Saturday, December 6, 2014

On "What makes rhetoric rhetoric"

I've been reading the Hauser supplemental article today--"Teaching Rhetoric: Or Why Rhetoric Isn't Just Another Kind of Philosophy or Literary Criticism"--and I love it.

I've been teaching composition courses since 2002, and I didn't really learn a lot about the rhetoric side of composition prior to teaching. I've always had my own spin on why I teach composition and why I teach it the way I do--I'm post-activism, and when I was teaching in Chicago, I worked at four to five schools at a time for up to ten hours a day for four days a week. I'd just finished an MA in Women's & Gender Studies and had been feeling a little bad about  myself as a person because I simply didn't have time for "making the world a better place" like I did as a student. In my prior English MA program, I'd been president of the LGBTQ Alliance on campus, put on our first gay prom, and a "Queer-In" activist event that involved microphones and loud speakers at the center of campus with people reading radical texts. As an MA student at Roosevelt, I brought Alix Olson to perform one semester, and the next semester, I brought Judith/Jack Halberstam to come speak. If you aren't swooning over that, it's probably because she's a English/gender/queer studies person. After doing those types of things for four years, I was doing nothing. Nothing except teaching.

One day, one of the jobs I was working asked for a new CV and teaching philosophy, and in the philosophy we were required to use one source to help justify our teaching practices. That's when rhetoric, unbeknownst to me, came into my life. I discovered Susan Jarratt.

Jarratt's "Feminism and Composition: The Case for Conflict" opened my eyes to the teaching practices I was already using in the classroom. I hadn't realized that there was a whole world of theory about the hows and whys of teaching composition.

If I had read this article by Hauser years ago, when I was feeling unsure about going to graduate school to study Composition & Rhetoric. His breakdown of why rhetoric is and why it's different than "just teaching composition" with its commitment to civic engagement and commitment to "'capacitating' the individual student to lead the life of an active and responsible citizen" (40). This is what I do in my classroom! I've moved my activism from the outside arena into my classroom. My focus went from commas to helping students interrogate the cultural beliefs foisted on them from childhood. As Hauser says, "Teaching rhetoric involves teacher and student in a continuous journey to uncover personal beliefs and the reasons for holding them" (42). My own beliefs were uncovered and shaped by interaction with my students as their beliefs were uncovered and shaped by interaction with me.  The differentiation of rhetoric from "just teaching composition" or philosophy or literary criticism really hit home with me because the commitment to teaching embedded in rhetoric is why I value teaching rhetoric, I think.

What kinds of responses did you all have to Hauser? Am I the only one who wishes she would have read this article years ago? Are there other articles, like my Jarratt article, that have really impacted you as a teacher-scholar?

1 comment:

  1. Mary, I think Hauser's article is convincing as far as how rhetoric is important for building effective citizens. I have to admit I wonder at times if that is "my role" or if I primarily responsible for teaching writing, and citizenship might be a natural outgrowth of that. Still, the idea of dunamis (capacity as a person) that Hauser mentions is compelling. He discusses a link between dunamis and logos, and I can definitely see this. In order to write logically, one needs to have a sense of character or at least an internalized notion of what logic is. This connects to "real life," where students participate as social actors every day. There is a link between being able to use logic and writing and logic thinking. To teach students rhetoric seems like it could inherently lead to discussions of character and citizenship as well.