Reintroducing Classical Rhetoric to the Classroom

15 12 2009

Jeff  Klepper


English 651:Professor Wexler

Reintroducing Classical Rhetoric in Today’s Classroom

University writing has changed drastically for the worse in the past two decades due to lowered expectations and a of lack rhetorical writing approaches in grade schools across the United States. Developing a single approach to educate young writers has turned into five paragraphs of lackluster argumentation at the collegiate level. Jan Swearingen credits “Aristotle’s treatises on logic and rhetoric have had profound and indelible effects on Western language models, teaching, and use. I do not propose that Aristotle himself initiated or secured these effects. What was transmitted through the Aristotelian corpus synthesized and, codified extant notions of language, arranged them into practical “arts” (technai) and theoretical “sciences” (epistemai), and proved particularly powerful in shaping those Western assumptions and theories regarding language that have come to be embodied in curricula” (Swearigen 95). Aristotle’s approach to rhetorical argument has lost momentum in the classroom due to many new theorists who have argued for a more simplistic approach to argumentative writing.

What has been lost with the dramatic shift in theory is the quality of writers graduating at all levels of education across schools in the United States. Many students are entering college with below college level writing abilities and are expected to write at a level that they have not been taught, due to continued cuts in curriculum. Pat J. Gehrke blames “current argumentation pedagogy [that] manifests as hegemony of a Western linear logic, a reliance on pre-existing truths, an oppositional relationship with others, and a focus on critical methods as tools to assess others and not the self” (Gehrke 1). As educators at the college level, we are expected to remedy this gap in writing development quickly with introductory courses on collegiate writing.  This has led the current Freshman Composition teachers to figure out effective ways in which to quickly remedy their students lack of skills in a timely manner.

I propose a strict utilization of Aristotle and Quintilian’s Classical Rhetorical theories, to give students embarking on more complex writing tasks a greater understanding of argumentative writing. By instituting this broader approach to teaching rhetorical writing, students will feel more comfortable writing for their respective fields of study and will undoubtedly achieve greater success in academia. Nancy Christiansen explains the origins of the methodology for teaching rhetorical writing back to a generation after

Aristotle and Alexander the Great, when education became standardized throughout the Greek world, rhetoric held center place in the curriculum. Founded not on Plato’s, but on Isocrates’s educational program, primary and secondary schools prepared scholars in civilized practices through literary and language-arts-based instruction. Marrou says of this curriculum, “…eloquence had been the main cultural objective, the crown and completion of any liberal education worthy of the name” (196). This curriculum remained in place in those parts of the world influenced by Greek civilization until well into the Middle Ages. Roman educators merely adopted and added onto the Hellenist curriculum, making it suitable for Roman circumstances. (Christiansen 71)

Educators throughout history have looked to the classical period for inspiration and guidance. Today education, especially at the high school level, has rejected many of the strongest techniques that the classical period to which the world had been introduced. Writing has become more rigid and plain, no longer concerned with style and eloquence, but concerned with grammatical compliance. This has lead to generations of teachers no longer concerned with sound argumentation, but with fluid punctuated sentences that lack persuasive value. Aristotle is responsible for the heavy emphasis upon  “grammar and conventions of expository argumentation by which most language instruction is still conducted [and] are [direct] descendants of Aristotelian terms and methods” (Swearingen 96).  Grammarians along with writing skill evaluators are far too in love with Aristotle’s suggestions regarding grammar. Aristotle, like many other famous rhetoricians, praises the nuances of grammar but does credit argumentative writing solely to commas and semi colons.

Aristotle’s approach to writing insists upon the basic tenants of argument, according to Robinson in his article titled “Rhetoric and Character in Aristotle”, “Aristotle partitions rhetoric into three branches. With his characteristic passion for categorization, he distinguishes what he calls the deliberative, the forensic, and the epideictic forms of rhetoric, each operating within a definable temporal sphere. Deliberative rhetoric urges action or forbearance and thus seeks to influence the future, chiefly by appeals to prudence and utility” (Robinson 1). As educators the foremost important thing one can do is influence exploration and expansion in all fields of study. Aristotle’s deliberative approach to rhetoric is the starting point for applying the foundation for students to develop a rhetorical body of thinking as well as work. Defining new, more developed expectations for academic writing is key to revitalizing the failed “5-paragraph essay” approach, many teachers have settled on teaching. Aristotle reminds teachers that “one should be persuaded by the quality of an argument” and this is the expectation all teachers should have for all their students  (Robinson 1).

