Thursday, April 15, 2010

Of Rhetoric, Tea Parties, and Morality: Discussions of Kairos in the Writing Classroom

Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.
                       -- George W. Bush (20 Sept 2001)

What a great week for amazing class discussions, provocative questions, and inquisitive students. In my Advanced Rhetoric course this week, we talked about kairos and, on a related note, situational ethics. These were not, by any means, new subjects for the class. What made this week's end-of-the-semester in-class discussion so stimulating was that we began, in a very specific way, to talk about all the classical rhetoric we've learned in terms of the political conversations currently swirling around in the social ether. We considered the social implications of rhetoric that moves to action -- most particularly when that rhetoric is driven by hate, fear, anger, and the assumption that the speaker/writer is justified in using whatever strategies or tactics s/he deems necessary -- all because s/he has decided that s/he is on the side of moral "rightness."

Though the graduate-level Theories of Writing course began with two 40-minute student presentations, the topics (including Chaim Perelman and Martin Heidegger) led us to similar discussions about power, morality, and the importance of recognizing kairos. The end result was that I promised to share the paper (and Powerpoint) that my colleague, Kevin Van Winkle, and I presented at the Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference the first week of April 2010. Our title was "The Rise of the Moral Empire: Christianism, Terrorism, and the Rhetoric of Power in the Post-9/11 'Anti' Campaigns."

We had a very interactive presentation, but because we presented (and created) together, we did write up a paper -- of sorts. The content of this "paper," complete with "CLICK" in each place we forwarded to the next Powerpoint slide and designations of who read what section, is below...


CLICK. In 1821, John Quincy Adams, in his historic Foreign Policy speech, reminded the American people that the strength of America lay not in her military or diplomatic might, but in her refusal to “ interfere[nce] in the concerns of others... Wherever the standard of freedom and Independence has been or shall be unfurled, there will her heart… and her prayers... But she goes not abroad, in search of monsters to destroy.”  Less than 200 years later, Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, echoed these inveterate American sentiments when he publically proclaimed to Al-Jazeera, CLICK “We don’t ‘do’ empire.” While Adams and Rumsfeld could hardly be accused of having similar political ideologies, both men insisted that America did not have imperialistic aspirations – based on their shared belief that dominance over others is, in some way, immoral. And yet, American colonialism stems from what historian Ian Tyrell calls CLICK the “missionary impulse” – a Christian-centered control over those who are incapable of controlling themselves. In this way, the control becomes a moral imperative – one that justifies military intervention, economic sanctions, and a foreign acceptance of American defined democratic ideals. And though most Americans would be loathe to describe the American dream as embodied within an “evil empire,” in his article “Empire of Denial: American Empire Past, Present, and Future,” Tyrell goes on to ask the American public to consider this CLICK. – he writes, “if it walks like an empire, if it quacks like an empire, then it probably is.”

CLICK. Of course, Tyrell’s observation comes post-9/11, in a world where, as Bush declared “freedoms -- our freedom of religion, our freedom of speech, our freedom to vote and assemble and disagree with each other” were now perceived as being threatened by outside forces. He continued, “Tonight, we are a country awakened to danger and called to defend freedom. Our grief has turned to anger and anger to resolution. Whether we bring our enemies to justice or bring justice to our enemies, justice will be done.” (“Address to the Nation,” 20 Sept 2001). CLICK. And yet it was not the rhetoric of fear or power that ultimately justified (and continues to justify) America’s presence in Afghanistan and Iraq – it was the rhetoric of morality. Indeed, before the smoke had fully cleared at the World Trade Center, the political rhetoric had begun to shift. CLICK. Over time, political pundits and national leaders morphed from proponents of retribution into bringers of democracy, freedom for the Middle East, and global equality.  And though the language had changed, the methodologies had not. Violence, it should come as no surprise, provided America’s necessary shock and awe. CLICK.  From the scandals at Abu Ghraib to the continuing secrets of torture and water-boarding at Guantanamo Bay, America had embraced the tactics of her enemies. CLICK.


Early in the war on terror, Bush’s administration created a bipartisan culture that, ironically, was embraced across political parties. CLICK.He claimed, “You’re either with us, or you’re with the terrorists” (Bush 2001). While some on the extreme left have made the argument that we were as guilty as our enemies, it is important to note that American tactics were deemed – by most Americans --  to be more just than the identified Muslim “extremists”; our violent, terroristic strategies were not just situationally warranted – they were moral and good. Western ideas of morality and “goodness” are wrapped up in complex social systems steeped in Judeo-Christian dogma – dogma that even in John Quincy Adams’ time, manifested itself in specific, action-driven political agendas. In fact, CLICK noted conservative author and daily contributor to The Atlantic, Andrew Sullivan, created his term “Christianism” as a counterpoint to the negative, anti-Islamist rhetoric that emerged from the Christian right in the years post-9/11.  He argues, “The distinction between Christian and Christianist echoes the distinction we make between Muslim and Islamist. Islamists are those who want to wield Islam as a political force and conflate state and mosque.” Moreover, while, like Sullivan, we do not seek to draw a parallel between Christianity and the advocacy of violence, we do see a connection between Christian ideals of goodness and the acceptance of  violence  -- as long as it’s in the name of a just and moral cause.

