Conceptual Representation for Learning

In a recent post on her blog, Rhetorical Thinking, Jennifer Fetcher raises some important issues about the utility of the rhetorical triangle she says,

These days, I want to know more about human communication than what the rhetorical triangle can tell me. I want to know what’s behind and underneath this one-dimensional model: what relationships and identities underlie a social interaction, what ways of thinking people bring to the exchange, what sources of knowledge they value, and what communication habits shape what is said (or missaid) and understood (or misunderstood).

My initial response, which I posted as a comment, was this:

Well, Aristotle doesn’t have these terms arranged in a triangle. I think James Kinneavy was the first to do that, in Theory of Discourse. If we see ethos as speaker, pathos as audience, and logos as the world, we have a speaker speaking about the world to an audience, but both audience and world influence what is said and how it is said. And audiences can speak back. And words frame the world in different ways. It is too dynamic to be captured in a triangle or a pyramid, except as a frozen simplification (which can be useful). M. Jimmie Killingsworth makes a similar point in Appeals in Modern Rhetoric. For me the individual appeals can be seen as nodes spinning in a sort of a magical vortex; you can catch one for a moment and look at it, but it won’t give you the whole picture.

However, I felt there was more to these questions than offering a different metaphor would answer. Let’s start out with these assertions:

  • Making a representation or model of a concept is a rhetorical act in itself
  • As a rhetorical act, such a representation has an audience and a purpose
  • All representations are a simplification of the actual phenomenon, though some are simpler than others
  • There is no final, most true representation; the final representation is no representation at all, but the actual living phenomenon.

Aristotle’s Argument with Plato

Much of Aristotle’s Rhetoric is a response to Plato’s argument in the Gorgias that rhetoric is not an art, but a kind of artifice that can make the better appear the worse and the worse appear the better. For Plato, rhetoric is a tactic for trickery and deception. Aristotle argues that rhetoric is indeed an art because some speakers are more effective than others and we can systematically analyze why. He acknowledges that rhetoric can deceive, but also argues that rhetoric can defend the truth against lies.

However, there is a problem. Aristotle believes that logic is the best path toward truth, but when analyzing the most effective speakers he finds that people are often more strongly persuaded by the perceived credibility of the speaker or their own emotional reaction to the speech. Many audiences are neither informed enough nor patient enough to follow a long chain of reasoning. He prefers logos, but allows ethos and pathos into his analysis of the art of rhetoric. He also presents the concept of the “enthymeme,” the argument with some of the premises suppressed or assumed. Such hidden premises relieve the audience from the need to follow chains of interlocking arguments, but also can be a tactic for deception.

Those are the basic concepts of Aristotelian rhetoric. They are useful for understanding many aspects of politics, business genres, family arguments and other interpersonal communication. How do we operationalize them for teachers and students?

Conceptual Representation

This is where the idea of what I am calling “conceptual representation” comes in. All models, metaphors, analogies, outlines, descriptions, and definitions have advantages and disadvantages. Simple models are easier to grasp, but hide complexity. Complex models may provide a more sophisticated representation, but may also be confusing. Every model has a purpose and should be designed to fulfill that purpose. As noted above, there is no true model that represents all of the complexity of the actual phenomenon. What Jennifer is noting in her blog post is that the rhetorical triangle is not effectively representing these concepts for her or for her students. It is not serving its purpose. We need something new.

Of course a simple model poorly used can also cause confusion. This is what happens when the ethos, logos, pathos model is used as a set of pigeonholes in which to categorize specific elements of a text under analysis. In fact, the same element in a text can simultaneously function as part of a logical argument, influence the speaker’s credibility, and create an emotional effect. It is better to ask, “How does this element in the text function to create rhetorical effects.”

Jennifer’s question about how to represent the dynamism of the interaction between these three elements is an important one. I want to discuss it in the context of some recent events in the social media universe.

The Three Appeals on Social Media

I have had a Twitter account for several years, ever since I participated in a CSU English Council workshop on how to use it. I didn’t post or access the account much until I started using it this year to follow the Ukraine war. For a while I was addicted. There was always something new. When I got to the bottom of the feed, there were more tweets at the top of it. There were military experts, mapmakers, soldiers in the field, videos of things blowing up, clips from Russian television, memes (lots of memes), trolls, bots, idiots, the whole range. I learned to sort the real from the false according to my own sensibilities and judgment. I felt like I was always about two days ahead of the mainstream news sources, but I also realized that the journalists were reading the same tweets I was reading.

Deciding who is credible on Twitter is an ethos call, but that call is based on the arguments they make and how they are supported (logos), and on the responses of other people (pathos). The responses of others are also judged according to the same pattern, so pathos leads to logos to ethos in a never-ending spiral.

