I am a Master’s student in Composition and Rhetoric. My field holds together the academic study of composition (the act of writing) and rhetoric (the means by which humans make meaning).
The academic field of rhetoric analyzes “texts” in order to understand 1) the ways in which those texts persuade and 2) the “effect” that the texts have on readers/hearers. This field, like other academic fields such as Literature or History, is primarily interested with accumulating knowledge.
The academic field of composition studies 1) the way writing is produced and 2) the best practices for teaching writing. Much contemporary Composition pedagogy is grounded in rhetorical theory but, as an academic field, it is primarily concerned with helping students discover the ability to write well, appropriately, and persuasively to their audiences (that is, how to be rhetorically persuasive with their writing).
You can study rhetoric over in the Communications Department. Or you can study rhetoric in Classics, History, or Philosophy. I’ve even seen a program that offers a PhD in rhetoric and theory. And that’s great, but my interest is in teaching writing. I have loads of academic interests, and rhetoric is only primus inter pares.
If I wanted to do academic work for the sake of accumulating knowledge, I would be hard pressed to choose between Rhetoric, Theology, International Studies, and History. Philosophy and Literature would come in close behind the above four. Linguistics and Anthropology would be the outliers, but they’re pretty cool too.
I will become a scholar only incidentally. My true desire is to become a teacher, and my hunger to know has driven me towards to top. I don’t want to be a researcher who teaches in order to keep bread on the table. I want to be a teacher who researches so as to improve my own praxis. A PhD in Composition and Rhetoric is instrumental in me becoming the best teacher that I can be.
I want to teach writing, and not something else, because writing is the discursive mode in which our society primarily considers issues of importance. The freshman composition class is considered necessary for students of all disciplines in that it teaches students how to access academic and professional discourses irrespective of their majors.
Moreover, I am convinced that teaching writing is really teaching thinking. Writing is a means of organizing that which we know, a means of discovering that which we do not know, and a means of effectively communicating with others. I have found the art of writing to be essential to the freedom of the mind and the development of a critical appraisal of the world. Paulo Freire puts it this way:
Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.
I want to spend my life helping students fashion the tools by which they will understand their worlds. And, no, I am not interested (like the cynic) in dismantling the world and leaving the pieces piled like so much scrap metal. Like my grandpa, who once took apart a lawnmower engine to show me how it worked, I want my students to take apart their worlds, see how they work, and then reassemble them in potentially different ways.
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One thing I hope to teach my students is the importance of audience and context. If you are writing an email to your instructor, then using four letter words in the text of the email may not be appropriate. Though, of course, those words may be entirely appropriate in a text message to a friend.
In any case, I think I’ve gotten my context wrong on this blog. I know pretty well who reads the blog and hardly any of them care about my research pursuits as such. Honestly, neither do I really, not unless I’m in a course or working on my thesis: contexts in which research and scholarship matter. My two blog posts thus far in the series on Christian political discourse have been forced. I am not in an academic community at the moment, a community in which I would be able to bat ideas around with others, a community in which we could construct knowledge together. Rather, my blog is a rhetorical space for personal reflection on my varied interests. It is, more or less, an extension of my self in ways that my research projects are not.
So, I’m cancelling that series and will, instead, focus more on what this space is supposed to be: personal, poetic, and haphazard reflections on Story, Beauty, and a World that Means.