A Narrative with a Point

An ERWC 3.0 Mini-Module

On May 1, 2017, Jimmy Kimmel opened his show with a story about his son, who was born with a heart defect.  He began

I have a story to tell about something that happened to our family last week. I’m sorry, you know I try not to get emotional, but it was a scary story, and before I go into it I want you to know it has a happy ending. Don’t get too upset; leave that to me.

It was an unusual beginning for a comedy show. He tells his audience that the story is scary, but not to worry, it has a happy ending, referencing both the past and the future at the outset. Then he returns to the past to begin his narrative. His son is born, but in the recovery room, a nurse notices something unusual. His son is rushed to another room, which soon fills up with doctors and specialists. Everyone is worried as more tests are made. Meanwhile, Kimmel’s wife is still in the recovery room, oblivious to any problems. Finally, Kimmel’s son is rushed to Children’s Hospital for heart surgery. Everything turns out ok.

Kimmel thanks doctors, nurses, and many others, and describes a happy home life with his new son. But then he makes a political point: “No parent should ever have to decide if they can afford to save their child’s life.” He connects this thesis to the vote on repealing the Affordable Care Act that is about to take place in the Senate.  This quickly became known as the “Jimmy Kimmel” test for the political viability of a health care policy.

The narrative is a well-crafted rhetorical piece with emotional appeals, strong identification, and various appeals to both medical and political logos. It also does interesting things with narrative time.  As he delivers the monologue, he moves back and forth between show time, hospital time, home time, and the larger political moment. There are many “nows” in his story, as there are in most stories, including the “now” of senators taking a vote on health care.

We used this monologue at our leadership events to introduce the concept of the rhetorical situation.  I found it so interesting that I decided to create a mini-module around it, based on the current draft of the ERWC 3.0 template.  See what you think.  Please post comments on this site.

In Memoriam: Jim Garrett

Yesterday I went to a memorial service for my friend Jim Garrett, whom I first met back in 1991, when I was setting up a new writing center at Cal State L.A. Jim was a computer programmer who had decided to study literature. He had enrolled in the M.A. program and the English Department had just instituted a requirement that new Teaching Assistants had to work in the writing center for one quarter before teaching. The center was brand new and I had just ordered 10 Apple Macintosh SE-30s and 10 IBM PCs for student use. I was a DOS PC person, but the SE-30s were delivered first. When Jim walked in, he found me puzzling over how to set up the unfamiliar Macs. He introduced himself and immediately began unboxing computers, setting them up, and teaching me how to use them.

Our friendship began at that moment. He was technically my employee at that point, but I was already learning from him. A few months later he found me having no luck trying to figure out how to create a student-tracking database in Dbase. He offered to write a program for me. When he brought the first version in, he sat for an hour watching the staff at the front desk use it. Then he told me, “They don’t use it the way I thought they would. I have to redesign it.” For most programmers, that would be a training issue, but not for Jim. He wanted it to work the way the staff worked. Eventually, that program not only tracked students, but scheduled tutors, did payroll, and generated dozens of reports. We used it for more than a decade.

All of this was typical of Jim. When he saw someone trying to solve a problem, he pitched in. And he brought immense problem-solving skill and considerable knowledge to every scenario. As near as I could tell, he was interested in everything. He had the problem-solving skill of an engineer and the soul of a poet. He could be practical, mathematical, theoretical, and whimsical, sometimes in the same moment. If he didn’t know how to do something, he would learn. If you asked him how to do something, he would more than likely do it for you.

Jim was a mathematically thinking computer programmer who became a Wordsworth scholar. For him, there was no contradiction in that. His thought was not easy to compartmentalize. If you thought you had exhausted the possibilities of something, Jim was sure to have a different take, a new perspective, a useful insight.

All this problem-solving kept Jim very busy, especially when he became chair of the English Department at Cal State L.A., a place with a tremendous number of problems to solve, many of which were off-the-charts intractable and full of Catch 22 traps. Jim continued to act as if data and well-founded arguments would ameliorate things in the long run. He kept trying even when his own particularly rational, genius-inflected approach did not win the day. Though Jim’s approach was always rational and straightforward, he understood human foibles, allowed for them, and took every person he met seriously.