According to Gerard Genette’s seminal 1962 article “Structuralism and Literary Criticism,” all relationships are "systems of latent relations, conceived rather than perceived, which analysis constructs as it uncovers them, and which it runs the risk of inventing while believing that it is discovering them" (86). CLICK. Our suggestion is that if what Genette observes is true, then anti-terrorism, and its relationship to “Christianism,” is actually a socially constructed relationship – a latent relationship that was constructed by the government and perpetuated by the public – rather than inherently interrelated in the years post-9/11, as the American government used “Christian” ideologies and language in its campaign against terror. In this way, we argue that Americans have created an extreme relationship among disparate ideologies CLICK (in this case, terrorism and Christianity). It is one that remains apparent in the extreme bi-partisan, polarized rhetoric of the 21st-century – and one that has bled over into movies, television, and even public service styled ad campaigns.

The Montana Meth Project: History

In 2005, Montana experienced an extreme outbreak of drug usage. By 2006, the rural state ranked fifth in the nation for methamphetamine addiction despite the fact that in the years previous, they remained virtually untouched by the drug epidemics that plagued the rest of the nation. Half of Montana’s prison population was incarcerated because of meth-related crimes. Additionally, the foster care system also experienced a high number of new admissions related to meth. The instant “popularity” and accessibility of the dangerous and highly addictive drug confounded authorities. The devastation meth had on the state was noticed by billionaire business man, philanthropist, and part-time Montana resident, Tom Siebel. CLICK.

In 1996, Siebel created The Siebel Foundation, which, according to their own PR materials, helped grant educational scholarships to the underprivileged, assisted the homeless, and searched for alternative energy solutions. Confronted with the meth epidemic in Montana, Siebel broadened the Siebel Foundation’s scope in January 2005 to include the prevention of meth use. With the help of the advertising agency, Venables Bell and Partners, The Siebel Foundation created The Montana Meth Project (MMP). CLICK. The MMP’s primary goal, unlike “anti-ads” created in the 20 years previous, was no longer rehabilitation through education but prevention through fear – reflected in their slogan “Not Even Once.” The target audience was teenagers, and to reach them, the MMP orchestrated a statewide advertising campaign that included television, radio, billboard, newspaper, and internet advertisements. So saturated was the state’s media channels by these advertisements that the MMP reported that an estimated 70 to 90% percent of Montana teens saw one of these ads three to five times per week. Besides ubiquity, what all these advertisements had in common was a shocking, graphic, and often times frightening depiction of the possible consequences of trying meth.  The stark and unrelenting depictions of moral depravity, psychosis, and physical deterioration brought about by meth use made previous anti-drug campaigns look tame by comparison.  It was this shocking yet seemingly realistic portrayal of the consequences of meth use that made the ads memorable and, supposedly, effective. As a result, other “waves” of advertisements followed. These successive advertisements had different directors and actors in different vignettes, but the horrific depictions of the aftermath of meth use remained the same.

For example, in this clip, we see a “Hollywood-esque” commercial that presents normal teen angst and peer pressure alongside horrific imagery and references to prostitution.

This new breed of anti-campaign – like so much else is our world today, offers proof of the new acceptance Americans have for terrorism – if, as we suggest, this pejorative rhetoric is deemed morally justified by the American public. Indeed, America has inadvertently “Stockholm-syndromed” its way into a believing this increasingly terroristic rhetoric as a necessary step in “educating” our youth about the dangers of drinking, smoking, and doing drugs. And, in fact, these shocking campaigns offer evidence that Americans – in all aspects of our lives – have increasingly begun to embrace the very actions that we once claimed to abhor - violence, torture, and even rape - in the name of a “just” ideology.

And, though the moving imagery of the Meth commercials are shocking, the billboards that dot our own Colorado landscape are equally dramatic and terroristic in nature.

DONNA --- CLICK. CLICK. [Description]

KEVIN --- CLICK. CLICK. [Description]


The MMP claims direct responsibility for lowered rates of meth use among teens and adults, a decrease in meth-related crimes, and a drop from fifth in the nation to 39th in the nation for meth use. Currently, Arizona, Idaho, Illinois, Wyoming, Hawaii, and Colorado have all purchased and implemented an augmented form of the advertising campaign. The name of the project changes to reflect the state, but the ads remain the same: grim and terrifying. And, like torture, the efficacy remains debatable.

