Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Remediated Arguments

In Douglas’ “Rhetoric for the Meritocracy: The Creation of Composition at Harvard” he brings to light several arguments that I think echo in today’s digital age. For example, Douglas notes that Channing’s major “revision of rhetoric” involves the orator’s relationship with his audience (116). The awareness of this relationship, which at the time was in reference to print media, is now even further complicated by the Internet. Clay Shirkey notes in Here Comes Everybody that the line between author and audience is blurring thanks to co-authoring Websites like Wikipedia. Furthermore, Eliot expresses concern over the common men leaping from “farm or shop to courtroom” (126). Likewise, the Internet provides a space for current-day common men to present themselves as authorities on the Web. Eliot’s response to this “leaping” is increasing professionalism, but not for everyone—just the "gentlemanly" (127). During this time print could have been a democratizing force, as the Internet is (or is suppose to be). Yet, there are questions of access—access to education or discourse instead of technology. I think these are interesting parallels between media, and I have to wonder what impact these parallels have on the rhetoric we use for them. Or, what does it say about rhetoric surrounding a “new” medium/technology, if these same arguments surface each time?

Starting and Ending with Rhetoric

Today's readings about rhetoric really resonated with what I've been doing in class this week. I had students read Johnson's "Patriarchy: the System," Freire's "The Banking Concept of Education," and the first chapter of Rhetoric, Composition, and Expression for the Digital Age (RCE).  These three pieces work together to set the tone for the semester--Johnson raises student awareness of social systems and how, while everyone is a part of the (patriarchal) social system, each person can choose how she or he participates in it. Freire discusses teaching and explains the difference between the "banking system" (depositing knowledge into student receptacles) and "problem-posing" education (empowering students to think rather than regurgitate facts). Chapter 1 in RCE discusses play and creativity in composing and multimodality. I've chosen these three readings to start with because in my composition class, the students are going to be encouraged to play (as RCE encourages) as they write and research this semester--I don't want them to write what they think I want them to write. We went over Freire to help them better understand my teaching style and show them that composition doesn't have to be me lecturing at them about things. I want them to be excited about their research and come up with their own truths. And finally, Johnson's article helps students think beyond that individualized mindset that is so prevalent in U.S. culture. Thinking about social systems and understanding that we are all a part of them, whether we like it or not.

This week's readings connected to my classroom practices because my students will be examining normative ideologies--the stories and images that society depicts as "normal" and "natural"--and interrogating how social systems perpetuate these myths. In class today, we discussed the images presented publicly that support the patriarchal social system--the students specifically mentioned the ideology of the nuclear family and explained how advertising and mainstream media presents a working father, a stay-at-home mother, and well-behaved children as a "normal" family. The students explained that in the real world, most people don't come from those types of situations--one student discussed her family as a foster family with a single mother at the head. This type of analysis engages students in rhetorical discourse--Herrick defines "the art of rhetoric as the systematic study and intentional practice of effective symbolic expression" (7). Students see and study the "symbols" society presents and pick them apart to decide if the symbol is persuasive or the "truth" as it is presented. 

Next class session, I will be introducing the students to their Project 1 assignment--they will be taking their own truths and creating their own enthymeme--explaining their own truths to a specific audience in a persuasive narrative.

I wonder, though, is it absolutely necessary, as Herrick argues, that there must be a commonality between the rhetor (student) and the audience (9)? Does persuasion rely on commonality or identification? Would it be useful or beneficial to ask students to write an anti-enthymeme, addressing an audience that they have nothing in common with, or, even, an audience who may be hostile to their ideas?