The Problem of Rhetoric as a Word
In the last few weeks, I've been told the following by students:
- I don't like to argue.
- Rhetoric is what destroyed the middle class.
- Most texts aren't rhetorical.
- Studying rhetoric is like mastering lying.
- No one takes speeches seriously anyway.
I study the rhetoric of fiction and the rhetoric of science. These two fields might seem lightyears apart, but they aren't. We communicate through stories and narratives. But my students do not associate the ways in which we share knowledge and ideas with the discipline of rhetoric.
How can we better reach today's students? I've tried to explain the "personas" students adopt online: the Twitter, Facebook, and miscellaneous profiles they carefully construct for different audiences. Even though we consistently refer to the choices as "rhetorical analysis" the students actively reject the word rhetoric.
Maybe the word "rhetoric" is beyond rehabilitation? I hope not. Yet, my students have had four or more courses that use standardized terminology, including the lexicon of rhetoric. So to reject the word is to reject a fair amount of university instruction.