No matter how busy Jim was, he always made time for family and friends. Whatever conversation you started with him, he was always right there. He never seemed to be bored, distracted, or to deflect any concern. He listened carefully, and always seemed to know something about the topic. Whenever I met Jim, no matter how things were going for me, I always smiled. Part of it was his smile, but part of it was simply his stance toward the world. You felt that things were going to be ok.

I considered Jim to be one of my best friends, but at the memorial service I realized that Jim had a huge number of people who considered him a best friend. He always made whoever he was talking with feel special.  Jim was one of those people who make you think that maybe the human race is not so bad after all. I realize now that there are certain kinds of problems that make me think, “I’ll ask Jim about this. He is sure to have some insight.” I still have those questions, but now I can’t ask Jim. We will all miss him so much.

What will ERWC 3.0 be like?

People have been asking me how ERWC will change as we work on the new NPD and i3 grants. I have some ideas, but we are just beginning our work. Although I nominally chair the steering committee, there are a lot of talented people on the various ERWC committees, and we don’t always initially agree. Still, I think that some things have become relatively clear.

11th Grade Course

Currently the ERWC curriculum consists of a 12th grade course with 12 modules, from which teachers select 8-10, with additional modules for grades 7-11. Our new plan is to create an 11th grade course and redesign the 12th grade. Some existing modules will remain, but some may be retired and some shifted to 11th grade. Many new modules will be created. The current plan is for each course to have eight major module slots with at least two to three possible choices for each slot. Mini-modules introducing rhetorical concepts will be available for the transitions between the major modules. The courses will form a coherent whole and the expected outcomes will be more clearly sequenced, but it will not be necessary for a student to take the 11th grade course in order to do well in the 12th grade. Our intention is to provide teachers and students with greater flexibility than in the past.

Literary Texts

The existing ERWC does a good job of addressing California’s English language arts (ELA) standards related to reading and writing expository and persuasive texts. Although literary texts have always been included in ERWC, they have not been a major focus. ERWC 3.0 will include more novels, poems, and short stories and will address all ELA standards, including speaking and listening. The ERWC approach to literature will go beyond the traditional focus on the use and interpretation of figurative language. Each literary module will take up multiple perspectives and theoretical approaches and encourage multiple interpretations. Of course, the rhetorical perspective that is built into ERWC will be a prominent one. The pilot module on The Great Gatsby is a good example of what an ERWC literary module will look like.

The Template

The Assignment Template has been called the DNA of ERWC. It is an apt metaphor because the template contains the structure and sequence of every module. It has been the foundation of our success and we are reluctant to alter it greatly. However, certain aspects of it need to evolve. Right now we are asking ourselves four big questions:

  1. How can we make ERWC more accessible to students with different learning strengths and needs?
  2. How can we incorporate Universal Design for Learning?
  3. How can we better support English learners?
  4. How can we update the template to reflect current research and new approaches?

We have lots of ideas about the first three questions. The problem is to integrate the material without turning the template into a dissertation. On the fourth question, we are still negotiating some important issues about theory and practice.

New Modules

My oft-repeated slogan for our new and revised modules is that they should be “Shorter, Simpler, Smarter.” I think it is beginning to catch on. In the last i3 study we found that many teachers were not able to finish one module before going on to the next one. This was one reason we started talking about the ERWC “Arc” and saying that a module moved from a professional text to a student text. It also was clear that it was difficult for teachers to finish eight modules in a year. In the last rewrite we had simply added too many activities and in some cases, too many texts (I was the biggest offender in this regard). Our idea was that we would provide lots of activities so that teachers could use formative assessment to determine which activities their students needed and which they did not. In practice, teachers new to ERWC may not have had enough experience with the materials to make these decisions. They tried to teach everything.

What the slogan really means is that module writers should be asking themselves questions such as

  1. Do I really need this activity or text to achieve the goals of the module?
  2. Is there a simpler way to do this activity and get the same result?
  3. Can I use the product of this activity in another activity for double benefit?
  4. Has another module already taught this sufficiently? Can I build on it?

Another way to look at this issue is to consider the effort to benefit ratio. In other words, is this complex or difficult activity worth the benefit it will achieve?

And we also face the challenge of balancing the need to add strategies and activities for integrated English language development to modules and still keep them shorter and simpler.

