teaching as a Subversive Activity. One of my bibles!


September 1, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterDoug Johnson

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