Argument on Twitter unfolds in a Toulmin-like pattern. A claim is made, say “A Russian Ka-52 helicopter was shot down yesterday.” A video is produced to verify the claim. Someone asks, “Is that really a Ka-52?” Someone with technical knowledge of Russian military aircraft will verify. This is a warrant based on backing in knowledge of helicopter design. “Was that really yesterday? Isn’t it old footage?” The video will be geolocated and people familiar with Ukraine will discuss the weather and even the foliage in the trees. The pattern of claim-evidence-warrant-backing repeats over and over.

Why Do People Post?

I understood why I was reading Twitter, but I felt no desire to post anything. And I wondered, “Why are all these people posting?” Some had clear political purposes, especially the Ukrainians trying to get resources to defend their country. But others seemed to be cheerleading, spectating, or just trying to be witty.

Because of recent changes in the ownership and policy practices of Twitter, many people are exploring other social media possibilities. One of these is Mastodon, an open source non-corporate communications platform. In joining Mastodon, one joins a specific instance, which often has a particular focus, but that instance is part of a “federation” of Mastodon servers, so one is part of a small group that is also part of a much bigger group. I joined an instance called “social.linux.pizza,” for two reasons: 1) the big popular general instances of Mastodon were overwhelmed by Twitter refugees and not accepting new users, and 2) my computer runs Linux.

On Twitter, your feed is governed by who you are following and who they follow, plus some Twitter algorithms, and more recently by whims of the new owner. On Mastodon, you have your home feed of people you follow, plus a local feed of things posted on your particular instance, and a “federated” feed of popular posts from the whole federation, whether you are following them or not. You can choose which feed you want to view at that moment.

Audience and Self

This multiple feed creates audience problems, leading a lot of Twitter refugees to be puzzled by Mastodon. One said, “I don’t know what to post because I don’t know what you folks like.” I felt the same way, but I didn’t know what to post on Twitter either. However, I think this post is interesting because it shows that the poster wants to please the audience, but doesn’t know that audience yet. I might rewrite this to say, “I don’t know who to be because I don’t know who you are.” This is an instance of the audience potentially defining the self, pathos working backwards toward ethos. And indeed, constructing a self seems to be a major impetus to posting.

In Conclusion

In my initial response to Jennifer’s post I suggested ethos-logos-pathos as a magical vortex from which could pluck a particular perspective. That is a nice image, but probably not helpful as a conceptual representation. Perhaps a turning wheel would be better, or three electrodes from which sparks shoot from one pole to another as discourse progresses. I do think, however, that these are useful terms, however we represent them to ourselves and our students.

To finish off this very long post, I would say that we probably make a mistake when we try to get students to analyze op-ed pieces in terms of Aristotelian categories, at least as an introduction to these concepts. It might be better to ask:

  • What social media do you use? What influences your choices?
  • How do you determine who is trustworthy and who is not? (ethos)
  • What feelings do you experience when you read and watch social media? (pathos)
  • Why do you post to social media? What are you trying to do? (purpose)
  • When someone makes a claim that you disagree with, do you respond? How do you support your view? (logos)

Persuading the Will to Action

Recent national events caused me to think about George Campbell again. I think this eighteenth-century rhetorician has something to say about how conspiracy theories take hold and move otherwise reasonable people to irrational action.

In a previous post I discussed George Campbell’s sermon “The Duty of Allegiance” as an argument against the Declaration of Independence and the American revolution. George Campbell also wrote a major rhetorical work, The Philosophy of Rhetoric, which is an interesting title because philosophy and rhetoric have been at odds since Plato. Patricia Bizzell and Bruce Herzberg, the editors of The Rhetorical Tradition, say that this work “has been justly praised as the turning point in the development of rhetoric in the eighteenth century, as the first modern rhetoric, and even as the first real advance in rhetorical theory since Aristotle” (901).

Campbell’s System

In devising his system, Campbell draws on philosophers such as Aristotle, Locke, and Hume, plus Christian moral reasoning and empirical science. However, the essence of his rhetorical thought is fairly simple. In his view, the mind has four “faculties,” and the goal of every speech is “to enlighten the understanding, to please the imagination, to move the passions, or to influence the will” (902). Each of these ends could be a primary purpose of the speech, but in his view, if the end is to move the will, the speech will move through the other faculties in a regular progression because “each subsequent species is founded on the preceding” (902). Here is a chart:

Campbell-4Faculties-cropped

This progression through the faculties is what I thought of when I heard about the attack on the Capitol on January 6, 2021. Thousands of people were moved to this action. This involves persuading the will. How was this done?

Informing (or Misinforming) the Understanding

In Campbell’s system, persuading the will starts with informing the understanding. But what if this is not informing, but misinforming? Campbell does not really deal with this possibility in The Philosophy of Rhetoric, but in his sermon against the American revolution, as I noted in my previous post, he calls Americans who support the rebellion “our deluded fellow subjects on the other side of the Atlantic,” who “are but the tools of a few ambitious, interested, and designing men, both on their side of the water and on ours.” Campbell is arguing here that supporters of the American revolution have been misinformed by the ringleaders. One aspect of this misinformation is blaming the king for what the parliament has done.