DONNA [Unplanned open-discussion for this section]

Reality TV increases post-9/11… real life has become so HD that TV has to match it – commercials push these aesthetic boundaries too… the Meth ads build on existing anti-campaign structures and employ the violence and fear that have become so much a part of American life in the last decade.

So what? Where does it end??? Where does this lead next? Fear that turns to action against homosexuality? Race? Gender? All wrapped in warped Christianism? In the flag? Indeed, regardless of your politics, fear and hate-mongering is an issue that affects us all. So, at what point do we draw a line? At what point are these tactics too invasive? Are we paving the way for actions to take the place of rhetoric? It’s already happened in terms of terrorism and right-wing extremism. Sarah Palin’s statements about “picking up arms” – targets on congresspersons…CLICK.

What does all this mean for the future of education?
Future of freedom?
Future of America?


I hope you enjoy this, and perhaps you'll have an opinion or two you'd like to share along the way. In the meantime, use your rhetoric for good and never evil. --DR. DONNA

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

Want to Learn Something New? Research! Write a Paper!

"The best way to learn anything new -- to really get it -- is to write a paper about it."
                                                                                      --Dr. Rochelle Gregory

We start with a quote today -- words of wisdom from one of the smartest people I know. I'm sure there are more complex quotes out there that say the same thing (Benjamin Disraeli's, for example), but I've always found Rochelle's comments clear, direct, and to the point. And, I've watched her, for almost seven years, practice what she preaches. Better yet, she's right. The research that goes into any paper, the discussions you'll inevitably have with your peers, the dead-ends you'll reach, and even the rethinking, reframing, and revising you'll be forced to do -- all of these steps in the lengthy process will help you begin to "own" any new or unfamiliar subject/theorist/philosophy/pedagogy. Better yet, if the subject is one with which you already feel comfortable, or (eeek!) it's one you abhor -- well, doing some serious scholarly work, a bit of complex research, and formal academic writing can force you out of that useless place of comfort and/or dislike and can lead you, by your own hand, into new scholarly territory -- territory rich with amazing possibilities.

This week, both my undergraduate and graduate classes are beginning to prepare a topic for their final research paper. In the Advanced Rhetoric class, these students will either 1) do a complex rhetorical analysis of a timely piece of civic discourse (deceptively complex!), or 2) explore an issue of relevance to pedagogies of rhetorical theories. Though this single paper is likely just that, my hope is that these amazing students find a new passion (civic responsibility or something more pedagogical in nature) through which they'll consider their future academic pursuits. In the graduate Theories of Writing course, these students will begin what, for some, may be the start of a longer thesis project. They have been prompted to consider the following:

Use this paper as an opportunity to do work that intersects with your interests and professional goals. Possibilities include: a detailed proposal for a future research project (ie: Thesis in comp theory, etc); a reception history of a key term or author in composition studies; an essay proposing a new theory of composition or integrating previous theories; a critical review of competing theories of an area of composition that situates your own position as teacher/scholar; a literature review that examines in detail a specific topic or problem in composition studies; a conference worthy paper on an issue in the teaching of writing.

My suggestion for any lengthy paper -- especially at the proposal stage -- is to begin with a single research question. In this case, the ENG 501 students might begin with broad questions that explore the intersections between classical rhetorical theories/contributions to writing and the more modern issues of composition theories/theorists. In this class, and in order to lead up to the final research project, each student is presenting a 40-minute lecture (with an interactive activity for the class!) on a major rhetorical figure -- we began with Vico and will work our way down to Burke and Booth -- paired with a modern composition theorist. We've already discussed Linda Flowers, Stanley Fish, Wendy Bishop, Lester Faigley, Ilona Leki, and Nancy Sommers. I was excited to hear at least two wonderful paper possibilities emerge from last night's presentations alone. From an argument that seeks to prove Mary Astell's feminist impact on Jane Austen's more traditional fiction to the canon of style and its importance when teaching ELL students -- ideas ran the gamut. In fact, even in the shorter midterm oral presentations last week, I heard paper possibilities emerge (harnessing the power of web 2.0 for classroom practice, for example). Yes, this is good stuff!

Some of the other questions ENG 501 students might use as a way into a more complex exploration for their research paper include: How has college-level writing instruction been formalized and taught in American, British, and/or Western European universities past and present? What is the relationship between classical rhetoric and modern theories of composition -- as it's manifested in the 21st century classroom? How do concepts of literature affect theories of writing? What shifts in recent pedagogical practice have introduced significant changes in the way we conceptualize and teach college composition? What role does (or should) technology [grammar, reticent writers, process versus product thinking] play in any pedagogical development and successful classroom practices?

