Tag Archives: Rhetoric

matthewboedy

Professing While Teaching

This post is written by member Matthew Boedy. 

As is usual in first-year composition, I assigned a research project to my students. In a course I titled The Rhetoric of Higher Education this semester, I proposed to my students that they embark on a research agenda of an issue affecting higher education.

Some of the perennial subjects showed up in student choices: student loan debt, tuition increases, paying student athletes, and “safe spaces.” These were all subjects I put on the syllabus. I listed on the syllabus other issues such as academic freedom, the role of the humanities, and the ways in which colleges have branded themselves. I provided a few readings for each topic, and we spent a week discussing each subject. Many of these sources showed up in the final papers, though many students had other, better sources.

I also strategically scheduled a week on the syllabus for an issue I have been involved in: the fight to prevent allowing guns on college campuses. I deliberately put that issue on the syllabus on the same day I also assigned the first step in the research process, hoping students would claim that issue.

For two years I have written (most recently here) and spoken against bills in our state legislature that would give those age twenty-one and older permission to carry a concealed, permitted weapon on campus, albeit in limited areas. That advocacy has gotten me placed on a conservative “professor watchlist” (I won’t link to it), some indirect pushback from my administration, and not a few insulting online comments.

My syllabus scheme was somewhat successful. About twenty of my sixty students chose “campus carry” as their research project. Why did they? In my class, at my university, and in my state, the overwhelming majority of students (not to mention faculty and staff) are against guns on campus. So I assume that those who chose to write about it did so because they share that opinion. But a few students chose to argue in favor of the idea. In Georgia we have a strong “gun culture” and a state law that allows concealed weapons in most public places, though not college campuses.

Of course, the question of grading comes up. Do those students writing in favor of guns think I am biased? I am never sure. I probably hold those who agree with me to a higher standard, checking more closely their sources and arguments even in the last, rushed days of the semester.

Some might argue that if I am doing my job correctly, it doesn’t matter whether students think I am biased. To these people, the question is whether I can set aside my personal bias to grade fairly, given the assignment and expectations for citations and conclusions.

But this issue is not merely one of personal bias for me. I cannot set aside my conclusion that campus carry is dangerous. And what is fair here? In student assessment, it is not a simple matter of presenting evidence to back up conclusions. It is also a matter of credibility, audience, and ethics.

For example, students in my class who favor campus carry, echoing sources they have read, point out that my school already has guns (we have the usual campus police and we are a military school, though my particular campus does not house military personnel). They transition from this point to champion campus carry by concluding we should not fear guns at all because we don’t fear those other guns. Yet this is a weak argument because it is a non sequitur. The comparison is not apples-to-apples, because military and police weapons are handled by well-trained individuals and securely locked away when not. I discount the paper that makes this argument.

On the other hand, those students who agree with me and who quote my work in their essays sometimes don’t quote me well, and I discount them for that. And here “well” means using my information to make their own claim, not merely summarizing my points.

Overall, in class I seek to give all students the opportunity to practice their thinking and show them ways to do that well. In doing that through the topic of campus carry, I aim to provide national context (each state’s version of this bill is different), historical context (the rise of such bills since 2008), and the importance of stakeholders and audience (I stress to students that I am their reader, not their audience). I hope this experience has taught them that nothing we do in the classroom – especially any type of literacy instruction – is free from politics.

This assignment was a teaching moment for them but also a learning moment for me. I continually have to learn how to be political without, well, being political. The question for me this semester has been how to balance my advocacy and my teaching. And whether “balance” is the right metaphor. I don’t feel I have to mention a claim from “each side” when I bring up the issue.

But I did make sure that the readings I included on the syllabus for the week we spent examining campus carry were about equal in number for each side. While I did not fact-check every claim in the pro-gun sources, I knew many would be rebutted the next class period by readings from those against guns on campus. I also did not disparage the pro-gun sites in general. (I used links from the NRA and groups committed to campus carry in my state. On my side, I used some of my work, the governor’s veto from last year’s version of this bill, a survey from another university conducted by the student government association that showed 70% opposed, and a tweet from REM front man Michael Stipe, who was among a handful of celebrities from Georgia to announce their opposition.)

I made clear my position in class while also suggesting that those on “the other side” were sincere and informed, to be taken seriously. Yet not every claim made in this debate is accurate and ethical. A question for my students is who to believe on this issue. There are many voices and I am one, but I am a voice with built-in credibility and authority. And so with great power comes great responsibility. In that vein, I invited two state legislators into my class – two gun rights advocates who not only voted for the bill but who also represent my students and me.

I decided before the legislators came that I would not interrupt or speak in opposition during their time in my class. I did not want the class to become a debating ground between me and them; this was for the students. I thought any dissension from me would create unneeded discomfort. I wanted to show some civility and give the legislators room to make their case. I did not fear they would convince students, as I knew my side also had compelling arguments. And the legislators used many different types of appeals to convince the class – mainly invention strategies we had talked about in class during this semester. It was helpful for students to see effective rhetoric at work.