Pleasing the Imagination

Once we have been misinformed, the next step is to activate the imagination. We can imagine a world in which people like ourselves are powerful. We can imagine a world in which the things we have been misinformed about have been corrected, in which the wrongdoers we have been misinformed about will be punished, the scapegoats scorned and eliminated.

Moving the Passions

The next stage is to move the passions. Even with a vision of an attractive imagined world based on misinformation, we are not yet ready to act to bring it into being. We need to feel it. We need to be angry enough or inspired enough to get off the couch, stop ranting on social media, and do something. In today’s media environment, this is mostly done with memes, images, and slick political ads.

Influencing the Will to Action

The next step is to move the will to action. There are those who know how to push us forward in this final step without overtly telling us exactly what to do and taking responsibility for it.

Using the System for Analysis and Persuasion

The point is that this process, which could be used for positive ends, is subverted by misinformation at the start. We might reduce it to the following questions:

  • What are the facts? (Countermeasure: Fact-checking)
  • What do they mean? (Countermeasure: Argument)
  • How do you feel? (Countermeasure: Sympathy, empathy, and calm)
  • What are you going to do about it? (Countermeasure: Deterrence)

These questions and countermeasures, judiciously employed, might help counteract the powerful effects of conspiracy theories. They can also be used to promote fact-based and well-reasoned policies.

Conclusions

Of course, this is a vastly simplified and inadequate summary of George Campbell’s work, which is certainly worth further study. Campbell’s attempt to move from Aristotelian syllogisms and enthymemes to a more empirically based system of argument is certainly more consistent with modern science than classical rhetoric is. And though his psychology, based on four faculties of the mind, is outdated, it still provides a useful way of conceptualizing the process of persuading people to action.

Works Cited

Bizzell, Patricia. and Bruce Herzberg, Eds. The Rhetorical Tradition: Readings from Classical Times to the Present. 2nd ed. Boston: Bedford/St. Martin’s, 2001.

Using Kenneth Burke’s Concept of Identification

Have you ever watched a movie or read a book in which you “identified” strongly with the main character? This is what Kenneth Burke means by “identification.” We want to be like characters we admire. But this is also true in real life.

I took up the topic of Kenneth Burke’s concept of “Identification,” in a previous post, “Identification and Division in the Current Crisis.” In this post, I want to delve further into the concept and explore some possible uses of the concept.

Identification and Division

Burke notes that “Identification,” (and rhetoric itself) is necessary because there is division. In The Rhetoric of Motives he says,

Identification is affirmed with earnestness precisely because there is division. Identification is compensatory to division. If men were not apart from one another, there would be no need for the rhetorician to proclaim their unity. (22)

“Division” is our natural state. However, humans are also social creatures. We form families, tribes, communities, nations, alliances, and movements. Each of these groupings has ways of signaling membership and recognizing outsiders. Problems arise when different groups want to occupy the same territory, or use the same resources. But where there is division, we can try to overcome it by finding common ground.

It is likely that some identification is unconscious. We see or hear a person and we immediately “identify” with them. They seem to be like us in some way, or to be someone we would like to emulate or believe, but we don’t know exactly why. It might be gestures, a tone of voice, a remembrance of someone we admire who is similar in some way. But identification can also be consciously attempted.

Current Politics

We see this in our current politics. A politician has a core “base” of supporters who think like she does. These people strongly identify with their candidate. However, it is usually the case that the “base” is not enough to win the election. The candidate has to find ways to appeal to a larger group, without alienating her base. She has to find ways to signal to other groups that she is one of them too. Sometimes this involves using terms that have one meaning to the base, but have another to an outside group. This strategy is often called a “dogwhistle.” An actual “dogwhistle” is a whistle that when blown produces a sound that is too high pitched for humans to hear, but can be heard by dogs, who can hear a higher frequency range. In politics, by analogy, a “dogwhistle” is term that sounds positive to the base, but neutral to outsiders, who may actually disagree with the implications it has for the base if they understood them.

Identification is not just in politics, however. It is part of persuasion in schools, workplaces, corporate boardrooms and in the news. It is part of families and communities. It is even part of friendships. How does it work?

Tracking Identifications

One way to think about this is to track ways to signal identification. A short list might include:

  • Clothing including uniforms
  • Colors such as gang colors, school colors, red states and blue states, Dodger blue and Angel red
  • Symbols such as flags, insignia, designs, logos
  • Images and memes
  • Words identified with particular viewpoints (including “dogwhistles”)
  • Slogans, maxims, and stock phrases
  • Gestures such as salutes and handshakes
  • Associations with occupations, regions, social classes

Of course, there is some overlap in these categories.

