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:

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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.

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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.

Argument Versus Persuasion: A False Dichotomy

The first Common Core Anchor Standard for Text Types and Purposes states that students should be able to “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.”  Although Aristotle’s three persuasive appeals–ethos, logos, and pathos— have been part of English Language Arts standards for some time, and while persuasive techniques are mentioned elsewhere in the Common Core documents, this statement has been interpreted by many to emphasize the teaching of argument at the expense of persuasion. Let me make this clear from the start: Argument is not opposed to persuasion.  Argument (logos) is a part of persuasion.

In part, this issue goes all the way back to a disagreement between Plato and his student Aristotle about the nature of truth and the role of rhetoric.  In Plato’s Gorgias, Socrates gets the sophist Gorgias to agree that rhetoric persuades to belief, not knowledge.  Socrates argues that there is truth, and that one arrives at the truth through the question and answer method called “dialectic,” demonstrated by Socrates in the Platonic dialogs.  He goes so far as to argue that rhetoric is akin to “cookery,” in that just as a cook can make unhealthy ingredients taste good, rhetoric can make unwise ideas seem appealing.  For Socrates, at least in the Gorgias, dialectic is the true art and rhetoric is no art at all.

However, Aristotle disagrees.  He responds in his work on rhetoric by stating that  rhetoric is the counterpart of dialectic, defining rhetoric as “the faculty of observing in any given case the available means of persuasion.” Plato is the idealist.  Aristotle is more practical.  It is also important to note that Plato did not win this argument.  Philosophers may still argue about whether there is absolute truth or not, but life, and rhetoric, go on.

In response to Plato’s argument that rhetoric persuades to belief, but not knowledge, Aristotle says that “argument based on knowledge implies instruction, and there are people whom one cannot instruct.”  Aristotle also says that “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 people who cannot take in at a glance a complicated argument or a long chain of reasoning.”  In other words, the rigor and certainty of dialectic is appropriate for science, for an expert audience, and for particular narrow purposes.  The persuasive techniques of rhetoric are for almost everyone and everything else.

While Aristotle favors logos and logical argument, he admits that appeals to the character of the speaker (ethos) and appeals to the emotions of the audience (pathos) are legitimate and necessary aspects of persuasion.   Ethos and pathos should not be classified as logical fallacies or artifices of deception.

Because most audiences lack the knowledge or inclination to sit through or follow long chains of reasoning such as one might find in a scientific paper, in most speeches and written texts the arguments used are truncated and based on assumed premises or premises based on probability rather than proof.  Aristotle calls arguments of this nature “enthymemes.”  Such arguments are clearly part of the techniques of persuasion.  They are the bread and butter of nearly all reasoned discourse.  This is the kind of discourse the writers of the Common Core are thinking of when they ask that students be able to  “Write arguments to support claims in an analysis of substantive topics or texts using valid reasoning and relevant and sufficient evidence.”  We want students to be able to write for all audiences, not just scientific ones.

Thus those who advise teachers trying to implement the Common Core standards to “teach argument, not persuasion,” or classify ethos and pathos as persuasion, but logos as argument, are promulgating fundamental misunderstandings of the nature of both rhetoric and the Common Core.  They are also not helping students learn to write and succeed in college.  Although most students will write a few scientific lab reports in which logos dominates, they will also have to write essays, application letters, proposals, case studies, research papers, emails, and many other types of documents that require the full range of rhetorical ability.  They will also be subjected to advertising, propaganda, partisan political pieces, and other discourse in which they are subject to rhetorical appeals.

Here is a thought experiment demonstrating an inappropriate use of purely logos-driven discourse. Imagine a political leader trying to manage a serious, complicated crisis without using all aspects of rhetoric.  Let’s take as an example the near meltdown of three nuclear reactors at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear plant in Japan following a 9.0 earthquake and tsunami on March 11, 2011.  Let’s imagine that Prime Minster Naoto Kan appeared on television after the accident and said the following:

Analyses performed as of 1 June 2011 indicate that at unit 1, the loss of cooling caused the temperature of the uranium dioxide fuel pellets to reach melting point (2 800°C) very shortly after the loss of all electrical power. When this occurred, the analyses have predicted that the molten fuel relocated from the core region to the lower reactor pressure vessel (RPV) head early on 12 March. The molten fuel then caused damage (small leaks) to the lower head. When cooling was later resumed, the temperature of the molten fuel dropped and further damage to the lower head of the RPV was prevented. However, the small leaks in the unit 1 lower RPV head require that water continue to be injected into the RPV at a rate higher than otherwise necessary to remove decay heat and to keep the fuel cooled. Updated analyses performed for units 2 and 3 indicate that significant fuel damage occurred, with the possibility that much of the fuel in these units also melted.     (5)

Imagine that he continued on in this fashion to deliver a complete nine-page engineering report on the state of the six nuclear reactors at the plant.  This is the discourse of a nuclear engineer.  It is logos-driven, objective, neutral, and very useful in its place.  However, it is entirely inappropriate for the rhetorical situation we are imagining.  The people of Japan are afraid and perhaps angry.  They want to know that something is being done, that their leaders care and are competent to take care of the situation.  Ignoring ethos and pathos would be a political and social disaster.

Fortunately, the Prime Minister did not give this speech.  This paragraph came from a report on Fukushima by the Nuclear Energy Association (NEA).

The new Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, also has to deal with the Fukushima situation.  In a speech given to the Japanese Diet on October 15, 2013, he says:

Every day at the Prime Minister’s Office, I eat rice grown in Fukushima. It has a flavor that is acclaimed by all. It is my hope that consumers taste Fukushima’s safe and delicious agricultural and fishery products for themselves, without being confused due to radiation-related rumors.

This is clearly an ethos-related move.  He is establishing solidarity with the people of Fukushima, and demonstrating to one and all that he is not afraid of radiation in their products.  Later in the speech he makes a move toward pathos:

I received a letter from a young mother who is from Fukushima. Her letter conveys her love for her child that was born in the year the earthquake disaster happened, as well as her inner thoughts as she anguishes over whether or not to return to her home community of Fukushima. She ended her letter by saying, “My husband and I are now thinking that we will return to Fukushima. We intend to live on that land as a family, the three of us. We decided this because we thought that Fukushima has no future unless the younger generation lives there as we will.”

Can any politician avoid making these rhetorical moves?  Do we really want a generation of students who can only write like engineers?  However, we don’t have to choose between teaching argument and persuasion.  They are not in opposition.

Here is a link to a short article, “Three Ways to Persuade: Integrating the Three Appeals” that can be used to help students understand ethos, logos, and pathos.

Analyzing Everyday Texts

Note: Now there is a mini-module that uses some of the ideas from this book.  You can find it in this newer post “How Texts Construct Readers.”

English professors spend a great deal of time and energy teaching and analyzing complex literary texts.  Rhetoricians often focus on great speeches delivered on momentous historical occasions.  However, the vast majority of texts produced in our society are ignored by scholars.  Such texts facilitate the business of the world, yet are considered too ordinary, uninteresting, and mundane for study.  One of the goals of my “Pedagogies of Reading” seminar is to change that view.

This week I succeeded in doing so, at least for my 22 students.  I gave them an official letter written by Toyota Motor Sales, U.S.A. to Toyota owners about hazardous floor mats.  I divided the students into groups and asked them “What is going on in this letter?  How does it work?” and lively discussion ensued.  We ran out of time before we could discuss all of the insights we had about this letter.  More about this letter below.

Much of what my students had to say derived from a book I regularly assign in this seminar: Analyzing Everyday Texts: Discourse, Rhetoric, and Social Perspectives, by Glenn Stillar.   This is a short but very ambitious book.  Stillar’s analysis triangulates linguistic theory derived from M.A.K. Halliday, rhetorical theory from Kenneth Burke, and social theory from Pierre Bourdieu.  Stillar’s task in the book is to explain how each theoretical perspective works and fit them together into a complementary whole so that we can understand the linguistic, rhetorical, and social functions of any text we encounter.  The presentation appears to be orderly and logical, but there are some problems.  Stillar’s structure is essentially that of an outline, but in presenting an outline in prose, it is hard to maintain the different levels of subordination.  That problem is hard to fix.  Another problem is that Stillar shifts the order of topics without apparent reason or warning.  For example, the subtitle of the book is “Discourse, Rhetoric, and Social Perspectives,” and indeed that is the order of presentation in the book.  However, on page 10, as he summarizes his approach, he discusses rhetorical theory first, then social theory, and then discourse.  This kind of shifting about happens several times.  A third source of confusion derives from shifting  between Halliday’s terms and his own.  Stillar says that a text performs three functions: organizing, representing  and interacting . Halliday calls these functions “textual,” “ideational,” and  “interpersonal.”  Stillar uses both sets of terms.