Of course, there are any number of questions that would be more specific (some of the intersections students made between their rhetorical "biggies" and the working comp theorists, perhaps?) and more relevant to each student's particular interests (those we discovered last night, for instance -- simply add a "what is..." to the start of these claims, and you're off!), but these broad questions, I hope, will spark other questions for students who have no real direction yet. In the simplest terms, ask yourself this: What don't I know -- and what would I like to know more about? And go from there...

Now, as to format for the proposal... students should follow this format, shown below, for the formal research proposal (borrowed from the terrific folks at George Mason University. Proposals should be 2-3 pages in length, and must include a proposed reading list of SCHOLARLY works. If you are unclear about what constitutes "scholarly," see me immediately.


A proposal for a term paper is a writing plan that lays out the goal, scope and organization of the paper and identifies some of the sources and methods that will be used. It may also be called a research design, letter of intent or a prospectus. It should include the following components:  statement of the goal of the paper and the research question to be answered, a paragraph or two that puts the goal into context and explains why it is important, a brief review of the most salient literature, the data and methods to be used, and a bibliography of 10-20 sources largely based on refereed journal articles.  In addition, a proposal often includes a detailed outline of the main topics to be covered in the final paper using headings and subheadings to show the logical structure of the final paper (this is sometimes called a provisional table of contents). A typical paper proposal should be no more than five pages in length -- including your readings list.

Proposal Writing is a Valuable Skill
Proposal writing is not busy work! It is one of the most important styles of written communication that you will develop in your university career. If you can write a paper proposal then you have the basic skills required to write a grant proposal.  Persuasive grant proposals are rewarded with financial support to accomplish the worthy goals you have set. If you can write a paper proposal you can write a book prospectus and sign a contract with a major publisher who will pay you royalties to reproduce and distribute the words you write. If you can write a paper proposal, you can write the prospectus for an initial public offering to raise millions of dollars to finance the start-up of your own company. If you can write a paper proposal, you can write a thesis proposal, one of the most daunting hurdles for most graduate students -- and why we go through this process now -- early in your academic career.

Remember: Proposal writing is not easy because you have not done all of the work yet. It is a balancing act, because you have to do a certain amount of work to figure out what it is that you are going to research. Once you think you know enough, you write a proposal seeking approval for what you propose to do. In this proposal you must persuade your reader (me!) that you have the basic understanding, research competence, background knowledge, and technical skills to complete the proposed project successfully.

[follow this format exactly; instructions in brackets, after each section, are designed to guide you and offer details about what should be included in these significant areas of the proposal] 

To: Professor Donna M. Souder

From: [complete name and email address]

Subject/Title of my paper:  [The subject is the broad topic, but if you have a tenative title, include it here]

My Proposed Area of Research in the Grad Program, and Why Writing About this Topic Will (or could) be Beneficial to Me: [If you are not vested in your topic, chances are your incentive to write about the subject will be weak. If you are interested in the topic, you will probably write a better paper.]

My Thesis: [The thesis is generally a sentence or two, which comes after the introductory material and states the main point/s in your paper.  It is NOT a question.]

Approach to the Subject of My Paper: [Try to envision a logical way in which to present your material. In what order will you present your material to best address the issues? Will you have to define any terms? If so, which ones? Will you have to clarify terms and concepts? Do you think that inserting anecdotal evidence, for example, or high profile interviews with living, working theorists will help your reader understand your paper? Will you show opposing viewpoints? Will you discuss the plusses and minuses of different philosophies that inform pedagogies/theories in similar ways? Will you be comparing and contrasting? Will you be categorizing some information? Perhaps you will be using a number of these approaches in your paper. Let me know where you think you are headed.]

Intended audience: [Your readers should not be specialists in your field. Assume that your readers have, in general, your level of education, but are not necessarily interested or research the same subject. You will have to define terms and explain concepts. But beyond these obvious ground rules, discuss what people or group of people might benefit from reading your paper. Is your work directed toward composition/rhetorical theorists, high school teachers, middle school teachers, or college instructors?]

Graphs or charts: [Graphs and charts will not impress me unless they truly help the reader better understand some aspect of your paper. Be sure to document charts and graphs from other sources. Charts and/or graphs should not stand alone. They should compliment textual descriptions. Refer to the chart or graph in the text where you discuss the information. Charts, graphs or other appendices do not count toward the 10-15 pages of required text in the final paper.]

Kinds of Sources I Will Use and Why They Will Benefit My Paper: [ Do you have a balanced variety of sources?  What strengths will they lend to the paper?  How will they help clarify points you want to make? Use a combination of sources. Do not use all Internet sources (1-2, MAX!). Some of your sources must be from a professional journal in your field, such as a nursing journal, a computer science or engineering journal, such as IEEE Spectrum. Some high end general audience publications such as Scientific American, or PC Computing can be used. Internet sources can be used, but ONLY if they are from credible sites.]