During the Q&A period after the presentation, one student asked about the lack of training required to get a concealed weapons permit in our state. The legislators encouraged any permit holder to get training. Another student questioned why there was a need for guns after a law passed last year allowing Tasers and stun guns on campus. The legislators suggested those devices would not help those physically weaker.

Then the legislators argued that there was a massive crime increase on some campuses in our state. I stayed quiet, knowing these stats were misleading. But the next class day I felt compelled to provide needed context to the statistics the legislators cited. I praised parts of what the legislators said (they effectively used enthymemes and had a credible personal history with guns, for example). Then I pointed out what the FBI says about crime stats: using one number in a narrow way as they did is not prudent. Then I pointed to contradictory numbers put out by the same university the legislators quoted. Then I showed students how some universities in the same state report crimes that happened in places they can’t verify, i.e., off campus.

Finally I asked my students how we decide which numbers to use. One student responded that we use the ones that best fit our case. I cried a pox on both our houses, because many people in this debate do this. So I asked, in a larger context, how do we frame statistics? Students provided few answers within some awkward silence – perhaps the first time they had ever been asked to grapple seriously with the question.

I ended the conversation talking about the connection between facts and who presents them, how pathos appeals are intertwined with statistics, and how our literacy practices are fraught with complexities. Then I told students that I can’t and won’t tell them what to write. I can only put them in situations where they try out rhetorical strategies I have taught and so create credibility for themselves as writers. This is illuminating a path to learning, not necessarily a teaching of composition. This point is worth making in a political climate in which so many think we professors (especially in the humanities) bar or demean certain student opinions. It is also worth advocating for the asking of important questions. And the silent struggle to understand.

Dr. Matthew Boedy is an Assistant Professor of Rhetoric of Composition at the University of North Georgia in Gainesville, Ga. He teaches sections of First Year Composition and advanced professional writing courses. 

The Role of Militarism in BSA Rhetoric

The following is the second post from NCTE member Leigh Ann Jones’s book From Boys to Men: Rhetorics of Emergent American Masculinity, the latest volume in the CCCC/NCTE Studies in Writing and Rhetoric (SWR) series. You can read the first post here.

(From Chapter 2, pp 52-54)

LeighJones

While the uniform symbolically suggests that the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) was always resolutely militaristic, the role of militarism in BSA training was contested within the organization early in its history. In a 1912 speech at the National Education Association, BSA Chief Scout Executive James E. West described military training as useful only for the army, not the Boy Scouts. . . . The controversy over militarism and the use of firearms in the Boy Scouts emerged publicly in 1912 when a member of the American Boy Scouts (another Scouting organization for boys) accidentally shot another boy. In his annual BSA report, West referred to that American Boy Scout as an “imitation Scout” and described the BSA as “entirely a peace movement, both in theory and practice in that it bans all military practices and that its program of activities is confined to wholesome achievements for the purpose of building character” (qtd. in Rowan 54). While the 1911 BSA handbook included a Marksmanship merit badge, the BSA awarded none of these badges that year and only twelve in 1912. When Remington Arms began offering the American Boy Scouts .22 caliber rifles in 1913, the BSA refused to adopt it (54).

This relatively pacifist stance generated criticism from some within the organization and without. The most powerful response came from [former President Theodore] Roosevelt, who argued that the organization should police national boundaries by training boys in militarism. Roosevelt refused to appear at a rally for New York City Boy Scouts of America in Madison Square Garden, writing, a Boy Scout who is not trained actively and affirmatively that it is his duty to bear arms for the country in time of need is at least negatively trained to be a sissy; and there cannot be anything worse for this country than to have an organization of boys brought up to accept the mushy milk and water which is the stock in trade of the apostles of pacifism. (qtd. Rowan 54).

A member of the BSA executive board resigned because of a pacifist article by Andrew Carnegie in the November 1914 issue of the BSA magazine Boys’ Life. Both the board member and Roosevelt argued that the article was unpatriotic. By 1915 the BSA began awarding more Marksmanship badges, and West softened his position on militarism, writing in his Fourth Annual Report that while the BSA is not military in “thought, form, or spirit,” it “does instill in boys the military virtues such as honor, loyalty, obedience, and patriotism” (qtd. in Rowan 55).

Murray’s early history of the BSA omits this tension between pacifists and militarists at an early stage in the BSA’s development, telling instead a narrative of Boy Scouts filling a universal need for boys to become fit to represent the nation by bearing arms. However, the conflict between pacifists and militarists points to the important role of rhetoric in the narrative of the BSA as a national organization. Not everyone agreed that it was best . . . to train boys to fight with weapons. Yet there was little possibility for the BSA to remain a pacifist organization and continue to represent the nation because of the strength of the discourse of national masculinity at the time and the scene of embodied competition in which the BSA operated. Thus, the ambiguity over military training became publicly resolved in favor of Roosevelt’s views. The organization’s ties to Roosevelt expanded that scene to include the United States’ growing imperialism. In the public talk about boys in the BSA by its early leaders, militarism, specifically the use of guns, [comes to be] equated with patriotism, and pacifism is aligned with anti-Americanism and effeteness. Guns functioned as an agency for patriotic service, and in the end, a boy who was successfully transitioning into American manhood would need to learn to use one.

