D R A F T 4
NOT FOR QUOTATION
Directions: Consider the changes that have been made to this draft from the first.
What is different? Why do you think the changes were made? In what ways are
they an improvement? Why? What do they fail to accomplish? Leave undone?
What questions do you have now? What needs to be done next?
What structural problems are there? What paragraphing? Where are transitions
Teaching Rhetoric in High School or,
Teaching Students How to Think
The most serious challenge that the majority of my entering students face in my 1st-
year writing classes is that they do not know how to think.i No doubt, standardized testing has
contributed to this as it teaches memorization of facts without teaching them how to analyze
and think about what they are learning, a problem most of the English Ed students I teach
acknowledge readily.ii But an even more serious problem is that first-year students come to my
classes with a rule-bound notion of writing. That is, if they just follow a set of rules: don't say I,
use "good" grammar, write in the 5-paragraph form, don't end sentences with prepositions,
and most unfortunately of all, write for the teacher as audience, they will be able to produce
"good" essays. It is more than just a disappointment to them, focused as they are on getting
good grades, when I don’t reward the result.
Unfortunately, in following "the rules," they almost always produce perfectly awful
writing that serves them very poorly as college students. This, it seems to me, is not the fault of
prior "bad" teaching but , on the one hand, a product of the kind of training that many of our
teachers have had that is based on 19th-century theories of writing that haven't been updated
to reflect the most contemporary theories of language (not writing) in the last 40 years. On the
other, and more particularly, it does not reflect recent theories of rhetoric, that most ancient,
and yet most contemporary, theoretical framework for thinking through the question of how
audiences are actually moved to an action or an attitude. And because rhetoric actually teaches
writers how to think, it is not rule-bound. Its logic instead is based on a set of invariables--
audience, writer, and topic--that are always variable in their interaction and, hence, the
rhetorical situation--the writing situation--cannot be predicted in advance. This is what makes
rhetoric so tough to teach and yet what makes it so productive. Students actually have to think
through an issue rather than just looking for content to fill up a form.
Given that virtually every university and college in the US requires all their students to
take a first-year sequence in writing, many universities offer graduate programs in Rhetorical
Studies or Rhetoric and Composition [insert figures here]. With the shrinking job market for
English majors, many graduate students of every stripe now take those courses because they
see it as a ticket to a teaching job. (One only need read last year’s—any year—MLA job listing to
see how many calls ask for rhetoric and composition skills as well as lit., etc.). Hence, many
college and university teachers operate out of this theoretical frame, and students who are not
prepared for it are always in difficulty in their first year if they are not prepared for the rigors of
such a curriculum. This is not to say that all university teachers teach out of that framework.
Indeed, many ultimately fall back on rules-bound notion of instruction, largely, I suspect,
because that is what was inculcated in them throughout their public school education. And, of
course, when so many of their students come to them already inured to this way of teaching, it
becomes very easy to continue to teach them this way. iii
In the last 8 years, English Journal has published no articles specifically about rhetoric
and composition for the high school classroom. Given that the journal is the flagship publication
of NCTE, I find this extraordinary, seeing as rhetoric is the most ancient of theory and practices
that we have about the process of moving audiences to an action or attitude. As I think there is
no conspiracy to keep rhetoric off the English Journal’s pages, I can only take this omission as
one of three things: there is a dearth of writers for the publication who understand the
significance of rhetoric for contemporary students, or practitioners simply do not know the
history and traditions of rhetoric and, hence, its 2500-year role in teaching writing, or there is
little commitment in the practitioners of the profession to rejecting formulaic writing. This last,
despite the fact that NCTE standards make plenty of room for rhetoric (although, unfortunately,
the word rhetoric is never used) and virtually no room for formulaic instruction.
I suspect that the truth of the matter is that some combination of all three play a role in
rhetoric’s absence from these pages but that lack of knowledge may be a key factor. Some
English Ed majors will be fortunate enough to study in universities that offer strong
undergraduate Rhetoric and Composition programs that they are regularly advised into and,
hence, are well-prepared to teach rhetoric in high school. However, many--perhaps most--
English Ed students, not only may not have access to an undergraduate concentration in
Rhetoric and Composition, (many schools may offer such programs at the Master’s and/or PhD.