Rhetorical Concepts

When we designed ERWC 1.0, most high school teachers were unfamiliar with rhetoric. We introduced Aristotle’s three appeals—ethos, logos, and pathos—and based most of our critical thinking questions on them. We kept it simple. Now, most teachers are aware of this aspect of Aristotle and are ready to teach a more complex set of rhetorical tools. We will offer more sophisticated means for analyzing audience and purpose, building on Aristotle, but going beyond. The new version of “Three Ways to Persuade” is one example of this extension. We will focus more attention on the rhetorical situation, using concepts such as “kairos” (timeliness and appropriateness) and “exigence” (that which moves the speaker to speak). Our task is to present these concepts in such a way that they are easily understood and used in various contexts and situations. These new materials are under development.

In Summary

There will be lots of tweaks, revisions, and additions, but ERWC will remain recognizably ERWC. The new courses are going to be very interesting. We will address more standards and provide more tools and strategies for different populations of students. We will have new modules, texts, and strategies. It is an exciting time to be involved in ERWC.

ERWC Leadership Event 2017: Speech

We have just completed our ERWC Leadership Conferences for 2017.  The Sacramento event was held at the Hilton Sacramento Arden West Hotel, June 20-21.  Unfortunately, the hotel’s air conditioning system failed at about 11:00 am, so the first day sessions were conducted under less than ideal conditions and the second day sessions were curtailed.  The Los Angeles event, at the Westin Los Angeles Airport June 27-28, ran much more smoothly.  I would like to thank the presenters, the support staff, and the participants for a wonderful event.

I will post on other aspects of the conferences and ERWC 3.0 in the next few days, but today I want to post the speech I gave at both events.


I am sorry I missed the leadership events last year. I had a scheduling conflict. I was in London. My wife and I had been invited to visit her brother, who is an executive in a large scientific instruments company, while he was temporarily stationed in the U.K. The company had rented a lovely home for him in Beaconsfield, an upscale suburb, where we were invited to stay. As it happened, we were in London just before the Brexit referendum and returned from the continent just after it.

The difference was palpable. The city we had left was a vibrant, optimistic, multicultural metropolis. The city we returned to was downcast, confused, stunned. My brother-in-law said he canceled several multi-million dollar deals the day after Brexit, and six months later he was working from Shanghai. The United Kingdom is still in turmoil and the future is difficult to predict.

How did this happen? I would say that it was largely a matter of rhetoric.

The city of London voted largely to remain in the European Union (though I did see “Leave” signs even in Beaconsfield) as did Scotland, Northern Ireland, and most young people, who saw the right to freely travel and live in Europe as a path toward adventure, education and jobs. The rest of England and Wales voted to leave.

I happened to talk to some Welsh soccer fans in Paris, who kept reminding me that they were Welsh, not English. They said that they had voted Leave because of immigrants, whom they felt were getting benefits they had not earned and did not deserve. Membership in the E.U. and the required free movement of people from any E.U. member country to any other has brought lots of Polish and Eastern European people to the U.K. to work in service jobs and to harvest agricultural products. Many British people feel that immigrants from elsewhere in the E.U. are taking away jobs, getting undeserved benefits, diluting British culture with foreign ways, and committing crimes. Sound familiar? So the solution is to exit the E.U. But that also means giving up free access to the European market, which is the foundation of most economic activity in the U.K.

The following image represents two of the main arguments that Boris Johnson, former Mayor of London and a leader of the “Leave” campaign, made to support Brexit:

3000

The slogan on the sign sounds like a simple way to improve the National Health Service, but it ignores all the other benefits that might accrue from E.U. membership. The url on the podium, voteleavetakecontrol.org, makes another simplistic argument that focuses on immigration, but simply ignores the issue of the free market. Johnson, a flamboyant and popular leader, also argued that the U.K. could “Have our cake and eat it,” implying that Britain could negotiate a deal to control immigration and still have access to the free market. He never explained why the E.U. would agree to that.

The arguments for “Remain,” on the other hand, were mostly economic, cast in terms of currency fluctuations, trade figures, economic forecasts. Many arguments sound like this paragraph from an article in the Business Insider:

If the pound is weak, again, it will make it more expensive for us to trade. Equities are already tumbling because extra costs will hurt not just Britain’s biggest companies’ pockets, but also how they can afford to pay staff. Morgan Stanley points out that a Brexit would devastate a number of markets within just six months.