Military uniforms have a long history. At a very basic level they function to help soldiers tell friend from foe and combatants from civilians. Military organizations also have various badges and insignia that indicate rank and achievements. The uniform and various attachments signify to all that this individual is a member of this organization and what role they perform in it. Of course, members of this organization are more skilled in interpreting these signals than outsiders, which increases the insider/outsider effect of identification.

Outside of the military, uniforms and other clothing choices can help observers tell employees from customers, students form teachers, and identify members of social groupings such as athletes, “goths” or other groupings defined by choices in music, sports, gaming, or other cultural activities. Of course, if an individual attempts to identify with a group by wearing its clothing, but gets it wrong in some way, that will unintentionally signal outsiderness. There is nothing more embarrassing than attempting to identify with a group and failing.

Of course, symbols such as flags and logos also define groups. Recently, there has been considerable controversy about the Confederate battle flag, the “stars and bars.” Does it signify “southern pride” or racism and slavery? Does it unify through identification or divide? The answer will probably be found by exploring what groups want to be identified with the symbol.

Internet memes are now a powerful way of signaling identity. Images from films and other media are combined with short phrases to make concise points that often signal a specific point of view.

Inducing Identification (The Ethos Move)

An interesting exercise is to read an article or listen to a speech with identification in mind. We might ask

  • Who is the audience (or audiences) that the writer/speaker wants to persuade?
  • What are some of the things that this audience identifies with?
  • What moves does the writer/speaker make to identify with this audience?
  • How successful is the writer/speaker in getting the audience to identify with them? What goes right and what goes wrong?

Responding to Identification (The Pathos Move)

Another exercise is to analyze your own response to an article or speech. We might ask

  • What are some of the groups I identify with? What are some of the things that I associate with those groups?
  • Do I identify with this writer/speaker? Do I feel part of their group? Why or why not?
  • What moves does the writer/speaker make to try to win my identification? How do I react to these moves?
  • What could this writer/speaker do better to make me identify with them?
  • How much does identification influence my willingness to accept their arguments?

Recognizing False Identifications

Sometimes attempts at identification simply don’t work. The banker in a cowboy hat does not make a convincing member of a group of cattle ranchers. The white politician who doesn’t know how to eat a tamale is unsuccessful in convincing a Latino group that he is simpatico. The democratic politician from Massachusetts looks ridiculous wearing a helmet and sitting in a tank.

However, sometimes identifications are consciously deceptive. They are an attempt to fool the audience into believing that the writer/speaker is something they are not.

For example, from sea stories by Patrick O’Brian I learned that in the 18th century, it was considered a legitimate ruse of war to fly a false flag when encountering and approaching an enemy warship, as long as the true flag went up before a shot was fired. Many English warships were captured French ones because the French built better ships, but the English sailed them better, so this ruse often brought victory. The French saw a French ship flying a French flag. Then suddenly they saw an English ship and an incoming broadside. But firing a shot under a false flag was a court martial offense, in any navy. It was against the rules of war and highly dishonorable.

In our society, is it ever acceptable to pretend to be someone or something you are not by using the terms, symbols, and other signals of identification of another group? If so, under what circumstances? I’ll leave that up to the reader.

This post as a .pdf.

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.

 

A Problem with the Aristotelian Appeals

Recently there was a thread on the Writing Program Administrator’s discussion board (WPA-L) in which first year writing instructors at the college level were complaining about receiving large numbers of essays that used ethos, logos, and pathos in ineffective ways. One respondent said that “it seems to have become the new five paragraph essay.” In ERWC, we offer these concepts as a set of analytical tools that allow students to become aware of the claims made on them by the writers of the documents they read. Instead, for some students, the Aristotelian appeals seem to have become a new essay formula.

I asked tutors and instructors on my campus if they were also seeing large numbers of ineffective essays that were framed by ethos, logos, and pathos. They confirmed that they were. One instructor told me that he now routinely says to students “Less pathos! More logos!” This is a recent phenomenon.

In a sense, this is success. Students are acquiring concepts and transferring them to other situations. However, from these reports, some of the transfer is negative and inappropriate. This is a big problem.

The Aristotelian appeals are only a part of a rhetorical approach. Aristotle says that rhetoric is “the art of finding the available means of persuasion.” The most important factors in any rhetorical analysis are audience and purpose. The first questions the student should ask are “Who is the audience?” and “What is the writer trying to accomplish?” not “Where is the ethos?” “Where is the pathos?” and “Where is the logos?”

After audience and purpose, the student needs to explore the issue. How is the issue defined? Who are the parties involved? What is the writer’s position? What are the arguments in favor of it? What are the arguments against it? What are other possible positions? What are the possible consequences? These questions all can be seen as coming under the heading of logos, but the answers may not all be in the text under study. To come up with counter-arguments and alternative positions, the student may have to think outside the text.