Aristotle laid out massive amounts of rhetorical theory that has now been pushed aside by political movements and a non-exclusionary attitude towards writing. As today’s writing teachers are becoming ever more complacent with standardized testing and rudimentary writing skills, our students are being done a great disservice. This, however, can be remedied with a steady influence of classical theory combined with modernist takes on rhetorical writing for the college environment. The most important thing, as educators, is to affect change within all disciplines. By reintroducing argumentative writing to the student body in a logical and accessible manner, students will again be rightfully serviced and prepared to enter the conversation with the academic world.

In order to counteract the undeniable push for simplicity and poor argument skills, I propose we reintroduce classical traditions in the classroom beginning with reading, the most obvious and often over looked skill in today’s college classroom. Writing Companion Handbooks have replaced novels and beautifully constructed essays. Christiansen further explains that, “any discussion of what it means to read, what relations inhere between reading and writing, literature and composition, “the word and the world,” and how reading and writing should be taught must consider how these questions can be answered from this [classical] tradition that not only invented the language arts, but also influenced the literary achievements of Western civilization for at least two millenia. (Christiansen 71)

Instructing students to pay attention to what they are reading is overlooked far too often in introductory composition courses. The necessity to absorb nuance and style are just as important as the practice itself. This leads educators to acknowledge “[writing, reading and speaking] are so intimately and inseparably connected, that if one of them [were to] be neglected, we shall but waste the labour which we have devoted to the others. For eloquence will never attain to its full development or robust health, unless it acquires strength by frequent practice in writing, while such practice without the models supplied by reading will be like a ship drifting aimlessly without a steersman.” (Christiansen 73). The emphasis of active reading along with the absorption of technical aspects of the reading material is greatly dependent on the teacher. The teacher must reinforce themes and style, while focusing and expanding upon the connection to the reading material in the students own writing assignments. James J. Murphy explains further that “the immediate intent is to show the students how the author made good or bad choices in wording, in organization, in the use of figures, and the like: the long-range objective is to accustom the student” to writing and presenting arguments in this manner (Christiansen 74). Close reading in the high school classroom has been severely under utilized in favor of new media and other simpler means of reading comprehension. This has contributed to the gap in rhetorical writing especially affecting incoming college freshman.

It is important for teacher and student alike to acknowledge the concreteness of classical practices and teaching methodology. Swearingen reminds us “Aristotle [began] with the implicit assumption that the [rhetorical] system is already firmly established, and that what must be done is to organize and improve upon it. Aristotle’s rationale seems to have been “divide and preserve.” He divorces rhetoric from logic but leaves several channels wide open between them — the topics, the notion of dialectic as a counterpart (antistrophe) of rhetoric, and the notion of the enthymeme as a rhetorical syllogism” (Swearingen 100). Being that rhetoric is predictable, composition and practice of this allows the teacher to take advantage of the luxury of the rigidity of composition. Aristotle practices, within this understanding, differentiation between himself, Plato, and the Sophists as well. Aristotle’s approach to rhetorical composition was highly influential to Socrates, who eventually implemented Aristotle’s techniques into what we know now as Classical Rhetoric.

Classical rhetoric was born in the spoken word tradition that transmitted logical argument in the public forum and created what we know now as composition. Teachers have opted to forego classroom exercises in reading aloud due to the over-enrollment in classrooms and the perceived time inefficiencies the practice presents the instructor. Classical rhetoricians however, value the practice of reading aloud because it reinforces

The understanding required in order to decide on the proper voice and gesture [which] involves an interpretation not only of [the] subject matter, but also of the author’s motives, attitudes, passions, strategies, and judgment—in short, “the character of the speaker”. Gaining this understanding requires locating texts not in print, but in performance, and seeing texts as purposeful “acts” before hearers in a certain place, time, and social situation. It also assumes these acts have meaning and that text is fundamentally behavior, mental and social. A complete reading requires interpreting not only the main ideas expressed in the words or signs, but also all the meanings expressed by the performance. It requires returning the text to life—seeing, hearing, and enacting the words or signs as the expression of a character in a drama. (Christiansen 73)

Students are attempting to compose pieces of argumentative writing without the proper instruction as how to form their own writing voice. This lack of exposure to reading aloud makes it difficult for the student to gage audience and tone. Without practice and guidance to this essential classroom exercise, students will continue to lack strongly developed voices and in turn will suffer when attempting to compose rhetorical essays.

