Tuesday, August 26, 2014

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? 


  1. The readings and discussions we have had in ID 601 this week have followed along a similar line of thought. We have been discussing different pedagogical theories; from Current-Traditional to Expressivist to New Rhetoric. A majority of the discussion revolved around how instructors have moved away from a more prescriptive style of teaching where they were supposed to lead students to an established set of Truths to , as Berlin puts it in "Contemporary Composition: The Major Pedagogical Theories," the idea that "knowledge is not simply a static entity available for retrieval" (774). However, the more prescriptive styles of teaching were still being used not long ago and even though there has been a move away from those practices they still have an influence on how composition is taught. One of the practices we discussed that still has its hold in the classroom is the formulaic way that many people still teach the research paper. There isn't a lot of room for the "play and creativity in composing and multimodality" that Mary is trying to emphasize in her classes. The article "Building a Mystery" by Davis and Shadle provided some alternatives to the 'standard' research paper that seemed to allow a lot more room for student creativity and expression. Moving away from the norms allows for a much broader style of learning.

  2. Mary,

    First off--I love Freire's essay on the banking system in education. Reading his essay helped shape my philosophy as a teacher as well.

    Second--to answer the question you posed, I would bring up the idea of the warrant present in the argument: do both the rhetor and the audience assume the underlying premise on which the argument lies is "true"? If they do, I think it would be easier to persuade the audience. But if the rhetor and the audience have different value systems that cause them to disagree with the warrant of the argument, I think persuading them of the argument would be more difficult because they don't agree with the underlying premise in the first place.

    The idea of the anti-enthymeme as a teaching strategy is neat to me. We ask students to construct ideas much of the time, but developing an anti-enthymeme asks them to first deconstruct and then reconstruct an argument. This could be useful for helping students be more aware of the assumptions held about particular issues that are implicitly built into a variety of institutions--government, education, religion, media.