Ethos and pathos are also modes of persuasion, not necessary ingredients. Is the text more persuasive because of the way that the writer has constructed his or her ethos? Then we might look at the elements that construct that ethos. Does the writer make moves that invoke the reader’s emotions? We might want to look at how that is done and why the writer did it. However, a writer, such as a scientist, may choose to persuade entirely through facts and arguments and leave character and emotion behind.

In a future post I will explore how the Roman concept of stasis theory might be helpful in analyzing issues. Remember, “Less pathos! More logos!”

CATE Presentation–2/19/16

I presented at the California Association of Teachers of English (CATE) conference on Friday with two of my former grad students, Alberta (Albie) Miranda and Amanda Thomason. CATE is a great conference.  It is just big enough and the attendees are all enthusiastic about teaching and learning.

As the ERWC matures, we are beginning to emphasize module creation by individual teachers rather than a prescribed set of official modules.  My part of the session was designed to introduce participants to some of the concepts and tools used to create modules.  I distributed the following handouts:

The micro module is designed to demonstrate how an ERWC-style module works in a very short format in which it is easy to grasp the whole arc of the module.  Lydia Davis writes “stories” that may be only a few sentences long.  The prereading section offers quotations from reviews that give the participant some idea of what kind of stories they are about to encounter.  Before reading the stories, the participant is instructed to think about “relationships.”  After reading, the participant is giving Davis’s definition of a “story” and asked to reread to determine if indeed these short pieces really are stories.  These activities form the “Preparing,” “Understanding,” and  “Questioning” stages of the ERWC arc.  It is typical of ERWC modules to include activities that cause the student to read and reread the texts multiple times from different perspectives.

Students are then given a writing prompt, which initiates the “Responding” stage:

Write an essay in which you explore the problems of relationships as presented in these stories. Define the problems and the implied solutions, supporting your ideas with quotations from the stories and examples from your own experience.

The students then compose drafts, get feedback, and revise.  At the end they are asked, “Do you think that your essay about relationship problems might actually help someone who was having problems in a relationship? It might, if it is easy to read and understand.”

Amanda and Albie both wrote the initial versions of their modules as projects for my English 589 “Pedagogies of Reading” course.  Both are now writing instructors in our department.  Amanda says in the introduction to her module

This module, “Learning to Dream: Dreaming to Learn,” was created for use in first-year college composition classes during the end of the year (once students have already been exposed to the ERWC style module). It takes several weeks to complete. It was developed to introduce students to the topics of dreaming, lucid dreaming, dream interpretation, and whether or not dreams can be harnessed to improve learning. Students are introduced to several different types of texts of varying purposes, styles, and difficulty levels (including web pages, articles, and a research paper) that will allow them to develop and defend an opinion on whether or not dreams are useful – and if so, how. As the final writing assignment, students are asked to either write an argumentative essay or a personal narrative and interpretation of a dream. Depending on the class and teacher, the final paper can be modified to take a more academic or creative slant.

Albie describes her “Romeo and Juliet” module as follows:

This module was develop for use in a ninth grade English class. The module is designed to guide students through their first experience with the works of William Shakespeare. The module will also help students understand why drama must be read differently than poetry or prose; students will work with genre-specific strategies that they will then be able to apply to other dramatic texts. At the end of the project, students will compose a two-part essay: in the first part they will explore one of the major thematic concerns in the play; in the second, they will reflect on their development as readers of drama.

I would guess that there were about 35 people at the session.  I had 28 handouts, and I ran out.  Nearly all of the attendees had some experience with ERWC and I think the session was well-received.  Albie and Amanda gave very professional presentations, there were good questions, and I had fun.

Kenneth Burke’s Pentad and Gatsby

As I was describing different approaches to Gatsby in the introductory part of the module I wrote a section called “People and Places” using the Burkean Pentad.  My goal was to introduce just enough Burke to be of use without confusing.  Apparently, I failed.  Several people told me that this was too confusing for 11th graders.  I thought I would post it here to see what others thought.

————————————————-

In A Grammar of Motives critic Kenneth Burke describes a five-term system for analyzing the motivation of characters that he calls the “pentad.”

  • Act—What was done? “What took place in thought or deed?”
  • Scene—Where and when was it done? (Place, Context, Background, Situation)
  • Agent—Who did it? (What person or kind of person, what co-agents or counter-agents)
  • Agency—By what means or with what instruments was it done?
  • Purpose—Why was it done?