Quintilian argues that in order for one to learn rhetorical composition one should memorize the greatest examples of composition in order to become comfortable with the fundamental approaches to “good” composition. Since the objective “is to have not only words, expressions, and quotations, but thought patterns, subjects, and procedures ready for extemporaneous use, memorization is a necessary component of language learning. In addition, memorization provides, according to Quintilian, “an intimate acquaintance with the best writings” and will enable students to “carry their models with them and unconsciously reproduce the style of the speech which has been impressed upon the memory” (Christiansen 75). The classroom of today strays away from holding students accountable for the memorization of the more effective rhetorical writing models. Writing in today’s classroom is more concerned with grammar and subject-verb agreement than thought-provoking argumentative writing. Memorization not only helps the student to grow their personal repertoire of famous rhetorical compositions, but it will increase the students ability to model their own writings after proven models of effective writing.

These exercises will consist of different forms of translation, paraphrase, metaphrase and imitation proper. Translation forces “students [to] recapture as closely as possible the explicit and implicit meanings of the original [work]. Besides requiring close reading, translation awakens students to the transferability of general artistic principles and meanings, [and] the non-transferability of particular signs, structures, and nuances” (Christiansen 76). Students may not always be versed in more than one language, this exercise can still achieve the same effect with earlier forms of the English language as well. By manipulating and transposing works in early dialects students increase their ability to work with language and find new ways to represent ideas effectively.

The next exercise is paraphrasing, in which “the pupil must rephrase the original [work], capturing the same ideas but expressing them in either fewer or more words” (Christiansen 76). This technique is still widely used to varying degrees at the high school level. Paraphrasing is a necessary skill for young writers to develop so they can eventually use those skills in the college classroom when composing rhetorical essays. Quintilian praises paraphrasing because he feels “there is no better way of acquiring a thorough understanding of the greatest authors. For, instead of hurriedly running a careless eye over their writings, we handle each separate phrase and are forced to give it close examination” (Christiansen 76).  Attention to detail is crucial, especially for students trying to formulate strong writing skills in the college classroom. There is no substitute for consistent exposure to good writing that requires close reading and active participation with the language.

Metaphrase “requires the student to turn prose into verse or verse into prose, or to shift from one meter to another. Students would not only have to interpret the poem or prose in order to recast it, but also consider the new constraints of occasion for the new genre.” (Christiansen 76).  This exercise conceived by Quintilian is a hybrid of the paraphrase method, which holds greater emphasis upon genre transposition. Students will have to think critically and work within the selected genre and must find ways to restate the narrative, as well as meaning while transposing the authors intended meaning. Teaching students to manipulate different genres is a way to engage students who are more adept to creative assignments and can improves the students ability to write effectively when called upon to do so.

Imitation proper requires “the student [to] produces a full-length text of [their] own by adding to, subtracting from, substituting, or altering the model’s content or form or both” (Christiansen 77). This exercise comes last in the series of due to the essential need for the student to produce a text of their own that can withstand multiple interpretations. Practicing the rewriting of one’s own work is the ultimate exercise in composition and rhetorical skill display. Students should be able to find multiple ways of presenting their arguments. Teachers by this time have given students enough practice with previous exercises to be able to turn in two or three quality renditions of their original text. By stretching the limits of the student’s creativity, students learn to become master manipulators of not only genre, but also tone.

Having experienced the multitude of these rhetorical exercises students should be competent enough by this juncture to reach the most important rhetorical exercise: self correction. Self-correction is defined as “the process of choosing the best words, patterns, strategies, order, subject, and style—of exercising good judgment” (Christiansen 78). Students must become self-sufficient in regard to their own writing. Without the ability to discern between proper and improper composition, students will continually struggle throughout their college career. Quintilian “does not recommend that revision be postponed until the composition is drafted; rather, we should “exercise care from the very beginning, and […] form the work from the outset in such a manner that it merely requires to be chiseled into shape, not fashioned anew” (Christiansen 78).  Having the tools to modify ones own writing is crucial if one hopes to excel at the collegiate level and beyond. Quintilian took the concept of self-correction further and suggests public recitations of ones own writing. Quintilian “defends this practice because it creates incentive to win commendation, it allows the more advanced pupils to set examples for the younger students, and it makes it possible for all students to benefit from the praise and corrections given to all every day” (Christiansen 78). Demonstrating oratorical mastery along with ones own composition connects the student to the real world and practical use of language. Fostering students ability to apply their craft to public judgment allows students to see what they are truly capable of.

