Wednesday, July 06, 2005

What Makes a Rogue?

Am I a rogue rhetorician?

I have been giving this a fair amount of thought, especially as I reread journal articles and books by the leading names in the field of composition and rhetoric. What makes me feel like an outsider as I read these works? Why do I question my place in a set of disciplines I love? There is no single explanation for my self-assessed status as a rogue, and some will certainly doubt my appropriation of the moniker.

While the rest of the field is rushing towards labels and metaphors for various teaching approaches and ideological intentions, I am uncomfortable with the implications. In the classroom, I am not trying to be a social crusader or liberator. Teaching is my rebellion, yes, but I can leave the reasons outside the classroom.

I am a writer interested in finding the best pedagogical research so I can effectively teach others how to express ideas. If the research points towards something, I'll try it and see if the methodology complements my teaching style. Pedagogy is the theory of teaching, but too often I see the theories within composition and rhetoric couched in ideology. Because I want to impart skills and a passion for words, not my political bias, I find myself apart from many of my peers. Sadly, the quick and easy response from the self-proclaimed liberators is that I am merely a complicit supporter of the current power structures.

Whatever.

If I help students learn to communicate, striving towards a mastery of rhetorical skills, then they will be able to add to the public discourse regardless of political or philosophical beliefs. I admit I want students to be skeptical consumers of information, always trying to determine biases and intellectual contradictions. The first thing I tell students is that we all have biases and make cognitive errors. The real challenge for an educated person is to constantly evaluate information and revise positions.

Unfortunately, many of my colleagues are unwilling to challenge closely held beliefs and deeply ingrained biases. Mention neurological research, cognitive psychology, or educational theories
and people look at you suspiciously. If you want to try social activism as a teaching strategy, you are cheered. If you ask for evidence supporting the approach, you risk being ostracized.

I'm not going to deny that I have a political philosophy outside the academic orthodoxy. It certainly informs my view that students and their parents are consumers of education, usually with a mix of social and professional goals in mind. My job is to serve these clients well or future students will select other institutions. Worse, the wider public might cease to support composition as a standard university requirement.

Too many of my colleagues imagine composition will never lose its place at the university. I suppose its a nice illusion to imagine we're not expendable, no matter how far we drift from the teaching of composition and rhetoric.

I'd rather be a rogue.

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