Tentative List of References: [Here, in narrative form, you'll discuss the sorts of sources and the ways in which the most significant sources (might) inform your proposed paper's claim.Ultimately, you should have at least twenty (20) separate sources listed in the proper MLA format. This information should be on a separate page called Proposed Readings List. Abide by all of the MLA format guidelines for the reference page. The sources should be varied - not all Internet sources, for example - and be appropriate for a college level research paper. People magazine, Readers Digest, and others of that ilk are not satisfactory. Show me that you know how to find and can analyze data from sources within your discipline. Your final reference page in the Research Paper should have a minimum of  7 to 10 sources, each of which must be used as a source in your paper. It is possible for some of your sources to change as you become more deeply involved in writing your paper. Advise me of changes in references. Failure to seek approval for changes will result in a failing grade on the final paper.]

Final Impact of My Research: [You may approach this one of two ways. First, you may provide details about 2-3 scholarly conferences at which you might present your work (include dates, focus, location, cost, why they'd accept your work, etc.). Second, you may choose to discuss the ways in which you might adapt this paper to become a lengthier work -- say a thesis or a book-length exploration.]

Hope this helps... in the name of the ethos, the pathos, and the holy logos... DR. SOUDER

Friday, February 26, 2010

How Do You Know You're Doing Significant Work?

“Histories make men wise; poets witty; the mathematics subtle; natural philosophy deep; moral grave; logic and rhetoric able to contend.” – Francis Bacon

Last week, we were pleased to host Dr. Hugh Burns at CSU-Pueblo. He visited English 304 (Advanced Rhetoric) and the graduate level Theories of Writing class. In both classes, I provided students a copy of Dr. Burns's 20-year-anniversary of Computers and Composition article, "Four Dimensions of Significance: Tradition, Method, Theory, and Originality." And, in the 304 class, he discussed the article directly with students (Vol 21:1, 5-13). It was a great way to cap-off midterm week, and it was a great reminder for me that I belong to a rich, rhetorical tradition... it's a tradition that I'm pleased to be opening up for my students now too.

Though there's much that I'd like to say here as I send Burns back home to Texas and TWU, instead, I'll leave it to my students to share their insights.. on Burns, on his article, on the scholarly tradition of which they've become a part. --DR. SOUDER

Thursday, February 18, 2010

Attention, Thunderpups! Welcome, Dr. Hugh Burns...

As I sit here beside a roaring fire, enjoying this Thursday evening, watching the snow quickly cover my yard, I'm contemplating the week (nearly) behind me. What's more, even as I'm contemplating the successes and failures I enjoyed week six, and I'm thinking of the ways week seven (bahwahahahaah... "MIDTERM WEEK!") will exceed my highest expectations. Most of all, I'm thinking about Hugh Burns -- my mentor, my confidant, my good friend -- and the knowledge and experience he shared with me when I was his student and the knowledge he'll share with my students in the week ahead.

Yes, Professor Papu (aka Hugh Burns) will be on the CSU-Pueblo campus next week for several bits of administrative/training business. But, on Tuesday, he'll spend the day having lunch with my Advanced Rhetoric undergraduates (they'll pick his brain about the future of rhetorical studies and the rich and complex history of the field), and that evening, he'll enjoy midterm presentations (high stakes!) from my graduate Theories of Writing students -- followed by, perhaps, some beverages and feasting afterwards for a few hearty souls!

In the meantime, ENG 304 -- gear up for your midterm! On Friday, I'll be posting copies of all your weekly "check-ups" here: _____. And, here's a great, useful copy of the "History of the Western World, According to Souder, in 60 Minutes."

Now, ENG 501 students... you'll be posting (in lieu of your normal 3 weekly responses to your peers) a single response here this week. Your response is simple: ask Dr. Burns a question -- or give him a detailed topic you'd like to hear more about. This requires, as we discussed in class on Tuesday, some research on your part. But, never fear! You're in luck... I've done the research for you. Simply scroll down to last week's post on Hugh Burns. It's all there for you... Posts are due by Sunday at 11pm MDT. --DR. SOUDER

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Of Debates, Family Trees, and Parodies of the Classroom...

