CCCC 2014 Reviews

L.37 "Teaching Aristotle's Rhetoric as Open Source"

Reviewed by Christine Photinos (cphotinos@nu.edu)

Chair: Keith Walters, Portland State University, OR

David Jolliffe, University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, “Contemporary Topoi: Starting Points for 21st-Century Argumentation”
Roger Cherry, The Ohio State University, Columbus, “Teaching Aristotle’s Notion of Logos
Beth Daniell, Kennesaw State University, GA, “Ethos, Trust, Audience, and Kairos

Aristotle’s Rhetoric was the focus of this lively and well-attended Saturday-morning panel. The panelists approached the Rhetoric as “the original open source”—an accessible resource adaptable to a wide range of uses across multiple contexts and for multiple purposes. Each panelist’s talk was built around a concept from the Rhetoric: ethos (Beth Daniell), topoi (David Joliffe), and logos (Roger Cherry).

Beth Daniell opened her talk by highlighting the complexity of ethos—a concept often too readily equated with individual credibility. She noted, for example, that ethos must also be considered in relation to kairos. She illustrated this point with several examples, among them that of the 19th-century woman rhetor who begins with a “damaged ethos.” Of particular interest to Daniell is the way in which digital communication further complicates ethos. The main example here was an analysis of the media aftermath of Sandra Fluke’s testimony before Congress on contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. Daniell urged an understanding of ethos as complicated and relational rather than as singular and described the experience of one of her students working through this complexity in an analysis of the ethos of Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird

David Jolliffe’s presentation was on topoi. He discussed several of Aristotle’s twenty-eight topoi of Book II of the Rhetoric in terms of their historical specificity and ethnocentrism, and he described classroom activities in which students generate lists of 21st-century American versions of the topoi (e.g. “If enough people say it’s true, it’s true”; “Private religious beliefs supersede freedom under the law”; and “All artists/writers get better when they are dead artists/writers”). Students then attend to ways in which these contemporary topoi reflect dominant 21st-century ideologies. 

Roger Cherry focused on logos—specifically on the difficulty of teaching this concept at the undergraduate level. He has found in the context of teaching advanced composition that his students are good at analyzing arguments in terms of ethos and pathos but have more trouble with logos—and particularly with deduction. Cherry described some of his instructional strategies. For example, in analyzing a piece of discourse, he asks his students to identify enthymemes, supply missing premises and/or conclusions, and construct complete syllogisms. He noted that students struggle with this and posed a question that later became a focus of the Q&A: Is it reasonable to expect students to be able to do this? Is the task simply too difficult for 19–20 year olds? (The panelists and audience commenters focused on “traditional-aged” students.)

The Q&A elicited a large number of responses. One audience member described having students work with advertisements in developing the kinds of analytical skills that Cherry described. These objects of analysis afford an opportunity to look for logical arguments—including where they are not being presented. 

Beth Daniell observed that what makes the enthymeme so powerful is that the audience is supplying a big piece of the argument. Also, the thing left out is often the thing you do not want to say out loud. 

David Joliffe, returning to Roger Cherry’s question about the cognitive characteristics of young people, noted that much of this comes down to the ability to adopt the perspective of another. 

An audience member agreed with Cherry that there was likely a good question to be raised about cognitive ability, but he also noted lack of cultural/ambient knowledge as a factor. He characterized this as a “double deficit” young students experience as they attempt to perform rhetorical analysis.

CCCC 2014 Reviews

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