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2014 Volume IV
Introduction By Joseph R. Roach, Sterling Professor of Theater and Professor of English, of African American and of American Studies
The seminar description for Eloquence promised the Fellows an introduction to classical rhetoric as it has been practiced from from Demosthenes to the digital age. Despite the compressed time of the Special Session, that is what they got; but they did not leave it there—far from it.
Honoring the foundational principles of persuasion in the rhetorical treatises of Aristotle, Cicero, and Quintilian and demonstrating their relevance in contemporary media, the seminar explored the theory and practice of persuasive public speaking and speech writing across the curriculum. Examples came mainly from the eloquence of three American Presidents—Jefferson, Lincoln, and Reagan. But eloquence is a technique of expression that may be applied to the presentation of any content, and the curriculum units vary accordingly. Topics range from Euripides as a forensic dramatist in The Medea to the concise rhetoric of Twitter feeds, and they include units on rap-music lyrics, spoken-word poetry, environmental awareness, Navajo (Diné) speech- making after "the Long Walk," and the special uses of rhetoric pertaining to art, architecture, literature, French language, and social studies. The units make various use of concepts such as Ethos (appeal by character), Pathos (appeal by emotion), and Logos (appeal by reason) in oratory, past and present. They also make use of the established principles of rhetorical persuasion, focusing on invention, arrangement, style, memory, and delivery.
The results are various, inventive, and suggestive.
In "Medea: Innocent or Guilty. It's Just Rhetoric," Ludy Aguada, an English teacher from the William Overfelt High School in San José, puts the title character from the play by Euripides on trial for the murder of her children. She sets her students the task of making the persuasive juridical case either against her or for her. Their debates are to end in a fully staged courtroom argument about the insanity defense based on current rules of evidence and criminal procedure. Hailing from the Kayenta Elementary School, Diné Nation, Priscilla Black cites the eloquent words of nineteenth-century Navajo leaders in claiming the physical and spiritual territory of Diné Tah for their descendants, down to the present day. She titles her unit "Eloquence and Culture," and she intends it as a pointed message to her fourth-grade class about the importance of honoring Navajo language and tradition. Gloria Brinkman of North Mecklenburg High School in Charlotte, NC likewise seeks to empower her students through "Articulations: Crafting Credible Discourse on Art, Aesthetics, and Design"; but in her case, she proposes to do so by offering them ways of talking about contemporary art. Rhetoric here is multi-staged process of description, analysis, and interpretation.
Christina Cancelli, English teacher at the Franklin Military Academy in Richmond, VA, and Cheree Carmello, English teacher at Pittsburgh Gifted Center, invoke different media in similar ways to meet their students where they live. They both challenge them on the ground of contemporary literacy—mediated and vernacular. Christina confronts the pervasiveness of social media, namely Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, in her students' active lives as texting rhetoricians, and she maps a path to heightened critical awareness of such phenomena as online personal branding (known to the ancients as "Ethos"). She titles her unit "Re-Tweet This: Personal Branding through Social Media is the New Rhetoric of Persuasion." Her goal is to impart the greater mindfulness of digital literacy to a generation already fluent in social media but not always yet sufficiently reflective about their consequences. In "From Insurgent Listener to Word Warrior: Self-Advocating through Spoken Word," Cheree has found in the spoken-word poems written by her students the inspirational source of a soul-stirring eloquence. The literacy she is nurturing in them is not always in sync with "business English," but it is a medium of direct persuasion marked by powerful expressiveness. Grammar without expression makes nothing happen. Eloquence without grammar is at least a good starting point. In that spirit of keeping young eyes on the prize, which is credible personal persuasiveness, Crecia Cipriano, who teaches French at the Betsy Ross Middle School in New Haven, CT, has created a unit, "Elements of Rhetoric in the Language-Learning Classroom," designed to increase fluency by inculcating the techniques of a persuasive public speaker in her beginning French speakers.
Like Ludy Aguada in her Medea-on-trial unit, April Higgins, who teaches history at the Skyline Middle School, has chosen a forensic rhetorical format for her unit. "Energizing the Debate: The Pros and Cons of Renewable Sources of Energy" puts into play the hard choices that press upon the citizens of estuarial Delaware as ocean levels rise and the land sinks. April will divide her class into teams to debate several subsidiary issues of the larger question, including renewable energy from ethanol and wind power. Before they argue the issues in a formal debate, however, each side will gather evidence on the applicable environmental science and public policy. Conflicting values and principles are also at the heart of Joe Lovato's unit, "The Politics of Rhetoric: William Golding's Lord of the Flies and Leadership Speeches of WWII." Joe teaches English at Mt. Pleasant High School in San José, CA. He designed his unit to coordinate the literature and history curricula. He takes the political allegory of Golding's novel, which dramatizes the struggles of marooned boys, a miniature version of the weakness of liberal democracy before fascism, as a way of interpreting the speeches of Neville Chamberlain, Adolph Hitler, and FDR from the 1930s and 40s.
In "Rhetoric in My World: Engaging Students in Rhetorical Analysis through Political Speech Writing," Jo Stafford, who teaches English at East Central High School in Tulsa, is setting her students to work on writing speeches themselves. They will study and analyze great speeches of the past, including the Gettysburg Address, but they will put what they learn into practice. Lincoln's great speech, which was a touchstone for our seminar discussions in Eloquence, also serves as a key point of comparison in Rachel Stayton's "Eloquence and Authenticity: Who Are You and Why Should I Listen to You," which she has designed for her English classes at Armstrong High School in Richmond, VA. Juxtaposing Lincoln's brief "Remarks" with Edward Everett's stem-winding "Oration" at Gettysburg, Rachel develops criteria for true eloquence, in which the audience "believes the speaker to be sincerely conveying the plain truth." She contrasts this with inauthenticity and the consequent loss of credibility. She matches the nineteenth-century orations with comparisons of the rhetorical style of two hip-hop artists, Kendrick Lamar and Jay Z, well known to her students. Popular performance in the Land of Lincoln permeates the last of the units, Sarah Weidmann's "Auditorium Building, Chicago: 'The Temple of Peace,'" which she has created for her English and History classes at the National Teacher Academy in Chicago. Adler and Sullivan's great architectural masterpiece appears here as rhetoric in stone and cladding—literally so in the literary scheme of its decorations, metaphorically so in the eloquence of its intention to create a truly democratic civic auditorium—of the people, by the people, and for the people.