Burdens and Blessings : heuristic pedagogy for the rhetorical endeavor in composition
Lenart, Joshua Bela
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Rhetoric has been a cornerstone of Western thought for at least the last 2500 years, whether disdained as manipulative techniques exercised by immoral lawyers and corrupt politicians or prized as an elegant mastery of language displayed by leaders and dignitaries. This essay posits that rhetoric is always a fundamental part not only of Western but of all societies. Maintaining such a constitution necessarily raises the questions how and why should educators acknowledge rhetoric's role in their instruction. Of the innumerable sites for introducing an increased focus on rhetorical instruction in universities, the most obvious should be first year composition classrooms since these sites are oftentimes 1) mandatory and 2) already situated, loosely or extensively, around rhetorical understandings of the classroom and the world in which the classroom exists. The methods of this heuristic essay are designed to draw attention to the need for composition instructors to increase instruction on and around rhetoric, both classical and modern, in order to gain a fuller understanding of how our culture exists within itself and in relation to other cultures. In order to illustrate this need, I offer an historical overview of the discipline, as first designed by classical rhetors beginning with the early sophists and Aristotle, which continued largely unchanged until the middle part of the nineteenth century and the inception of the Morrill Land-Grant College Act after which time emerged what is popularly termed modern rhetoric. By examining these two discrete eras in rhetoric's history, I hope to highlight not only the need for, but in fact the demand for revisiting both eras in contemporary composition classrooms. This essay also posits that rhetoric, historically and contemporarily, can have the most dramatic effect on changing the social conditions in which students and educators exist. This argument could not operate without the understanding that increased focus on compositional rhetoric is necessary today insofar as it strives to continually realize social and political change, which focuses primarily on achieving a greater sense of democracy in our educational systems and thereby our culture. Consequentially, the conclusions reached here are at best suggestive and, as the title suggests, heuristic.