From Here is an avalanche of reasons why Britain should stay in the EU, Business Insider Jun. 16, 2016

The average citizen without a corporate job or any investments in stocks would be unmoved by this rhetoric.

Aristotle says, “The duty of rhetoric is to deal with such matters as we deliberate upon without arts or systems to guide us, in the hearing of persons who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument, or follow a long chain of reasoning.” In other words, rhetoric is for matters about which we cannot have certainty, and for audiences who would not understand the proofs we might give if we had them.

Boris Johnson and the rest of the Leave campaign were clearly more persuasive to the electorate in this regard, providing a simple, appealing logos for people who were disinclined to follow complicated arguments. And notice how this logos appeals to both a simple logic and a nationalistic pathos: “Let’s stop giving money to foreigners and spend it on our own health care! Let’s take control of our borders and keep the foreigners out!” On the other hand, the message from the Remain campaign is coldly logical: “If we do this, we will lose money.”

And here we come to my main point in discussing Brexit: the speaker who masters the art of understanding the audience and the rest of the rhetorical situation, and in crafting a message that moves both the emotions and the intellect of this audience in this context, is the one who will be most persuasive. Too often, we are tempted to see Aristotle’s three appeals as discreet elements that can be recognized and sorted into boxes. In fact, they work together seamlessly and harmoniously. Logos alone is rarely persuasive in a public forum.

In your packets you will find a new version of my rather ancient article “Three Ways to Persuade.” In this revision, I have attempted to connect the appeals together, mostly through the conduit of audience. In the updating and re-envisioning of ERWC that is currently ongoing, this is one of the main themes. We want to provide students and teachers with a more subtle, flexible, and useful set of rhetorical tools, for both analyzing and writing texts. Even after 14 years of growth and success, this is an exciting time to be involved in ERWC. And now I want to turn things over to my colleagues Meline Akashian and Nelson Graff for an introduction to more of these rhetorical tools.

 

Revisiting “Three Ways to Persuade”

My short article, “Three Ways to Persuade,” has been a part of ERWC since the early days.  It is included in my first ERWC module, “The Rhetoric of the Op-Ed Page,” but many teachers extracted it and used it earlier in the course.  It was designed to be a simple introduction to Aristotle’s three appeals: ethos, logos, and pathos.  It has been uploaded by teachers to various websites and many teaching websites link to it. It hasn’t exactly gone viral, but it is quite popular.

The earliest version of the article was written as a handout for a First Year Writing class I was teaching as a T.A. at the University of Southern California, probably in 1990.  At that time, the former Yugoslavia was breaking apart and I drew some of my examples of pathos from the conflict between Serbians and Croatians and the practice of “ethnic cleansing.”  Once the article became widely available on the internet, I started to receive complaints from Serbs that my otherwise very useful article was biased against them.  I considered their arguments and decided that I was not an expert on the former Yugoslavia, that my purpose was not to write about Yugoslavia, and that I did not need those specific examples.   I revised the piece.  One of my correspondents about this matter took it upon himself to contact every site that linked to the article and encourage them, quite persuasively I am sure, to upload the revised version.

As I have noted in other blog posts, a couple of years ago instructors in First Year Writing courses in colleges and universities began to complain about receiving large numbers of overly simplistic rhetorical analysis essays that combined ethos, logos, and pathos with the five-paragraph essay.   In a typical example, the writer claims in the introduction that the author of the text under analysis “uses” ethos, logos, and pathos, writes a body paragraph about each appeal with examples from the text showing the “use” of the appeal, and then writes a conclusion that repeats the claim about “using” ethos, logos, and pathos, as if that were an important thing to prove.  It is all quite neat and tidy.  It does show that the student writer has some understanding of the appeals and is able to recognize elements of the text that might function in this way.  However, such an analysis ignores more important concerns such as audience and purpose.  This is akin to naive birdwatching–identifying and checking off birds on a list without thinking about the whole ecosystem and why this bird is in this context at this moment.

I first heard about this problem on the Writing Program Administrators listserv, but when I asked instructors on my own campus about it, they agreed.   There are lots of potential causes for this, including the new emphasis on persuasion and argumentation in the Common Core standards, but I wondered if my semi-viral article was in part responsible.  I started thinking about revising it again.