Burke combines these terms into what he calls “ratios.” We often think that when people do something, they do it either because of their inherent nature (agent-act) or because of their purpose (purpose-act). However, in this novel, where someone comes from, especially if they come from the east or the west, or if they come from a poor neighborhood or a rich one, makes a big difference in how other people see them. Burke would call this a scene-agent ratio. In this ratio, the “scene,” which can be a place, a culture, or a historical moment, forms the nature and character of the “agent,” the person who acts. It is also possible for the scene in which the act takes place to motivate the act. In this novel, the action moves from East Egg to West Egg, and from East Egg to New York, passing through “the Valley of Ashes.” In each place, different kinds of action occur. Burke would call this a scene-act ratio. The place motivates the kind of act.

As you read, note where characters come from and how people feel about them. For example, at one point, Tom Buchanan calls Gatsby “Mr. Nobody from Nowhere” (130). That is the scene-agent ratio. For Tom, that is the ultimate insult. Also note what kinds of things people do in different locations and circumstances. For example, people behave differently in Gatsby’s party house than they do elsewhere. That is the scene-act ratio.

Teaching Literary Texts

I have been working on writing a module based on The Great Gatsby.  I started out thinking that I would take a fresh approach that would avoid standard literary criticism altogether.  I wanted to ignore standard themes such as the “American Dream” and avoid looking at well-worn symbols such as the green light at the end of Daisy’s dock and the enormous eyes of Dr. T.J. Eckleberg.  However, when I re-read the novel I found that my original plan was impossible.  The elements that teachers have been pointing to for several generations are just too prominent, and too much a part of Fitzgerald’s design, to ignore.

I decided to take a multi-pronged approach that ran on several tracks at once, including the standard themes but also including some new perspectives.  My critical approach might be called “Guided Reader Response.”  As is typical in ERWC, the emphasis is on what authors are trying to do and how their decisions affect the reader.

First, I felt I had to neutralize some of the assumptions that students often have about reading literature.  I also wanted to argue against the use of “notes” publications such as SparkNotes and Cliff’s Notes.  What follows is a draft of an introduction to the module for students.

Note: I have updated this introduction based on feedback from teachers at the latest meeting of the Module Writing Institute.  I moved the last paragraph of the original draft to the beginning and reordered the other paragraphs.  I added a new conclusion.  Thanks to those who gave me feedback! 

Further note: I have revised this again to soften the polemical attacks I was making on figure hunting as an approach to literature and on the use of “notes” publications.  I have also introduced the “arc” language–prepare, understand, question, use, write, and revise–for students to think about.

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Introduction

Novels are tools for thinking about life in new ways. Characters face problems, make decisions, commit errors, deal with relationships, succeed or fail. Fictional worlds tend to be more focused and selective than the real one, so it is easier to see what the issues are and how to think about them. However, novels, even fantasy and science fiction novels, are ultimately about our own lives and what we make of them. Reading a novel allows the reader to experience someone else’s life, think someone else’s thoughts, and compare those fictional lives and thoughts with his or her own. Thus, reading literature is not just about extracting some meaning left behind by the author. It is ultimately about making meaning in your own life.

People often think that authors who write literature take big ideas and encrypt them in symbols, metaphors and other literary devices to hide them from casual readers. From this perspective, the reader’s job is to find and interpret the literary devices, decode them, and extract the correct meaning. It is true that literary language often includes symbols and metaphors. It is also true that when authors write they have meanings in mind and intentions for the reader. However, literary texts often have meanings beyond what the author intended, and every reader has a different emotional and intellectual experience. Literary devices are only a part of that experience.

This learning module is designed to help you read The Great Gatsby from a number of different perspectives. As you do the activities, you will go through a series of steps: preparing, understanding, questioning, using, writing, and revising. We call this the “arc” of the module. “Preparing” refers to thinking you do before you start reading—thinking about the title, reading the cover, skimming some pages, making connections to your own experiences. Then you read for understanding, making sense of the text. After you understand the text, you begin questioning it, looking for contradictions, unsupported claims, and faulty arguments. At that point, you begin to think about selecting words and ideas from the text to support your own claims and arguments. All of these processes are the basis for writing about the text. You will create a thesis, then explain and defend it using material from the novel. Once you have a draft of your essay, you will get feedback from peers and from your teacher so that you can begin revising your work, taking the feedback and your audience into account.

This sequence of preparing, understanding, questioning, selecting, writing, and revising can be used with any reading and writing project, in any discipline, at any level. It will serve you well in college.

We recommend that you avoid using any of the popular “notes” publications when working through this module. A good novelist or short story writer causes the reader to ask questions, then delays answering those questions (or answers the questions in ways that generate more questions) in order to keep the reader engaged and reading. The “notes” products answer all the questions you might have, short-circuiting engagement with the story and preventing you from having a real experience of the novel in the way the author intended. You will know many things about the novel, but you will not have read it, experienced it, or enjoyed it. If you think novels are boring, it might be because you are reading these published “notes,” which tend to drain the life out of the experience.

