Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Truth Discovered or Created in FYC?

This week’s readings point out the interesting tention between discovery and creation of truth. While thinking about rhetoric and its epistemic nature, I’ve been also thinking about truth in the composition classroom. I’m particularly interested in whether truth is created or discovered in my classroom. Yet, this question doesn’t seem as easily answered as I’d like it to be. I’d like to say that my students create their own truths, rather than discover those predetermine truths they assume are out there (or worse, that I hold the key to). At the very least, I’d like to think they leave my class with an awareness that other create truths and they should question those truths. Again, this gets tricky, because, as, Brummett suggests that a mistake to assume everyone is using the same meaning of “rhetoric is epistemic” (1). He identifies three meanings: methodological (truth discovered), sociological (truth discovered and created), and ontological (truth created). My students my have other classes (like, biology or chemistry) where the meaning is methodological. If that is the case, how do they transition back and forth between classes where these meanings are different? How can I help them do this? Better yet, how do I make them aware that others are creating truth for them (i.e. news programs, social media, etc.)? For example, Scott notes, “Thus rhetoric may be viewed not as a matter of giving effectiveness to truth, but of creating truth” (13). The rhetoric surrounding the Ebola outbreak is not simply revealing truth to people, but creating it for them in some cases. 

One of my students asked last week if we could spend a day talking about Ebola, because she was “very worried about getting it” and “didn’t know much about it.” What she did know was that there were now cases in America (though, she didn’t know how those people contracted the disease or who they were) and that people were talking about the dangers of it. In this case, she was letting other people create her truth that this disease was a serious threat to her health. I told her that, unfortunately, I couldn’t spend a class period on it, but if she wanted to do some scholarly research on Ebola and present it to the class, I’d give her extra credit. She seemed interested, but at least she could go research and re-evaluate her truth. Is that discovery, creation, or both? Will she discover that her truth was wrong and create a new one?


  1. Determining whether students are really creating or discovering truth is interesting; however, I think that in order to really examine the situation properly we would first have to define first what is meant by creation and then discovery. By defining what is specifically meant by each term, it becomes more visible how those terms compare to what is occurring during the students' writing processes. You suggest that discovery and creation both occur, and I find that to be an intriguing idea. Perhaps, what students are discovering is the truth that they created. This idea is a bit convoluted, which is why I think it would be necessary to really consider the terms more fully.

  2. I too am interested in your question about how students transition between classrooms wherein the teacher or discipline views knowledge differently than the composition teacher. I don't know how to approach this question because I think the way students view knowledge is deeply embedded in our American educational culture, meaning that students are accustomed to what Friere called the banking system, in that they sit as knowledge is deposited into them.

    Of course, we as composition teachers have problems with this notion of knowledge, and I would guess that many teachers believe "T/truth" is relative to the culture that creates/questions it. Too, I believe we as teachers also believe students have the capability of creating knowledge for themselves. But how do we get them to continue to believe this when that's not how they can be successful in their other classes; that is, their other classes require them to regurgitate information not think critically about it and then form new understandings.

  3. I think that the split between methodological, sociological, and ontological truths are what make composition so hard for students sometimes. As you've said, students KNOW that there is a Truth in a math class. There are right and wrong answers, and I think they really struggle in composition because we are asking them to take a more sociological or ontological view of truth. I like the idea of being really clear about where the truths we discuss in the classroom come from, though, and I think that helps the students decide if they are discovering/creating or just creating their own truths.