Level, not the undergraduate, and even then, that offering may be in Communication Studies,
not English), it’s possible their institution will offer no more than one or two courses in rhetoric
at the undergraduate level for English students. And in any case, even if there are one or two
courses offered in rhetoric, students may not take them, unaware of their significance, if
advisors are not conscious of the importance of such courses for students who will be teaching
writing. Moreover, even if English Ed students have the opportunity to take one, even two,
courses in rhetoric, they cannot hope to develop anything more than a very broad acquaintance
with a tradition spanning more than two millenia. As a consequence, it is no surprise if they
come to the conclusion that rhetoric is just one among several approaches to composition,
without substantial purchase on the theory and practice of writing.
Accordingly, to the extent that English teachers end up knowing anything about
rhetoric, their knowledge may range from complete unawareness, i.e., ignorance, to fairly
sophisticated. This is to say that there will be teachers who simply believe the commonsense
about rhetoric: it is bad, i.e., it is merely empty talk, it is sophistry (talk or writing that is clever
and plausible but ultimately deceptive, as Webster’s would have it), it serves the interests of
little more than propaganda, and/or it is nothing more than the manipulation of the emotions
and desires of others: think advertising here. Others will have a more thorough, albeit usually
traditional, understanding: rhetoric is persuasion, and as such, can move audiences to accept
well-thought-out and well-developed arguments of writers. They understand the significance of
teaching their students to consider audience when they write, and so their students come to
the university much better prepared than their peers. Even so, not all of these teachers
necessarily see that rhetoric has any relevance to the teaching of literature and may continue
to teach the basic “analysis” essay that so many of our first-year students say is the main kind
of writing they did in high school.
Burke/identification – do not know Burke’s work that radically re-thought rhetoric in the 20th
century such that the master term of rhetoric changed from persuasion to identification –
describe Burke’ s contribution – his focus on literature as a rhetorical enterprise. The
Philosophy of the Literary Form.
Rhet falls into disuse during periods of relative political calm; returns at time of crisis.
May explain Obama’s rise and his enormous popularity with young people at a time of national
(and global) crisis.
Cam tears up because Obama in acceptance speech said that he wanted to be President of
everybody. “I will be your President too”
Obama first real orator since JFK
Rhetoric and composition programs increasingly populated by students who take rhetoric and
composition concentrations for careerist reasons. Eng lit majors – take r&c because of the
dearth of jobs in literature, know that if they can teach the 1 st-year course they are more
marketable. Their training, however, must have little effect on teaching of writing in high
schools as formulaic writing still a strong presence in public school education. Otherwise,
wouldn’t be so many articles in English Journal deploring formulaic teaching (list some of the
The history of rhetoric in United States – speech professors were increasingly marginalized by
MLA and literature-focused programs. Walked out of MLA in 1914 (?) and ultimately formed
the Speech Communication Association and from there on rhetoric was taught in departments
of speech communication until the rise of rhetoric and composition programs in the early 19---
(?). Rhetoric however marginalized in departments of English as literature still the major focus
of those departments. Lit professors do not want to teach composition and consider it an
inferior discipline (some do not even consider it a discipline). The History of Speech
Communication: The Emergence of a Disciple, 1914-1915.
What does rhetoric have to offer to training high school students that whole language or
fomula does not? That question needs to answered by saying some things about what rhetoric
is and how it might be applied in the classroom. Rhetoric has its roots in Greek theories of
audience, topic, and speaker. The Sophists were among the first to begin formulating a theory
of rhetoric, and despite the significance of their contributions, the word sophist has come to
have a wholly negative connotation in contemporary discourse, meaning specious speech that
moves audience because it is both clever and plausible. Aristotle first codified rhetoric into a
coherent theory in his On Rhetoric and is the source of our definition of rhetoric as persuasion
when he writes that rhetoric is the discovery of the available means of persuasion. For 2500
years that definition stood until the literary theorist, Kenneth Burke, wrote A Rhetoric of
Motives and changed the master term for rhetoric from persuasion to identification. He writes,
(in a now quaint sexism and which I quote at length):
A is not identical with his colleague, B. But insofar as their interests are joined,
A is identified with B. Or he may identify himself with B even when their interests are
not joined, if he assumes that they are, or is persuaded to believe so. Here are
ambiguities of substance. In being identified with B, A is “substantially one” with a
person other than himself. Yet at the same time he remains unique, an individual locus
of motives. Thus he is both joined and separate, at once a distinct substance and
consubstantial with another. . . .