The Great Gatsby is one of the most widely-read and interpreted novels in American literature. Critics are still coming up with new interpretations of it. Lois Tyson, in a popular introduction to literary theory called Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, offers 14 different interpretations of Gatsby from 14 different critical perspectives. We will explore some of these perspectives in this module. There is no single correct interpretation. However, this does not mean that all interpretations are equally good. Good readings are rooted in evidence from the actual text. Good readings are also persuasive to readers other than the critic who wrote the interpretation.

This module is designed to help you engage with the novel, experience the lives of its characters, think about the issues it raises, and make connections to your own life. You will create your own interpretations, based on the text, and share them with your fellow students and your teacher. Reading the novel is only part of the experience. Writing and discussing the ideas, trying to persuade others to interpret it the way you do, and experiencing the way your ideas change as you discuss them with others, are all important parts of the experience of reading literature.

From ERWC Template to the ERWC Arc

The ERWC team is working on a new i3 grant proposal and Nancy Brynelson is the main writer.  In drafting that proposal she took an outline of the Assignment Template and the descriptors from the Bloom’s Taxonomy chart in the previous post and created the following chart:

NewTemplateArcChart

I tightened it up a bit and added some color.  This chart makes it easy to see the relationships between the main headings and subheadings in the Assignment Template and the six action verbs we are using to describe the ERWC “arc.”  The order has also been reversed to read top down rather than bottom up as Bloom’s Taxonomy is usually presented.

This chart could be very useful in introducing the core ideas of ERWC to administrators and other newcomers.

Aristotle’s Three Appeals

Some of my colleagues have indicated that my previous post on this subject, “Argument Versus Persuasion: A False Dichotomy,” might not have been entirely persuasive to my audience of teachers.  Too many terms!  Dialectic, argument, rhetoric, and persuasion all mixed up!  What the heck is dialectic anyway?  How did that get in there?  What does an argument between Aristotle and Plato have to do with teaching students today?

Oh my!  I’d better try again.

I will assert again that argument, in the form of logos, is a part of rhetoric and one of the strategies of persuasion.  Aristotle defines the three modes of persuasion as follows:

  • Ethos: the personal character of the speaker.
  • Pathos: putting the audience into a certain frame of mind.
  • Logos: the proof, or apparent proof, of the words themselves.

It is tempting when doing rhetorical analysis to go through a text labeling the parts of it that construct an ethos, the parts that create emotional effects, and the parts that function as part of a logical argument.  However, it is not so simple.  A single element can function in more than one way, and the relationships between the terms can be complex.

For example, a website called “Defenders of Wildlife” has a “Fact Sheet” about the endangered San Joaquin kit fox that features a cute picture of a young fox with the caption, “The San Joaquin kit fox is declining or has become locally extinct in much of the species historic range.  You can help save them.  Adopt a kit fox.”  The name “Defenders of Wildlife” creates a strong, heroic ethos for the writers of the website.  The web page is full of facts about the kit fox and its life, which function both to create the impression that the writers are knowledgeable about the fox (ethos) and to make the argument (logos) that the cute little fox (pathos) is endangered.  Finally, the reader is asked to help save the kit fox by adopting one, a call for action that is based more on pathos than logos, but involves both.

Here is a slightly more complex example.  Rhetoric scholar Sharon Crowley, in a very academic essay calling for a change in the way writing is taught in schools, wants to argue that there are two basic ways to learn a new skill: by doing it (practice) or by learning principles about it (theory).

The Greek word from which theory is derived originally designated a spectator who sat in the furthermost rows of the theater, literally “observing from afar.”  When a teacher sets out to teach any practice, if she chooses not to demonstrate it, her other alternative is to stand back from it and generalize about it.  As Aristotle notes in the beginning of his Rhetoric, people can pick up skill in any practice simply by doing it; but it is also the case that the causes of success in any art can be investigated and reduced to principles.  These principles can then be transmitted to other learners.

When I was growing up in the sandhills of Nebraska, my mother devoted nearly every Saturday afternoon to making cinnamon rolls.  One Saturday, when I was old enough to be interested in such things, I asked my mother to teach me how to make cinnamon rolls.  She obliged me by talking through the procedure while demonstrating it. You take a pinch of this, she said, and add it to a couple of palmfuls of that, knead the result until you’re satisfied that its consistency is about right, let it set until it smells as though the yeast has finished working, and so on.  (Crowley 330) 

Crowley was not successful in learning to make cinnamon rolls in this way.  She needed precise measurements and procedures that did not depend on years of experience to make judgments about such things as when the yeast has finished working.  She concludes that the problem with teaching by example is that when the teacher is absent, the student is on his or her own, but that if the student knows the theory, he or she can re-create the practice.  Fortunately, her sister had written down some measurements and other information, so together they were able to re-create the cinnamon rolls.  They needed both theory and practice.