"If you're going to write about.... talk about things that are as old as mankind, you have to find a new, fresh way to make people interested..." Pete Hamill, Novelist, Journalist

Today, the first of my graduate students headed out to Albuquerque, New Mexico to present at the SW/TX Pop Culture Association/American Culture Association Conference. This is the first year that I won’t be attending with them, and so I’m thinking about all their hard work and their potential for such great things – even as I pack for my own trip. Tomorrow morning, I’ll head out to Denton, Texas with five of my closest friends, favorite colleagues, and best First Year Composition instructors I know. We’re off to attend the Federation Rhetoric Symposium (FRS), hosted by Texas Woman’s University, a conference that I had the honor to chair twice (in 2006 and again 2008 with the co-chairing skills of my dearest friend, Dr. Rochelle Gregory). The FRS has featured plenary speakers such as Wayne Booth, Richard Enos, Karlyn Kohrs Campbell, Kenneth Burke, Stephen Toulmin, and James Kinneavy. This year, the speaker is Dr. Patricia Bizzell, past president of the Rhetoric Society of America.

Though our little group’s “number six” (Dorothy! We miss you already!) will be staying here to hold down the fort, so to speak (oh, and finishing an amazing stage managing gig for Sweeney Todd), the rest of us – Isaac Sundermann, Constance Little, Gillian Collie, Jason Saphara, and Kevin Van Winkle, and I – will be presenting a roundtable discussion titled “Toward a New 21st-Century Pedagogy: Consistency, Collaboration, and Civic Discourse in First Year Composition Programming.”  If you hadn’t guessed, I’m excited to head back “home” and talk about the astounding things we’re accomplishing in our program at CSU-Pueblo.

Obviously, I have a lot I'd like to continue to think about and discuss in today's blog, but what's more important is that I have a lot I must cover. In this case the "musts" win, and so I'll keep my comments, from here on out, short and to the point on this beautiful Colorado morning. "Doubtful," you say??? No. Watch and be amazed as the wonderful and wise Dr. Donna Souder uses her skills of rhetoric for good! Bahhhwahahaha...

Yesterday, my amazing undergraduates had a debate. The resolution they addressed was as follows: Socrates was not a real person; he was a fictional character in Aristophanes, Xenophon, and Plato’s collective, literary imagination.

Some of you who follow me on Facebook know that this lesson emerged (earlier than planned) as the result of one student’s sincere inquiry: “Dr. Souder, if we only ‘know’ Socrates through Plato’s dialogues, how do we know he’s not a figment of Plato’s imagination?” It was great question from a wonderful student and one that was certainly worthy of more class discussion. From this ingle question, I began a mini-version of a longer “Socratic Problem” lecture, and my students were asked to take it from there. I divided them, randomly, into 2 large groups. Next, following the classical model of argumentation (exordium, narratio, partitio, and so on), they had one day to prepare and present their assigned sides in the argument (we flipped a coin, if you wondered). Each section was worth a certain number of points (the exordium was only 5, for example, while the narratio was worth 10), and we had two guest judges (Gillian Collie and Dorothy Heedt) who took notes, asked questions at the end, and, I think, thoroughly enjoyed themselves. After about 30 minutes of discussion among the 3 judges, we each tallied our points – which left me to tally the other points won and lost this morning.

The other points were awarded and tallied by me, and each side earned (or lost) points for calling out the other side’s use of logical, ethical, or emotional fallacies (red herrings, bandwagon appeals, slippery-slope, etc). I didn’t deduct points if a group was, justly, called out. Instead, I awarded points (1) for each fallacy pointed out, and I deducted points (2) if the fallacy called out was incorrectly – or, in some cases, when the calling out led to its own fallacy. Also, please note that, this time, we didn’t “judge” any speaker or either group on strength of speaking style or general presentation skills (that’ll be debate #2!). Here are some thoughts from our judges:

“I was very impressed by the way that your arguments were presented. I found myself shifting my perspective back and forth based on the tones that you took, which shifted appropriately from serious to slightly sardonic, at times with a sense of urgency. Never once did it seem that one side was mocking the other, which can happen easily in shorter, timed debates. In addition, the research you conducted in a short period of time was very effective, the con group's use of the 30 tyrants was particularly interesting, and the argument that Socrates was a constructed scapegoat was very convincing. At the same time, the con group's use of Socrates' methodology as justification for the lack of written records was a good choice. If you were to continue this debate, these are ideas I think you could develop.” –Dorothy Heedt

“I was impressed by the students' professionalism.  On the con side, I especially liked the mention that Socrates appears in three separate texts by three separate authors.  On the pro side, I really liked the idea that the "character" was used as a scapegoat for Plato...  Well done!”
–Gillian Collie

Nice, huh? So, without further ado, here’s how the points broke down, after the debate, but before I tallied the fallacies this morning (I’ll forgo a more specific play-by-play until class next week)…

“Pro” group = 18 points; “Con” group = 22 points.

BUUUUTTT…after the fallacies were tallied?

“Pro” group = 21 points; “Con” group = 20 points.

So, the winner? The group that affirmed the resolution! It was an interesting outcome, for sure. The negative side definitely had the upper hand at the end of the classical-styled argument (it was close, and they risked a LOT by calling out as many as a dozen fallacies), but, in the end, the affirmative side kept it simple and won.

