Revolution Lullabye

December 6, 2006

Rhetoric as the Writing Major?

Filed under: Uncategorized — by revolutionlullabye @ 4:23 am

Fleming, Davd. “Rhetoric as a Course of Study.” College English 61.2 (Nov. 1998) 169-191.

What is the outcome of a rhetorical education? “The development of a certain kind of person: engaged, articulate, resourceful, sympathetic, civil – a person trained in, conditioned by, and devoted to what was once called eloquence” (172).

The funny state of rhetorical education today: “Rhetoric is featured prominently at the two extremes of higher education: at one end, a fifteen-week course on writing for incoming freshmen; at the other, a multi-year program of advanced study for PhD students. Between the two, there is little or nothing. A better test for the revival of rhetoric in English Departments would be the flourishing of an undergraduate major. In the past, this is what rhetoric was: three to four years of intense study and practice, sometime betwen the ages of (about) fifteen and twenty, organized to develop the discursive competencies and sensibilities needed for effective and responsible participation in public life” (173) Stress public life and the weird absence of anything between first-year comp and PhDs.

Rhetoric, so concieved will be a field “combining wide learning, practical experience, and flexible art and devoted to the inculcation of discursive virtue” (173). Would such a major be sort of the ultimate “great books” curriculum – one that not only looks back to history but actively tries to connect that historical knowledge to present-day circumstances and future goals?

A rhetorical education must balance theory, practice, and inquiry, thus forming “the good rhetor, the person who has mastered the ‘knowledge’ of speaking and writing well, and who is conceived first and foremost as a free and equal member of a self-governing community…We need to recapture this focus on the language user as citizen” (184).

Rhetoric implies some grounding in ethics. (184)

A major in rhetoric might have a hard time attracting students: “it will be deemed to ‘hard’ to be a liberal art, too ‘soft’ to promise employment” (185).

Jost, Walter. “The Logos of Techne (or, By Virtue of Art.)” in The Realms of Rhetoric: The Prospects for Rhetoric of Education. 13-21.

I think this question of his hits it on the mark in answer to those who challenge writing and rhetoric as a major by saying it has no content: “What happens when we think about education as a cultivation of abilities in dealing with subject matters, which is to say, of arts?” (15).

“Rhetorical arts are thought to offer means and ends appropriate for our students and our times, precisely because they acknowledge the indeterminacy of all of our knowing, making room for plural ehtical and political positions yet avoiding being too tied down to specific subject matters, canons, methods, or goals – in a word, ‘values'” (18).

“The aim of rhetorical studies across the disciplines is the history, theory, criticism, and practice of ‘public discourse’ – that is, texts, contexts, and technologies in which communities negotiate their own changing self-definitions” (21).

Petraglia, Joseph. “Shaping Sophisticates: Implications of the Rhetorical Turn for Rhetoric Education.” In Inventing a Discipline. 80-104.

Petraglia sees that the current notion of rhetoric as techne (a “practicable and perfectible art that enables one to be eloquent and persuasive”) is propelled by a fear that American students need their writing to be fixed and made correct, and this view of rhetoric as something that can be taught is doomed to fail (90).

Petraglia suggests a move away from composition, a field doomed by its practical, skill-based connotations, to rhetoric (100).

The questions that need to be asked when developing a curriculum: “What classes should be taught? In what department(s) should rhetoric instruction be housed? and most important, How can a new rhetoric education enrich traditional, technical training in wirting and speaking. THe ability to concoct a curriculum requires enormous diplomatic skill, political will, and singularity of puropse” (100).

Shumaker, Arthur W. “How Can a Major in Composition Be Established?” JAC 2.1-2 (1981).

Back when JAC was about advanced composition. This article seems really outdated, but it has interesting information about a writing major established before this new wave of writing majors at DePauw University.

In 1907, the Department of English Composition and Rhetoric split from English literature. 1907! “The department stressed the need for good , accurate composition in all the academic fields and for all the ordinary purposes of life.”

This new wiritng major comes after the democratization and specialization of the American university, which emphasized content over art.

The writing major is the next bold step beyond writing across the curriculum.

In the DePauw major, no courses on rhetoric were offered: they had to take poetry, drama, fiction, advanced composition (we know what a bowl of fish that is), creative writing, and literature.

Shumaker discusses the type of student who majors in composition and some highlights of the major: “Business employers often appear eager to get these students because they seem to be able to adjust to many different types of work.”

“We have found that a major in composition may well come to understand himself or herself better, because often the student has to turn inward in search of subjects and insights.” Their choices and what lies behind them – values.


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