Using Rhetorical Media to Meet Outcomes

and Satisfy Stakeholders


Section 2:  Critical Thinking, Reading, & Writing.

According to the outcomes statement, the ability to think, read, and write critically asks specifically that students understand that reading and writing can be a tool for inquiry, learning, thinking and communication.  It encourages the curriculum to introduce students to the interweaving relationships of language, knowledge and power and to encourage students to “integrate their own voices into those of others” (Harrington et al, 2001, p. 324).

Just as a writing/composing emphasis alone might be deficient in addressing rhetorical knowledge, it might actually work against the goal to develop critical thinkers.  Williams (2006) describes what he refers to as the “perils” of verbally biased education.  He explains that one of the fundamental problems with privileging the verbal in a class like composition is that it directly contradicts the goal of developing critical thinking.  He continues by saying that a mono-modal (i.e. entirely verbal) curriculum “runs counter to a pedagogy designed to teach critical thinking because it suggests to students that there is only one acceptable way of representing the world, when our goal as critical educator is to help students value the multiple forms of literacy and representation that constitute their lived experiences” (Williams, 2006, p. 26). 

If composition instructors truly find value in producing students that are able to think critically about issues—meaning they are able to look at an issue both in-depth and from a variety of perspectives—then the message that the very same examination can only occur through verbal expression is, in many ways, hypocritical and thus, as Williams says, contradictory to the aims of the course. This contradiction need not exist, however, because critical processes can easily be applied to texts other than those that are exclusively verbal.  Paraphrasing Beyer’s definition of critical thinking, Geertsen (2003) explains that “critical thinking is rendering a judgment about something.  It begins with some claim, conclusion or proposed solution and persistently and objectively evaluates its truth and worth” (p. 9).  This critical process, as Beyer describes, is not limited to written text, it is merely preformed on “something” and undoubtedly, one can examine (or read) an image or another type of visual to attempt to evaluate its truth and worth just as much as one could evaluate writing. 

Furthermore, Lemke (2004) recognizes that composing and analyzing multimedia is closely related to “traditional skills of text writing and critical reading” and insists that we must “understand how narrowly restrictive our literacy education traditions have been in the past in order to see how much more students will need in the future than we are now giving them (p. 77).  To prepare our students for the critical thinking, reading and writing they will need in the future, we must consider the future they will be a part of:  one that is dominated by cutting edge technologies and evolving multimedia.  The futures our students will thrive in will not bias the verbal; preparing them exclusively to study such texts will put them at a disadvantage.

While writing privileges one modality, rhetoric defies these limitations because a modality is not entrenched in rhetorical theory.  In ancient times when composition was entirely oral, rhetoric came into being as a means to shape oral communication attempts.  As writing developed into the privileged mode of the academy, rhetoric remained applicable.  As hypertext and later new media became increasingly common modes of communication, rhetoricians were able to apply and re-envision their rhetorical principles for these new communication means.  Drawing from Thonssen et al, Reynolds (1993) explains that the rhetorical canons “constitute ‘the basic pattern of all theoretical and critical investigations into rhetorical art and practice’” (p. 1). He explains that while over time the perceived importance of individual canons fluctuates, their collective relevance remains constant.

Emphasis upon writing only may risk becoming rather outdated as digital technologies advance, while rhetoric has grown with technological changes.  No doubt as technology continues to develop something else will become en vogue in the years to come and our discipline will best be prepared to meet that new paradigm by being aware that our disciplinary space is not static and choosing to define our curricular space as one that is flexible enough to evolve with the technologies that emerge.

Film Project Units Emphasizing This Outcome:

        Unit 1

        Unit 2

        Unit 3

        Unit 4

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