Now, on to the biggie, the PRIZE… Homework.

Winning side, take a rest! You did well, and you’re being rewarded for your efforts.

Con side? You guys did an AMAZING job, and so, no textbook homework this week for you either. Instead, I’ll ask your side to simply write a substantive response (250-300 words) to this blog before Sunday at 11pm. What did you think of the debate experience? Would you like to do this again? If I made you switch sides, how would you approach the “affirmative” argument differently that yesterday’s group did?

Yes, it’s a little vacation for everyone… bravo! I’ll see everyone in class next Thursday; and, in the meantime, get to work with your team members on ideas/brainstorming for the pedagogy project. I’ll be in my office all day on Tuesday – if you have any questions. You know, about anything.

Graduate Students, English 501…
we had an equally interesting class last night. I promised I’d share a funny parody with them here, one we discussed in class, created by students in a Mass Communications class at the University of Denver. It’s mimics television’s “The Office” style for the  camera work, and it pokes fun at teachers who talk about technology in classes but who fail to really encourage or use technology themselves in those same classes.

So, we talked about technology in the classroom (pedagogies!) and we discussed Richard Enos’s thoughts on reclaiming rhetorical research. Indeed, what does primary research look like – what could it look like – in a class such as ours? To this end, we talked, at length, about the upcoming work they’d all be doing on the rhetorical genealogy of the CSU-Pueblo English faculty. They’re working in small groups in order to explore (and create!) a sort of writing theories “family tree.” These students are being influenced by the graduate faculty in our department, but our graduate faculty were influenced by a number of influential academics, and, I argue, we’re all interconnected in a myriad of ways. It’s a way to make rhetoric – real, live, working rhetoric and writing – come alive, and, I hope, allows my students to see how they have become an integral part of a rich and vibrant history of academia.

This project will require a number of interviews, several emails, and perhaps a phone call or two, and, in the end, we’ll create (on the jumbo board outside my office) a visual representation of the projects findings. This means, not only will they have to do a lot of work within their small groups, but the entire class will be talking, thinking, and making connections -- together. I imagine, when we all come together to share our findings, that we’ll have a scene not too different from the floor of the NY Stock Exchange. “TWU! TWU!” “Kinneavy! Booth!” “Chicago, 1923!”

Later today, I’ll be posting the updated, and complete, Theories of Writing reading list, so make sure to check back! The link/document will be right here: ENG 501 READINGS CALENDAR (Revised 2-11-10)

In the meantime, have a great day, safe travels, and remember to use your skills of rhetoric for good and never evil. –DR. DONNA

Friday, February 5, 2010

Credibility, Reason, and Passion in an Age of Global Uncertainty: Hugh Burns, Ph.D.

"We who study rhetoric define, explain, and predict the purposes, audiences, and techniques of written, spoken, and visual discourse. We investigate how texts and signs are used and abused in constructing meanings, identities, and knowledge. We study the very ideas of credibility, reason, and passion in an age of global uncertainty." --Hugh Burns

I am delighted to announce that the English Department and First Year Composition Program (FYC) at CSU-Pueblo will be hosting my former professor, mentor, and dear friend, Dr. Hugh Burns, the week of February 22nd. He'll spend the early part of the week reading, interviewing, and offering feedback as our external reviewer for the comprehensive "MA in English Program Review" that, as graduate faculty, we've been busily working to complete for almost a year. It is a comprehensive, 100-page, self-study -- one that is full of recommendations, current student and alumni feedback, program statistics, program problems, program successes, student research, and much, much more. In addition to all the feedback he'll provide on our MA Program Review, we're also privileged to have him conduct a training workshop for all our FYC instructors. He'll do a sort of "Rhetoric Boot-Camp," and connect it to current methodologies for "authentic assessment." We're excited to see what he shares with us, and if any of you are around, and are interested, email me, and I'll wrangle you an invitation too!

Of course, while he's here, we'll also enjoy having him speak to the English 501 (Theories of Writing) students, and (if we're really lucky!) to the Advanced Rhetoric undergrads. Put on your best rhetoric people! Start the pleading now! In the meantime, I want to tell you a few interesting tid-bits about Dr. Burns. Sure. I could tell you what an interesting, wonderful man Hugh Burns is (ahem -- he is), but, instead, why don't you check out his Texas Women's University web site, HBurns at TWU, for yourself? Yep, he studied under James Kinneavy at the University of Texas, broke bread with Wayne Booth, and counts Cynthia Selfe among his BFFs. In fact, Dr. Selfe and Dr. Burns collaborated as recently as 2009, when Burns was able to spend a well-earned sabbatical as a member of Ohio State University's Visiting Scholars in Digital Media and Composition at the OSU Department of English.

