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.
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