Since the middle of the last century, the study of rhetoric has made something of a comeback in secondary and postsecondary institutions. In general, rhetoric is the idea that everything’s an argument (which is a term we’ll use in an academic sense rather than a contentious one) and we can study it all. This makes rhetoric a little slippery to grasp. In this class we’ll be looking at the signs and symbols (printed words, speech, visuals, gestures, etc.) that contribute to an argument or discussion. We will also study concerns of who is making an argument, to which audience, and why. Also of interest is who even is allowed to make an argument or who controls the language of an argument or discussion. And, of course, the results of such communication are elements of this study too. Objectives for this course include: creating sophisticated syntheses of multiple and potentially-disparate texts; experimenting with innovative thinking and pushing those ideas into new territories; crafting analyses of a variety of texts and narratives; staking a claim or stance in ongoing critical conversations and engaging with experts and their complex ideas; effectively and smoothly employing a variety of writing genres based on the most appropriate match; and engaging in thoughtful discussion of texts and ideas.
Unit 1: The Diagnostic Unit
This three-week introductory unit gives the instructor a sense of the students’ understanding of rhetoric before they dive into the more nuanced materials of the course. This diagnostic work that the students will produce informs the way the instructor will move through the rest of the semester. In this opening unit, students will be asked to analyze texts, investigate how concepts change over time, and synthesize new information about rhetoric with prior understanding. Students will complete free write journals, draft a large-scale essay, conduct a writing workshop, and revise based on feedback. They will also get a brief overview of some of the concepts and terms that make up the rhetorical canon.
Unit 2: History of Rhetoric
This unit asks students to go back in time to examine the roots of rhetoric. The students will explore classic texts, work through challenging rhetorical terminology, and create responses to the old masters. The focus will be on the works of Aristotle, Plato, Gorgias, and the conduct books of the Medieval and Renaissance periods. Major skills for this unit include uncovering historical rhetorical patterns; analyzing both textual rhetoric; recognizing and analyzing bias; recognizing the impact of audience; integrating context into textual analysis; and synthesizing multiple texts to reveal underlying themes. Texts for this unit include classical readings, critical articles, and selected videos. Assignments include free write journals, creative and collaborative activities, group presentations, and a large-scale project.
Unit 3: Introduction to Language
This unit focuses in on all of the details the English language. Students will spend some time examining their own language usage, looking at language manuals, and making arguments about the evolution of English. They will explore what it means to be a “gatekeeper” of a language, and will push back against the ideas of “standard” and “non-standard” English. We will also take a brief detour to look at the way that the English language is used to create the rhetoric of television (and other video-based media). Major skills for this unit include analyzing word choice, leading group discussions, developing research and synthesis skills, and organizing larger arguments. Texts for this unit include language and style manuals, selected videos, and a variety of websites. Assignments for this unit include journals, creative activities, short analyses, a longer research-based essay, and self-reflections.
Unit 4: Advertisement, Media, and Politics
The first unit of the spring semester will focus on the rhetoric of advertisements, media, and politics. During election years, the course will focus on the rhetoric of the campaigns, and both the instructor and the students will regularly pull in articles and videos from breaking events. This unit is designed to be flexible and responsive, so the students can take it in the directions that are most appealing to them. After studying the rhetoric of advertisements, the students will explore media consumption and media platforms. Most of the unit will be spent analyzing campaign rhetoric and the different modes of communication used during an election. Major skills for this unit include analyzing both textual and visual rhetoric; recognizing and analyzing bias; recognizing the impact of audience; analyzing word choice; and synthesizing multiple texts to reveal underlying themes. Assignments for this unit include free write journals; creative activities; short and long analyses; individual presentations; and a large-scale project.
Unit 5: Rhetoric of Speeches
This final unit of the year will focus on the rhetoric of speeches. Students will focus on analyzing oral (as opposed to textual or visual) rhetoric; recognizing the impact of audience; analyzing word choice, pacing, volume, and other oratory elements; and leading small group discussions. Students will prepare for their own speeches by watching, listening to, and dissecting speeches. They will need to pay attention not only to what’s being said, but also to how it’s being said, to whom it’s being said, when and where it’s being said, and so on. The semester will culminate with students writing and delivering their own speeches. Major skills for this unit include analyzing both textual and auditory elements of speeches; leading small group discussions; sustained practice skills; and memorization skills. Texts for this unit include speeches in text and multimedia formats; critical articles; and a selection of websites. Assignments for this unit include free write journals, short analyses, student-led discussions, and individual presentations.