This issue resulted in lots of discussion in the ERWC committees about the utility of the three appeals, whether we should present Aristotle as Aristotle or try to modernize him, and whether the problems created by this simplistic use of the appeals were inherent in the appeals or a matter of instruction.  One point of contention was Aristotle’s conception of logos.  Aristotle favors arguments from probability, which he calls “artistic proofs,” and distrusts “inartistic proofs,” arguments based on eye witnesses, documents, and other elements that we would call “evidence,” because he thinks witnesses can be bribed and documents can be forged. I think this is why textbooks that are very much based in classical rhetoric, such as Andrea Lunsford’s Everything’s an Argument, bring in Stephen Toulmin’s system when they get to logos.

After all of this discussion, I created a revised version of the piece, which is now called, “Three Ways to Persuade: Integrating the Three Appeals.”  I decided to remain true to Aristotle, but connect Aristotle to more modern rhetorical concepts.  This version makes it clear that the three appeals work in concert together. I reordered the appeals so that I could use Kenneth Burke’s concept of “identification” as a bridge between ethos and pathos and use the psychological concept of “desire,” and the rationalization of desire, as a bridge between pathos and logos.  I have also included a paragraph describing the difference between Aristotle’s syllogistic arguments from probability and evidence-based arguments such as one gets from Toulmin.

It is still only four pages long.  I hope that the additional conceptual material does not confuse students, but helps them use these concepts in a more productive and useful way.  See what you think.  Please post a comment if you have responses or suggestions.

Science Fiction Epistolary

This started out as an assignment for my English 301 “Professional Writing” course.  I was teaching memos, emails, letters, reports and other common workplace genres.  The actual assignment said:

Office Blog (A weekly blog post on Blackboard consisting of an email, memo, or letter related to an ongoing situation or problem in the fictional workplace you imagined. After you post, comment on at least one other student’s post.)

I made this assignment because I wanted English majors to have an opportunity to write a lot of business-oriented documents while also developing their creative writing skills.  Because I had not used this sort of epistolary assignment before, I decided to write the assignment myself as a science fiction story called “Missing Intentional Manifestation Unit.”  See what you think.  Also available as a .pdf.


Missing Intentional Manifestation Unit

Deity Supply Enterprises
We Bend the Universe to Your Will

To: Teleportation Department
From:  Shipping Department
Subject: Missing Intentional Manifestation Unit
Date: Elapsed second 1,000,41699,01404 K

Around about elapsed second 1,000,41617,01139 K we shipped a selection of 12 Low-Power Intentional Manifestation units to Teahouse Demi-God Training Dojo,  in pocket universe 71B.  Records indicate that the shipment went out via standard interdimensional wormhole vortex.  However, one of the units did not arrive at its intended destination.  The fluxproof wrapper apparently disengaged during transit.

This is annoying and potentially dangerous.  The unit in question conforms to user expectations, reads the user’s intention and manifests it in whatever surrounding environment within which it is activated.  Such units are not approved for use by beings below Deity Five certification and are completely illegal in cultural environments below Tech 3. We must trace this unit and retrieve it.

Please initiate interdimensional trace procedures and report back ASAP!


Data Trace

Deity Supply Enterprises
We Bend the Universe to Your Will

To: Shipping Department
From:Teleportation Department
Subject: Missing Intentional Manifestation Unit
Date: Elapsed second 1,000,51655,01504 K

Data tracing indicates that that at the time of shipping a Delorean (Tech 3.2) Enforcer-Class warship was having a skirmish with a RRisconic Entity (Tech 0) in an adjacent dimension.  The warship’s probability disruptor may have affected transport. Warship destroyed. (RRisconic Entities have no tech, but they don’t need it and are very powerful when angered. Deloreans can be idiots when something gets in their way.)

The Intention Manifestor does not have a reading in any commonly traveled dimension or pocket universe.  It is probably floating in an uninhabited bubble of space-time.  Will continue trace, just to be sure.

Happy Fangledors!  May your simpkins return to roost!