Crowley is making a logical argument about teaching.  She cites the authority of Aristotle as support for her argument, implying that she is with Aristotle on this point, thus enhancing her ethos.  Then suddenly, she launches into the example of the cinnamon rolls.  This example illustrates her argument, so it functions as part of logos, but it is also a story about working in the kitchen with her mother, and later her sister.  It’s a homey story about family memories, and thus might seem to some readers to be too personal and emotional to fit in as part of an argument in an article in an academic journal.

In addition to supporting the point about two different kinds of learning, the cinnamon roll story creates emotional effects that are clearly designed to affect the reader.  However, different readers will have different sorts of emotions.  Some will remember their own cooking experiences with their mothers and identify with the author.  Some will think that it is a brilliant illustration of a difficult concept.  Others may react in surprise, maybe even disgust.  “Cinnamon rolls!  My word! What kind of scholarly article is this?”  Some readers might even become hungry and start thinking about lunch.  Conflicting reactions from the audience are part of the risk of using pathos as a persuasive strategy.

However, it is also clear that both the type of ethos that will be effective and the type of emotional response that the writer will get from the audience both depend on the type of audience the writer has.  Ethos and pathos are not static categories, but are in a relationship.  They affect one another.

Let’s say that ethos refers to the perspective of the writer, including all of the strategies he or she uses to construct a particular impression of his or her character and abilities, as well as the persona that is created by these strategies.  Pathos refers to the perspective of the reader, to all the effects the text has on the reader, especially emotional responses, and the strategies used to create those effects. However, the reader may experience an emotional response—suspicion, distrust, admiration, hatred, or even love—that is created in part by the ethos constructed by the writer.   It is also possible that a writer like Crowley might use the effects of pathos to select or reject certain kinds of readers.  She may want the kind of reader who appreciates a connection between the classroom and the kitchen, and not want the reader who thinks cinnamon rolls don’t belong in a serious article.

The writer and the reader have a strong relationship that is “mediated” by the text.  The text is in the middle, so it “mediates” the relationship, creating it, channeling it, controlling it.  The writer has an audience, a group of readers, in mind, and a purpose for writing.  He or she writes a text that serves that purpose and meets the needs of that audience.  However, the writer cannot anticipate every reader or every response.  Readers are individuals who question and talk back to a text.  The relationship is not a one-way street.

Now what about logos?  It is tempting to limit logos to logical arguments.  After all, the Greek word logos, which actually means “word” or “words,” is the root of our word “logic.”  However, even Aristotle thought that rhetorical arguments were different from the kinds of arguments you find in science.  He called rhetorical arguments “enthymemes,” and noted that they contained unstated premises or assumptions that were generally accepted by both the speaker and the audience.   These assumptions were rooted in the world view of the culture, shared beliefs and values that generally went unquestioned unless someone like Socrates was around to question them, or when the society encountered people from a different culture.  For example when a U.S. President talks to the American people about “freedom” there are shared assumptions that the sources of freedom are in certain forms of democracy and a capitalist economic system.  Similarly, an advertisement for a particular car will probably not present arguments about the advantages of car ownership.  Everyone already knows what they are.  These arguments do not need to be spelled out.

We all live in both a physical world and a social world, which is a world of values, beliefs and practices.    The arguments of logos can be seen as representations of the nature of the physical or social world and the relationships between things or individuals in those worlds.   The writer and the reader live in a shared world, but they may see it differently.  One of the main purposes for writing is to get the reader to see the world in the same way the writer does.

The three terms can thus be seen as positions in a three way relationship between the writer, the reader, and the world, mediated by the text.   Rhetorician James Kinneavy places the terms in what he calls the “communication triangle” and updates Aristotle’s language with terms from information theory.  He says, “Basic to all uses of language are a person who encodes a message, the signal (language) which carries the message, the reality to which the message refers, and the decoder (receiver of the message)” (Kinneavy 19).  From this point of view, Aristotle’s three modes of persuasion become a larger more abstract model of the communication process itself.  Combining Aristotle’s terms with Kinneavy’s insight, we might draw the communications triangle something like this:

communicationa triangle

Click the image to enlarge

From this model we can see that every act of communication contains all three appeals. Some texts, from the STEM disciplines (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) for example, emphasize logos and minimize ethos and pathos.  However, every text has a writer and a reader and refers to a world.  All texts have all three appeals, to varying degrees.

Works Cited

“Fact Sheet: San Joaquin Kit Fox.” Defenders of Wildlife. Web. 22 Dec. 2012. Web.

<http://www.defenders.org/san-joaquin-kit-fox/basic-facts>

Crowley, Sharon. “A Plea for the Revival of Sophistry.” Rhetoric Review, Vol. 7, No. 2 (Spring, 1989), pp. 318-334.

Kinneavy, James L. A Theory of Discourse. New York: Norton, 1971. Print.