While he was at OSU, the students shot a short video in which they asked Burns to talk about his entrée into the fields of Rhetoric and Technology in the 1970s, the ways in which those scholarly pursuits are still morphing into new and innovative multimodal opportunities, and how his experiences at OSU proved to him that HE was an "episodic, collaborative narrative." Awesome! Watch the video here: Burns at OSU. And, if you're really interested in the ways in which these most recent academic experiences are continuing to shape his ever-evolving pedagogy, you can peruse his personal "Apple Cloud" here: Hugh Tube Productions. The first video, "Reflections on Global Learning," opens with my friend, Marc Azard, a Ph.D. student at TWU, discussing technology, memory, and his role as a "21st century student...". Those of you who know me best probably aren't suprised to hear that I fully intend to appropriate Dr. Burns' techniques and create our own digital reflection for the upcoming study abroad trip to Germany, The Czech Republic, and Poland. Are you ready for your close-ups, Jazmine, Amanda and Jean-Luc?

So, gear up -- a TWU Pioneer is headed to greet the CSU-Pueblo Thunderpups!

Start thinking now. What questions will YOU ask a real, live, walkin', talkin' rhetorician? --DR. SOUDER

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Argumentation & Pedagogical Development: Hunters or Farmers?

"Who are you hiring? Competing against? Teaching?"--Seth Godin

This morning, I intended to blog about one of my favorite classroom resources,, but instead, I got distracted by a short little article on a new blog I've been reading. The author, Seth Godin, is a rhetorician (

Okay, so I don't really know if Seth would describe himself in those terms (did I mention that, unlike a lot of the other bloggers I follow, I don't actually know Seth?). For all I know, Seth has never seen that super-cool American Rhetoric web site or even heard the word "rhetoric" (except from the poor 'ole White House, who, you know uses "rhetoric" too much most days) [insert sarcastic tone here]. But, as a business leader, as an author, as entrepreneur, heck -- even as blogger! -- I feel like Seth "gets" the real-world (yeah, yeah, I hate this phrase too -- more on that in a future blog) applications of many of the issues I've been discussing in both my Advanced Rhetoric class and my Theories of Writing graduate class. If I was unconvinced before, today's blog made it clear that he sees the practical purposes of knowing, using, deconstructing kairos in any rhetorical situation.

My rhetoric students are gearing up this week to debate, using all their strategies of classical argumentation, the "Socratic Problem," and my grad students are thinking pedagogically, as they blog about the "Emergence of a Field" (Writing Instruction) and the ways in which their own pedagogies serve as a reaction to or against some of the key theories in writing instruction. The amazing undergrads are turning theory into practice -- as they try their hand at a real life argument -- one that, I'm sure, will be full of ethical, emotional, and logical fallacies, and even a red herring or two (Meagan's purple shoes or sweet baby seals??). And, this week, the grad students are thinking critically about Richard Braddock, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Lowell Schoer's, Research in Written Composition, Chaim Perelman's, Social Contexts of Argumentation, Ken Macrorie's, Telling Writing, Sharon Crowley's, The Evolution of Current-Traditional Rhetoric, and many, many more.

So, what, you might ask, does any of this regular scholarly stuff have to do with my good buddy, Seth? Well, today, on his blog, business-man Seth set up an interesting paradigm using the idea "farmers versus hunters." Now, I'm not even sure if Seth was the first to use this concept, but I like the way he explains it. He uses this construct in order to talk about the ways in which people interact with one another -- the ways in which we learn -- the ways in which we view the world. He writes, "Farmers spend time sweating the details, worrying about the weather, making smart choices about seeds and breeding and working hard to avoid a bad crop. Hunters, on the other hand, have long periods of distracted noticing interrupted by brief moments of frenzied panic." He goes on to provide a number of good examples (e.g.: "George Clooney and James Bond are both fictional hunters. Give them a desk job and they freak out"), and he connects each of these examples to technology, knowledge, even larger epistemic concerns. Yes, and even Seth admits that these categories may be nothing but a "convenient grouping of people's personas," but, like Seth, I see myself in these examples, and [sigh] had to admit that I'm sorta a farmer -- even if some part of me would really, really like to be a hunter.

Whether you're convinced that Seth is on to something or you think he's just another walking, talking, blogging self-promoter who sees the world in terms that are far too simplistic, I think that the more knowledge we gain about people -- the more ideas we encounter that allow us to understand our own habits (good and bad) -- well, all of these merge into one bag of knowledge was can store away until we need it. In the meantime, consider Seth's paradigm and whether or not, following his examples, you're a hunter or a farmer (or something in between); think about the ways in which you adapt your teaching, speaking, presentation strategies in order to appeal to the most people in both groups... And, if you think it's all utter nonsense, well, email Seth -- not me, mmm-k? --DR. SOUDER