Apologies

Deity Supply Enterprises
We Bend the Universe to Your Will
Pocket Universe 93012, Portal 42, Array 4, Plane of Being 39
Stardate 5435542

Teahouse Demi-God Training Dojo
Moon of Tunis
Pocket Universe 71B

Oh Most Gracious and Benevolent Beings:

We were so sorry to hear that one of the Intentional Manifestation Units you ordered was lost in transit.  Our entire shipping staff is inconsolably rolling on the floor in grief.  Once we have finished our lamentations, we will get right to work producing a replacement unit and shipping it your way, double-protected against flux storms and unfortunate probability adjustments.  We will make sure it is a deluxe model equipped with enhanced benevolence and happiness potential.  Customer satisfaction among both deities and their believers is our highest priority!

Our trace indicates that the unit in question was deflected in transit by a probability disruptor in an adjacent dimension. There is a slight possibility that the unit is stuck in a warp loop and will eventually manifest in your location. If this happens, please notify us as soon as possible.  Do not attempt to use the unit.  It will undoubtedly need calibration and may not work as designed.

One thousand face palms in your direction,

Bloog Glaxon
Shipping Minion 85th Class
Deity Supply Enterprises

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Teaching Rhetoric in a Post-Truth Society

As English teachers, part of our job is to teach students to evaluate sources and arguments, separate fact from opinion, and recognize rhetorical strategies when they are employed to deceive the audience or obscure the truth. What are we to tell our students when fake news and unsupported accusations influence an election? How can we respond to a spokesperson for a president elect who says the following:

“One thing that’s been interesting this entire campaign season to watch is that people that say facts are facts. They’re not really facts,” Trump surrogate Scottie Nell Hughes said on “The Diane Rehm Show” on NPR. “It’s kind of like looking at ratings or looking at a glass of half-full water. Everybody has a way of interpreting them to be the truth or not true. There’s no such thing, unfortunately, anymore as facts.”

This sentiment is not new. Ron Suskind of the New York Times published a now famous quote in an article about the George W. Bush administration:

The aide said that guys like me were “in what we call the reality-based community,” which he defined as people who “believe that solutions emerge from your judicious study of discernible reality.” I nodded and murmured something about enlightenment principles and empiricism. He cut me off. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore,” he continued. “We’re an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”

The “aide” is believed to be Karl Rove.

Comedian and Late Night host Stephen Colbert coined the term “truthiness” for this phenomenon. A statement has “truthiness” if it feels true because it supports the individual’s worldview. We are all susceptible to this.

In 1984, as O’Brien tortures Winston, he argues that there is no world outside of the human mind, so that the Party can control reality in the same way that he can make Winston see five fingers when there are only four. This is “Believing is seeing” rather than “Seeing is believing,” as we would normally say. Winston’s job in Oceania, before he is arrested, is to rewrite news articles and historical documents to reflect Big Brother’s ever changing positions. Big Brother controls the media, controls history, and controls the mind. This is where “post-truth” leads in Orwell’s fictional world. And in our world, surveillance is deeper and more pervasive than in the novel.

In addition to fake news, much of the discourse of the election was conducted in memes–images combined with short pithy texts to make political points. Memes are inherently unstable and open to various interpretations. For example, say I take an image of Darth Vader and combine it with the text “We hold these Truths . . . .” Those words connect Darth Vader to the Declaration of Independence, which says, “We hold these Truths to be self-evident, that all Men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.” Is Lord Vader holding these Truths hostage? Or are the words, and the rest of the text they imply, more powerful than Vader and all he represents? Is the meme a sarcastic assertion of authoritarian power or an argument that these self-evident rights are more powerful than tyranny? Different readers will see different meanings. Yet the meme will circulate, making contradictory arguments wherever it goes.

Similarly, say I combine a picture of Donald Trump with the text, “A Hoax Made in China.” Does that encapsulate Trump’s position on climate change? Or does it imply that Trump is a Manchurian Candidate?