Work Cited

Rowan, Edward L. To Do My Best: James E. West and the History of the Boy Scouts of America. Las Vegas: Las Vegas International Scouting Museum, 2005. Print.

Leigh Ann Jones is an assistant professor in Hunter College’s English Department, where she teaches rhetoric and writing to undergraduate and graduate students and co-directs the first-year composition course.

Coming of Age as a Boy in America: Emerging Masculinity as Rhetoric

 The following excerpt is adapted from NCTE member Leigh Ann Jones’s book From Boys to Men: Rhetorics of Emergent American Masculinitywhich is the latest volume in the CCCC/NCTE Studies in Writing and Rhetoric (SWR) series. This is the first of two posts.

(From Chapter 1, pp 5-7)

LeighJones

The process of imagining a transformation from boyhood to manhood is a rhetorical undertaking not just because of its effect on individual American boys, but also because it requires large groups of people to identify with a particular conception of destiny . . . and in so identifying, to conceive of boys as agents in a broader scene that expands to national boundaries. The mental and physical discipline applied to boys through youth organizations stems from ideologically driven theories of male and childhood development, and these theories have been applied . . . through origin stories, credos, public statements, and other symbols. American youth organizations have been one powerful node from which complex rhetorics of national manhood have emanated. The rhetorical process of transforming ideology into practice . . .  interpellates . . . boys . . . by addressing them and then limiting the possibilities for their identification (Althusser 173). Race, class, sexuality, and ability attend the identification process for boys and create dialectics between hegemonic masculinity and a myriad of marginalized identities.

My . . . concern . . . is with the role of this potential ambiguity in hegemonic young male identification, and in a particular pattern of using the idea of “transformation” as an attempt to reconcile the ambiguities that arise in the process of constituting male identity. I join other rhetoricians who have engaged masculinity theories and whose work has pointed to the need to understand more thoroughly how communication functions in and through masculinity as a discourse that arranges cultural practices and that brings about material consequences. Early rhetorical work on masculinity effectively made the case for addressing [the topic] in the field of composition and rhetoric, though that work remains incomplete. Specifically, Robert Connors pointed out that “throughout most of Western History . . . [t]he historical discipline of rhetoric was shaped by male rituals, male contests, male ideals, and masculine agendas” (139), drawing on Walter Ong’s history of agonistic ritual and men’s insecurity-driven struggles for control (140). Connors notes that in the absence of effective male role models, boys have resorted to organizations like the YMCA that impose social controls and rituals bestowing manhood upon them, but that today fraternities provide the only option for this type of guidance. While critical of these organizational sites of manhood, Connors continues to search for a source of identity transformation that will account for boys’ emotional needs—a replacement for initiation rites that can resolve the alienation that he argues many men feel as they fail to reconcile the social roles they are expected to fulfill with the emotions they are unable to make sense of.

To some extent, then, Connors sees masculinity rhetoric as a response to manhood-in-crisis. Deepening [the] dialogue . . . , Luke Winslow questions the predominant popular narrative of masculinity-in-crisis that often reifies a conception of gender as biologically fixed, emerging from a single homogenous foundation. In his dissertation, “Style and Struggle: The Rhetoric of Masculinity,” he instead proposes that masculinity is act-oriented rather than agent-oriented or fixed in the nature of the person, paraphrasing Burke: “Like women, men need to define themselves—they can’t just be” (27). Winslow makes central the performance inherent in masculinity.

. . .

Perhaps closest to the theoretical spirit of my inquiry but furthest from its historical location, Lindsay Green McManus uses Erving Goffman’s work on performativity to understand what she calls the “true, psychological self ” that manifests through performances of masculinity. In her dissertation, “Performing Masculinity: Control, Manhood, and the Rhetoric of Effeminacy,” she analyzes masculinity in Quintilian’s rhetorical work and in literature from the Renaissance to the nineteenth century, asserting that in each case masculinity was defined through its opposition to effeminacy. This binary between masculinity and femininity that is inherent in masculine performances is also key to the identity-forming activities of youth organizations for boys in the United States.

Works Cited

Althusser, Louis. “Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses: Notes toward an Investigation.” Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. Trans. Ben Brewster. New York: Monthly Review, 1971. 127–86. Print.

Conners, Robert J. “Teaching and Learning as a Man.” College English 58.2 (1996): 137–57. Print.

McManus, Lindsay Green. Performing Masculinity: Control, Manhood, and the Rhetoric of Effeminacy. Diss. U of South Carolina, 2007. Ann Arbor: UMI. Google Book Search. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Winslow, Luke A. “Style and Struggle: The Rhetoric of Masculinity.” Diss. U of Texas at Austin, 2009. U of Texas Libraries. Web. 23 Sept. 2015.

Leigh Ann Jones is an assistant professor in Hunter College’s English Department, where she teaches rhetoric and writing to undergraduate and graduate students and co-directs the first-year composition course.