Revolution Lullabye

September 12, 2006


Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 2:42 am

Berlin, James A. Rhetoric and Reality: Writing Instruction in American Colleges, 1900-1985. Carbondale, Illinois: Southern Illinois University Press, 1987.

 Note: This note entry only covers the first 91 pages of the book. The next entry will deal with the monograph in its entirity.

 Berlin’s history of the twentieth-century field of rhetoric and composition traces the discipline and its relationship to literary studies (poetics) through the numerous movements in the past hundred years, starting with current-traditionalism and progressivism. It is one of the foremost histories of the field. He divides twentieth-century rhetoric into objective, subjective, and transactional rhetorics.


 1. His statement that the kind of pedagogy we use to teach our students writing directly affects their attitude towards others in society. (7)

2. He is insistent that rhetoric is a tool for the masses to gain power and a voice; instruction in rhetoric should look outward, not inward.

1. I find it interesting that he chooses to use the term “rhetoric” in his title and throughout his book, which traces the history of composition, specifically the freshman composition course. Rhetoric seems to correspond to civics. does he think there is a difference between rhetoric and composition? 

2. Progressive education’s use of objective tests to evaluate student writing seems remarkably un-progressive, doesn’t it? Can good writing be quantified. And even if it can, what does that tell us about how to write?

3. What is good about using literature to teach writing? I don’t like it personally, but I’d like to hear their argument, because I think it is more complicated than good literature cultures students.


“Since the expertise of the English department is in literary criticism, and since the university exists to provide expert instruction, writing coursees should deal with matters the English faculty knows best – literary texts. Lost in departments where such arguments prevail, I would add, is the historical concern of rhetoric for practical action in areas of public conern affectin all citiznes. Where this concern is lost, rhetoric becomes subsumed by poetic and becomes a reflective disciplin rather than an active discipline.” (52)

 “Democratic conceptions of language and rhetoric establish an open community for free discoures, a community where the rights of the people to express themselves are protected. This makes knowledge available to all, whereas its opposite makes ignorance the normal state of the majority.” (87)


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