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Writing Perspectives: Destroying Perversions, Developing Pride

“As a nation, we are reputed to write badly. As a nation, I would say, we are more inclined to the perversions of rhetoric than to the rhetorical balance” (Booth 145). These are the finalizing words that are written in Wayne Booth’s article “The Rhetorical Stance,” and yet are probably the most significant. Teaching students how to write from a critical and persuasive standpoint is a daunting task and Booth is able to reflect that the epidemic exists on all levels of academia, even among those who are considered to be highly educated. Teaching the art of rhetoric is described as “chancy” and only those who have “acquired years of practice and experience” will gain the most success in understanding its true function (Booth 140). However, Booth still regards it as the unique responsibility of the educators to inundate their students with the basic rhetorical principals. These basic rhetorical principles will only be manifested if the educator takes the time to teach the students about the significance of reviewing the present arguments about the subject and also developing a voice that resonates with the unique qualities of his or her particular audience (Booth 141).

 Helping students to establish these principles of writing are highly important. As educators, we must give our students assignments that ask them to think critically and take a stance on a position. We should not assign tasks that are meaningless in the sense that it only requires them to show a “pedant stance,” and simply recall the levels of knowledge that they have obtained (Booth 141). This is a corruption of rhetorical writing because the student is not being asked to go beyond the dimensions of the teacher’s instruction and incorporate humanistic elements of self, opinion, etc. I also think that when we speak about the structural linguistics of writing, such as grammar and diction, that we can give it a substantial purpose that may resonate with the students, if we teach them how learning these components will ultimately make them better writers. We must “confront” our students’ writing with authentic comments, not codes and symbols. If our students’ are aware that we want them to question, analyze and think, we might rectify the second perversion of rhetoric where students seek to appease the audience and stray away from the honesty that persuasion warrants.

As Peter Elbow reflects on the conflict that exists between being a writer and an academic, he encourages writers to go beyond the writing that illustrates the actions that are essentially “timid and tapping only a small part of …thinking and feeling” (80).  In his article “Being a Writer vs. Being an Academic: A Conflict in Goals,“ he notes that it is essential that educators try to establish a classroom environment where the writer has pride in his or her work and understands the writing process as a struggle (81). Yes, students must be taught that their words are important and this pride can only be established if we give our students the opportunity to write about things that they know more about than the teacher (Elbow 81). For this reason, it is essential that the educator establishes a dual environment where they can assign writing tasks, but also have the students take responsibility and exhibit personal choice in the topics that they write about. The writing teacher should not always be the “tester” because just as Elbow states, we would ultimately be “sabotaging the essential dynamic of writers” (81).

Elbow’s article defines the intimate connection that exists between readers and writers. In the world of academia, the teacher is usually the one that acts as the reader, grades, and then gets to define the worth of the students’ writing piece (Elbow 76). However, if educators are going to stop their students from withdrawing and producing writing that lacks a voice that is ripe with opinion and critical discussion, there must be a shift in this dynamic. Students should be able to see the teacher in the role of writer and also be given the opportunity to give feedback and critically analyze, as opposed to always being the subject of observation. Some educators are prideful and arrogant about their extent of knowledge, but the student’s progress should supersede this. The teachers must step outside the safe zone of critic, if we are going to create students that trust us enough to let their guard down and learn.

I try to show my students that I am a writer on a continuous basis and I even bring my ninth grade portfolio from my English class to show them various topics that I considered important at that time in my life. They are often mesmerized and intrigued that I still have these things, but I was fortunate enough to have an English teacher that helped me to establish that sense of pride early on. Pride fosters confidence. Skill and confidence is a powerful combination that we must instill in our students.

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Posted in 3 Perspectives on Writing.


5 Responses

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  1. Guadalupe Bueno says

    The rhetorical balance that Booth highlights in the essay emphasizes the role of both the audience and writer. Therefore, if this is something that all students have been told why is it a problem? I dare say that this is in part of because of the long history of the teacher- student dynamic that freezes students’ capacity to compose without fear. In the academia world, the teacher is the person that directs and ultimately grades the assignment, as a result, the student regardless of their writing strengths will feel fear- fear of failure, not getting an optimal grade.

  2. Guadalupe Bueno says

    The rhetorical balance that Booth highlights in the essay emphasizes the role of both the audience and writer. Therefore, if this is something that all students have been told why is it a problem? I dare say that this is in part of because of the long history of the teacher- student dynamic that freezes students’ capacity to compose. In the academia world, the teacher is the person that directs and ultimately grades the assignment, as a result, the student regardless of their writing strengths will feel fear- fear of failure, not getting an optimal grade.
    Therefore, I agree with Elbow in that “the writing teacher should not always be the “tester” ” because the student as before mentioned would feel ‘blocked” to write and fully transform the “felt sense” into ‘ retrospective structuring”-giving the inchoate tangibility-that Perl denotes in her essay. Even Booth explains that Winston Churchill once said that the most valuable training he ever received was diagramming sentences-however we should note that in doing so, he had to look within himself and so leads to understand that his role as a writer was given the same status as that of the reader/audience.
    Moreover, I found your tactic great. By making your students aware of the struggles you as any writer confronts are letting your students feel connected to you as a writer and perhaps feel less impeded to embark on the task and more proud of the end product they construct

  3. Johanna Sanchez says

    I would have to agree with you Safaarah when you say that, “Skill and confidence is a powerful combination that we must instill in our students.” That is the essence in getting students motivated to write. I have never been a perfect writer but when I would get back papers from professors in undergrad and see countless marks and comments, it would discourage me to want to write because I felt as if the point I was trying to make was being disregarded. In a sense I felt that I had no voice or an audience. As Booth states, “…what could [students] have expected…when they were given no purpose and no audience when essays were assigned.” (142) As educators, what are we do teach our students about writing? He answers very simply in his article, “…our main goal as teachers of rhetoric is the balance of three elements…available arguments, interests of audience and the voice of the speaker.” I believe that it is our job to go out there and attempt to teach this balance and embed confidence in our students in order to produce meaningful writing.

  4. Dana Choit says

    We must “confront” our students’ writing with authentic comments, not codes and symbols. If our students’ are aware that we want them to question, analyze and think, we might rectify the second perversion of rhetoric where students seek to appease the audience and stray away from the honesty that persuasion warrants.

    I really like that you state we must “confront” students with commentary and explanation, and point out that perhaps students are unaware that at the end of the day that we hope to help develop students through thought, questioning, and analysis of what we utilize in the classroom, rather than rote memorization or expected answers. I think that those who want to do well will in some (perhaps unbeknownst to them or unconsciously) still try to appease the audience (teachers) but that directly allowing them to hear a goal of their education as thinking and questioning will help to alleviate that desire to some degree.

    I really like the connection you make to Elbow’s conflict of writer vs. academic in that students should view their teachers as also being writers and students in progress -and I love that you show them some of your own work from 9th grade! This is a great way to show students that “pride” as well as the growing process, and to create a connection between yourself (and your 9th grade self) and your students!

  5. Victoria Fontana says

    I agree with your idea about the worthiness of assigning a task that seeks a critical and analytical response, rather than a pedantic one. The greater lesson I take from this is that it’s important to convey the purpose of an assignment to a student so that they have all the tools to successfully complete it. The point of an assignment may be to encourage students to offer a rote response to particular facts that are expected to be memorized. Or a teacher may want to reach for more critical or creative thoughts. The intention of the assignment is helpful form students to understand. Otherwise, students may be unintentionally tested to figure out the purpose of the assignment. They may therefore fail in the delivery. Looking on the bright side, this situation may allow a students to think freely and they may offer something deeper and unexpected!