Janice Lauer confirms, “over the years, Rhetorica has changed, responding to epistemological shifts and ideological developments”, despite these shifts the most successful techniques of teaching rhetoric persevere (Roen 10) . Classical rhetorical theory is the basis of our modern day curriculum in every college around the world. Educators must recognize the value in the practices of Quintilian and Aristotle, and rededicate themselves to their teachings. Modern day college students should be showered with the above techniques in order to fully realize themselves as rhetorical tradesmen. It is no longer acceptable to be just satisfactory with the abundance of knowledge waiting to be enacted upon eager scholars at all levels of academia. By reintroducing classical rhetorical writing approaches into the freshman composition courses students will finally be armed with the proper skills to excel at the college level.

Work Cited

Christiansen, Nancy L. ed. Intertexts: Reading Pedagogy in College Writing Classrooms.

Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2003. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Gehrke, Pat J. “Teaching Argumentation Existentially: Augmentation Pedagogy and Theories of Rhetoric as Epistemic.” Argumentation and Advocacy 35.2 (1998): 76. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Gronbeck, Bruce E. “Douglas Ehninger: Modernist Rhetorician and Master of Rules.” Communication Studies 54.1 (2003): 115+. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

McNamara, David. Classroom Pedagogy and Primary Practice. New York: Routledge, 1994. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Neel, Jasper. Aristotle’s Voice: Rhetoric, Theory, and Writing in America. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1994. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Robinson, Daniel N. “Rhetoric and Character in Aristotle.” The Review of Metaphysics 60.1 (2006): 3+. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Roen, Duane H., Stuart C. Brown, and Theresa Enos, eds. Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1999. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Swearingen, C. Jan. Rhetoric and Irony: Western Literacy and Western Lies. NewYork: Oxford University Press, 1991. Questia. Web. 6 Dec. 2009.

Rhetoric: In Music, and In the Classroom

13 12 2009

College Level Writing?

23 11 2009

Writing At The College Level: Is There Such A Level?
Author: Jeffrey Klepper
Date: Sunday, November 22, 2009 10:21pm

I often wonder what is meant when people describe a student’s writing ability as equivalent to the “college level”. The American School System’s are obsessed with achievement levels and standardized means of measuring those ability levels. When a student is not writing at the “college level”, universities immediately place the student into remedial courses in hopes that they will acquire “college level” writing skills. This seems to be a very vague blanket term for students that have different weaknesses with writing.

In fact, these students may only need to remedy a few simple grammatical or syntactical problems with their writing, as opposed to being sent to a rudimentary writing class.The problem with quantifying “college level” writing with tangible reference points is that academia cannot decide whether analytical writing or grammatically correct writing constitutes “college level” writing. The argument will not go away until academia chooses to treat students as human beings instead of robotic cattle. Teaching and education are very much reliant on the teacher student relationship. Teachers are being taught that curriculum corresponds with the needs of students in the classrooms. Again, when teaching individuals in the class room, how effective are the techniques teachers are using to teach writing in the classroom? Is there a possibility writing should take the form of creative writing workshops, where writing is nurtured on a one on one basis? These are just a few of the potential alternatives other than disciplining students with grammar and sentence construction. But first, we need to define what “college level” writing is.

An Aristolian Critique Of Casablanca and Kate’s Speech from Shakespeare’s “Taming Of The Shrew”

12 10 2009


1) Credibility of the speaker: Bogart’s perceived knowledge of the repercusions for not boarding the plane contribute to the positive response of his audience [Ilsa]. The speech itself stirs her emotions (i.e. the visible tears in her eyes) which reinforces his rhetorical approach.

2) Proof or apparent proof: Bogart uses the war (the great threat of dying) as a forensic argument to encourage [Ilsa] to comply with his demands.