Confusion about levels of subordination, shifts in the order of presentation, and shifts in terms, especially in the early chapters, make this ambitious book a difficult read for students.  However, it is well worth the effort.

I ended up making an outline of Stillar’s theory of discourse analysis so that my students could keep the categories straight.  The chapters on Burke and Bourdieu are less problematic.  In fact, the Burke chapters gather together into one discussion useful concepts from a number of important books, no easy task as Burke has new theories in each book.  More about this in a future post.

What I would like to do in this post is work toward a presentation of some of the basic insights of Stillar’s adaptation of Halliday that would allow undergraduate students to use these concepts.

What Stillar calls the “organizing” function is mostly about devices of cohesion and coherence, things such as article usage, pronoun reference, and demonstratives that make text stick together.  Let’s put that aside in our focus on teaching undergraduates.  Stillar is building a set of tools for research in discourse analysis.  In our pedagogical orientation, we want to focus on what students can be taught to notice, and what they can do in responding to a text and in their own writing.

Stillar says of the “representing” function that a text is “about” something in that it “names and arranges participants, processes and circumstances” (18).  The “interacting” function constructs “forms of interaction between an addresser and an addressee in particular social roles” (19).  Exploring these functions is clearly relevant to teaching students to understand and deploy the rhetoric of everyday texts.

Let’s look at the first paragraph of the letter from Toyota:

This notice is being sent to you in accordance with the requirements of the National Traffic and Motor Vehicle Safety Act. Toyota has decided that a defect which relates to motor vehicle safety exists in certain 200_ through certain 200_ model year [name of model] vehicles. The defect is the potential for an unsecured or incompatible driver’s floor mat to interfere with the accelerator pedal and cause it to get stuck in the wide open position. Toyota has determined that this defect does not exist in vehicles in which the driver side floor mat is compatible with the vehicle and properly secured.

The first sentence indicates that the letter is being sent in compliance with a law. Toyota does not want to write to the addressee, but is being compelled to do so by another agent, in this case the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration (NHTSA).  This statement “arranges” the participants: the NHTSA as the coercive authority, Toyota as the unwilling correspondent, and the car owner as the hapless addressee.  Stillar suggests that in determining “what is going on” in a text, we first look at the main verbs, which he says will represent action processes, mental processes, or relations.  The “action” in this sentence is cast in passive progressive, “is being sent,” making the grammatical subject “this notice,” clearly reducing Toyota’s agency in this matter.  The two verbs which do have “Toyota” as subject, “has decided” and “has determined,” represent mental processes rather than actions.  The “defect” which is the motivating theme of the letter simply “exists” without cause or culprit.  Stillar would characterize this use of “exists” as relational, although it represents a non-relation more than any relation to any participant.

The final sentence of the paragraph indicates that the defect does not even “exist” in vehicles with the right floor mats properly secured.  Up to this point, the text has done everything possible to keep Toyota from being a responsible agent.  This last sentence begins to renegotiate the interaction among the parties.  If the defect does not exist in vehicles with floor mats of the right type properly installed, but does exist in some vehicles, then the defect is caused by whoever installed the floor mats.  That is likely to be the car owner.

Toyota is in a difficult rhetorical situation.  They don’t want to be responsible.  They want to blame the customer, but they can’t do that overtly without potentially losing future sales.  This leads to a very carefully constructed letter, in some ways as rich in complexity and nuance as a literary text.

I think that this sort of analysis reveals more about the rhetorical effect of a text than what is offered by the tools that students are normally taught, such as the Aristotelian appeals and Toulmin argument.  More on this in future posts.

Note: I created a “Document Analysis Checklist” that draws mostly on the traditional rhetorical categories of audience, purpose and form, but includes a “Stylistic Choices” section at the end that draws on insights from the Stillar book.  I wrote questions that are designed to help students do the kind of analysis I did with the Toyota document above.  I will test it this quarter in my English 301 course.