For substance, in the old philosophies, was an act; and a way of life is an
acting-together; and in acting together, men have common sensations, concepts,
images, ideas, attitudes that make them consubstantial. (20-21)
In other words, speakers do not “persuade” audiences: they create identifications that move
audiences to an action or an attitude by crafting arguments that join the interests of the
writer/speaker and the audience.
Theory of invention: logos, pathos, ethos
Sharon Crowley and Debra Hawhee
Ancient Rhetorics for Contemporary Students, 3rd Ed Pearson Longman 2004
Heuristics – “a means of discovery” (75)
Crowley has said that for her heuristics are `a means of taking more copious and better notes
than you normally would on your own.’
To be sure, English teachers can take a concentration in Rhetorical Studies at the Master’s level
in many universities, and the general consensus seems to be that that is where it is most
appropriate for English Ed majors to get their “taste” of rhetoric and its possibilities for
I, perhaps, would worry less about this state of affairs if it were not for the fact that the
public education system in the United States is in thrall to standardized testing, which
reinforces the enemy of rhetoric, i.e., rule-bound notions of speech. This is to say that what
standardized testing teaches, more than anything else, is that there are right answers and rules
for how to get to those right answers. Considering that the traditional methods of teaching
grammar does precisely the same thing and continues, unfortunately, to be an “important” part
of the English curriculum, and that teachers continue to teach the 5-paragraph theme, it is little
wonder that students come to have an understanding of writing as rule-bound.
As a consequence of this state of affairs,
For an important segment of the high school education cadre, however, what I have to
say here will not be completely unfamiliar. English Journal, especially in the last five years or so,
has paid important attention to this state of affairs, but it is also the case that much of what has
been said here falls on deaf ears. The reason for this is that critiques of rules-bound notions of
writing are symptomatic of an on-going conflict within the English Ed community that shows
little sign of dying out anytime soon. For instance, despite the absolutely clear evidence that
traditional methods of grammar instruction do not work, and despite the fact that teachers
have abundant evidence of this in their own classrooms, teachers continue to repeat the same
failure year after year. The question of why it is deemed necessary to teach grammar year after
year when students take many other classes only once and then move on to the next course
simply does not get aired anywhere but in the pages of EJ and other such publications.
There are at least two explanations that I can think of for this state of affairs. No doubt,
part of the problem is political. As ___ has so cogently and patiently argued, decisions about the
content public education get made by politicians without training in public education, without
the desire to learn, and without any interest in listening to those who do know educational
history and theory. As a consequence educators end up stuck with No Child Left Behind and an
expensive commitment to standardized teaching that has little to do with what students need
to know in order to be successful at the college level.
The other reason is akin to what I can only call hazing, a favorite tool of college
sororities and fraternities (despite the fact that authorities keep futilely trying to stamp it out).
That is, I had to go through this, so should my students. I am astonished that after reading
Constance Weaver’s excellent review of the literature (up to 1996, i.e., we have known for the
last decade that this is so), a surprising number of my Grammar and Editing students (almost all
of whom are English Ed majors) resist the conclusive evidence that traditional grammar
instruction does not work, and yet plan to go right on teaching it anyway. They have a “feeling”
that it has some impact on students, and even though they cannot defend that feeling
theoretically, they stubbornly resist changing their philosophy: I had so much of it, I know a
little grammar, and so it must have had some effect. To what end is beyond their ability to
articulate. And yet, the teachers-in-training who most resist changing their attitudes about
grammar are the ones who produce the weakest writing.
This paper will lay out a set of strategies that high school teachers can use to better
prepare their students for the realities of the 1st-year writing requirement. It will include a brief
orientation to rhetoric, a discussion of why "rules" are typically useless, techniques for
immediate improvement of student writing, and strategies for preparing students for the
university writing experience.
I teach in a medium-sized regional university that draws both from large urban areas and
smaller rural areas.
The English Ed majors I teach have come to me in an upper-level Grammar and Editing course.
For traditional English majors whose commitments are to something other than Rhetoric and
Composition, and who may have taken their rhetoric courses for careerist reasons only, rules-
bound methods of teaching are a simple way of dealing with the more onerous aspects of