Because memes make up such a big part of internet communication these days, unpacking the arguments and the references in memes is an important skill for students to master. Students can also create memes. One of my graduate students created this meme that updates a phrase from the Declaration of Independence a bit.

createdequalmemephoto0

So what do we do? A number of things:

Old Stuff:

  • Continue to teach argumentation, including logical fallacies
  • Teach fact-finding, fact-checking, and journalistic principles (Don’t give up on facts!)
  • Teach citation, evaluation, and documentation of sources
  • Teach rhetoric including audience, purpose, and the three appeals (ethos, logos, pathos)

New Stuff:

  • Teach meme analysis and meme creation (Memes are short-form, multi-modal arguments)
  • Expand ethos to include Kenneth Burke’s concept of “identification” (see below)
  • Expand pathos to include the psychological concept of “desire” (see below)

Teaching Identification

In A Rhetoric of Motives Burke substitutes the word “identification” for the traditional term “persuasion.” He says,

All told, persuasion ranges from the bluntest quest of advantage, as in sales promotion or propaganda, through courtship, social etiquette, education, and the sermon, to a “pure” form that delights in the process of appeal for itself alone, without ulterior purpose. And identification ranges from the politician who, addressing an audience of farmers, says, “I was a farm boy myself,” through the mysteries of social status, to the mystic’s devout identification with the source of all being. (xiv)

Burke writes the book “for tolerance and contemplation” in the aftermath of World War II and the defeat of fascism in Europe and Asia. He defines identification as follows:

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. (20)

And further on

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. (21)

Burke argues that his book “deals with the possibilities of classification in its partisan aspects; it considers the ways in which individuals are at odds with one another, or become identified with groups more or less at odds with one another.” According to Burke, “identification is compensatory to division,” and “the most tragically ironic of all divisions” is war, which Burke calls “a disease of cooperation” because of the many cooperative acts that go into a single act of destruction (22).

For students, this perspective leads to a number of useful questions:

  • What persons and what groups do I identify with and why?
  • Who does this writer identify with? What strategies is he or she using to persuade me to join?
  • How does one group identify itself? Is it in opposition to another group?
  • What are the identifying words and symbols of this group?

Teaching about Desire

The appeal to pathos is an appeal to the emotions. Fear and hate are powerful emotions that can be used by a speaker to persuade an audience to take actions that they would not take through logic. Compassion is another emotion that can be triggered by an image of a starving baby or a cute puppy. Most students are familiar with this sort of appeal. However, a desire is perhaps an even stronger appeal. We want something–a new car, a new guitar, new shoes, a prestigious award, a high position–because of how it makes us appear to others. We are not really pleasing ourselves, but pleasing the other, or in many cases, as Lacan says “the big Other,” the culture, the society, the media, etc. We act according to the desire of the other.

In my seminar this quarter (fall 2016) we read Changing the Subject in English Class: Discourse and the Constructions of Desire by Marshall W. Alcorn Jr. Alcorn articulates a composition course based on Lacanian psychoanalytic theory. He says, “My central argument is that the rhetoric of discourse is libidinal” (26). He argues that some discourses are libidinal for us, eliciting strong attention and response, while others, perhaps a university math course, are “inert representations that we handle like packages.” Alcorn argues, citing Freud, that we are much more moved by libidinal attachments and by the loss of such attachments than by rational discourse. In fact, to sever such an attachment, we must go through a period of mourning.

What does he mean by “libidinal”? Once I was teaching a piece by the feminist Kate Millet, “Manifesto for a Feminist Revolution,” in which she argued, very logically, that all relations between men and women are political, and that marriage is just another form of prostitution. A male student from Texas came up to me after class and said “My brain can understand her arguments, but my upbringing and my heart say that she is wrong.” This student has concisely articulated the problem. When we argue against family beliefs and the heart, we are going to meet resistance, whether we are mere teachers, Kate Millet, or Hillary Clinton.

Alcorn says

An ideal democracy requires that people be able to recognize their own desires and the desires of others. In both cases, desire must circulate freely within and among people. Oppression results whenever desires are cut off from expression and circulation. (66-67)

In the conclusion he argues that

The primary purpose for a composition course, even one that seeks political change, is not simply to teach political truths. Rather than promoting particular political beliefs, we must explore how desire supports beliefs and how the ability to be fully responsive to the ideas and real feelings of others requires slow adjustments in bodily feeling. . . . We do not need to attack the resistance we may find in our students (or ourselves); we need only review those examples that show how characteristic it is for people to dismiss beliefs that challenge their own worldviews. (127-28)

Both identifications and desires are powerful irrational forces that must be taken into account. They cannot be ignored or denied in teaching or in political discourse. No human is above them. I think this explains a lot about what just happened in the election, and what we must do to prepare our students for the world to come.