3) Necessity or Necessary conclusions: Bogart [Rick]  present’s his argument as non-negotiable. Death or suffering is a frightening consequence. Aristotle relies on necessity that is perceived as the crucial basis for convincing his audience. In this case the necessity is living and this necessity ultimately wins over Ilsa.

Shakespeare: Kate’s Speech From “Taming of the Shrew”

The Importance of Audience

Kate’s speech is directed at a medieval audience and Kate takes this into account as she address her husband (male patriarch figure). Aristotle says “all men are persuaded by consideration of their interest” (Book I, Ch. 8). Men the audience in the scene, are hooked by the admirable and congratulatory attitude towards her male counterpart. Compliments and subservience are the mens expectations when Kate is addressing them and is why her argument posed toward her rebellious female friends are even more believed, despite her in true intentions. a syllogism for this approach of argument for Kate would be: Sovereign, Obey ones King, Obey Ones Husband.

English 651- Rhetoric Exercise: Socratic Dialogue

12 10 2009

Jeff Klepper
September 28, 2009
Professor Wexler
Rhetoric Exercise: Socratic Dialogue

Chiron: Come gather students and let us ponder the many wonders of the universe.

Xanthus: Chiron we ponder the wonders of the universe daily, and we have yet to come to any conclusions.

Chiron: Do you think that there is finality in thought my student? Are you satisfied with one answer? Are you after a greater truth? Of course you are. One must not be deterred by the process of redefining knowledge. One cannot solely expect to learn the unlimited amounts of knowledge without committing oneself to the cause fully.

Xanthus: But Chiron , what do we have to show for all this defining? Are we truly creating or gaining wisdom through our own disagreements? Surely one cannot expect to acquire all worldly knowledge.

Chiron: Of course man can expect many things to come from his toils. If he does not see merit in his struggles, why should he bother? Is there any other way to live life? Can a man just be complacent and feel fulfilled. I would argue not.

Xanthus: If a man chooses to pursue a life of simple pleasures and to be motivated by worldly tangible pursuits I see no problem with it. How does it make it any more legitimate than our pursuit of deeper truth and knowledge?

Stenos: May I interrupt?

Chiron: Yes, young Stenos.

Stenos: I have noticed that the two of you are arguing about absolute truth. By virtue of language, we are quite aware we cannot fully attain either absolute truth or unadulterated subjectivity towards the natural world. Can we just be fooling ourselves into pursuits that offer no real solution but more unanswered questions?

Chiron: Stenos, this is why I am guiding you towards this ultimate understanding. I tell both of you that this in itself is a process that must be taken seriously. You must acquire a greater understanding of the countless questions we are asking ourselves. We must as philosopher’s answer these medial question in order to build upon the greater questions we as men are after. In order for us to enact a societal consciousness we must deliver the closest thing to perfection to the public. It is with our toil, that progress will be made both intellectually and internally.

Stenos: I find this to be a weak rebuttal Chiron. How do you believe that we can build a profound consciousness in a society that lacks the proper education to acquire such lofty wisdom? Is this another one of your so called “processes”?

Chrion: Now Stenos, do not let the immense amount of social change that would have to take place blind your noble ambitions. I would not be teaching both you and Xanthus if I did not believe both of you were capable rhetorician-philosophers with the ability to impact your very own generation of budding philosophers. In turn, you will create a greater range of social change and consciousness amongst yourselves. The greater leaps in knowledge and truth are dependent on those willing to commit themselves to the journey. If you both cannot see that you are committed already and are in the midst of something grander than just pseudo-intellectual hocus-pocus, than I have failed you as a teacher. The pursuit of greater truth is the pursuit for intellectual freedom. And once you accept this as your life’s goal the easier it will be for you to see the real workings of intellectual freedom.

Xanthus: I have committed to your teachings and must follow through with the difficulties that lie ahead.

Stenos: I am still not fully convinced, but cannot articulate contrary to seeing this experience through. There is just no way to know for certain if anything we pursue in life has any meaning or truth to it. Chrion, as you said if we ourselves have committed to the greater knowledge out there, than we must trust our intent. Otherwise we are lost.

This is my new blog for English 651!!

30 08 2009

Hello all! You have landed upon Jeff Klepper’s Blog for English 651. I hope to entertain you all with my lofty insight on rhetoric. Feel free to comment. I am writing this in order for the Blog to not seem empty. I hope this feels like there is a whole bunch of content on my Blog.