Tag Archives: logic

Voice Now and Then

When I first started this blog I was thinking of voice in a highly individualistic way. I saw voice as a very specific term, so narrow that I thought it might be difficult to explore, but one that I was interested in nonetheless. Although I strongly believe in a holistic approach in the classroom, I have leanings toward expressivist teaching. I feel that my expressivist tint might have been the lens for my “authentic voices of the individual” perspective. Now I see voice as a more abstract, far-reaching idea: voice is what our students want to communicate, and the style, mode and community in which they do it. That is more condensed than I intended. These feel like big categories. This feels like a big leap to me.  Especially because I also see
that voice collaborates within itself as well as with others, and that I think was one of my most important realizations.

At first, when I thought about voice, I thought about it mainly from the perspective of a creative writer. It seemed that creative writing doesn’t involve collaboration or a tremendous amount of technology. Or so I thought. As the class and the readings progressed and I traced my key term in relation to this progression, I realized how much collaboration and technology influence voice, provide a vehicle for voice, and enhance voice. I saw that what I do as a teacher affects the voice of my students. Their peer review groups and sessions at the writing center are times of collaborative learning, which shapes their voices. Technology allows students a different way to communicate, through publication, multi-media, remediation, and community. I began seeing that the voice of the student is, in part, the voice of the student’s environment. I see this as a creative writer too– workshops are collaborative spaces where voice is influenced, modified, and expanded. Television writing is a collaborative effort, as are improvised productions and many other forms of published, performed, influential writing.

The whole way through the blog project, I felt that the readings were more of a jumping-off point. I didn’t see a lot of point in rehashing articles that we had already discussed in class from the very specific lens of my key term. I didn’t think that was what was expected of us. So the articles served as inspiration, and I applied my understanding of my key term’s relationship with the articles to contexts that were closer to my world, closer to my future classroom, and closer to my life. Writing that way gave me a lot to consider, and forced me to think very carefully about voice and the theories we covered in a way that shapes me as a teacher.

So how does this shape me as a teacher? It has made me considerably more interested in writing exercises that encourage students to use their voices and say what they want to say, sure. It has also made me think about ways to introduce logic and rhetoric through discussion and study. I plan to talk about audience through in class writing exercises and analysis. I will give them opportunities to use different types of technologies through a remediation project, and spaces and assignments that are computer-friendly. I hope to foster an environment of peer review and collaboration through workshop, in-class activities, and journals. Voice does not make sense when it’s separated from logic or the community. Voices are heard easier when they communicate their message through technology, whether that’s a printing press or a computer. And voices are multi-faceted. Voices are met with an audience of other voices. I feel hyper-aware of voice now and its place in the classroom. I have also learned that the best way for me to teach is to become a good listener. Each class is made up of individuals. If I don’t listen to them, or don’t know anything about them, I won’t know what they need, nor how to reach them with my voice.

 

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Talking Logic

* A note to the reader: Please disregard the highlighting. It is an annoying quirk of my computer to highlight words at random, and that highlighting appears to be indelible. At least until I figure out what is wrong with the thing.

I love symbolic logic because it has a lovely mechanism. If my argument is sound, then someone has to eat up my conclusion. Learning how to construct (and dissect) arguments was one of the most helpful things I learned at university, and it annoys the hell out of everyone because it is rather hard to win an argument against me. It is a wonderful skill!

However, as I learned while I was working on my philosophy minor is one must define one’s terms and argue from a “place.” It can either build off of someone else’s argument, or be more original than that. Premises must be stacked, and they must support each other. It seemed that, after reading many many articles and arguments, everyone was arguing out of their own philosophy, with their own terms, and own strands of reasoning. The only connections that philosophers really had were a shared history of the discipline. I thought about this while I read Winterowd’s “The Classical Tradition and Composition/Rhetoric.”

Plato/Socrates, Aristotle, and Isocrates all have their own perception of truth and whether or not it was possible to know truth. I’m not to going to get into whatever fallacies they may or may not have committed on the journey because this isn’t that kind of space. (And thankfully! I love philosophy, but it takes me an extraordinary amount of time and effort to write it). What interested me the most is how much voice and personal perception colors a philosopher’s logic. This really was a new thought to me, as I rarely make philosophy personal. I argue better when I am detached, so I typically only argue about topics that I am interested in, rarely topics that I am passionate about. I will focus on Isocrates… he seems to be the strongest example. His belief that truth could not be found in a chaotic world full of imperfect people seemed to come from his own experiences of a rather terrifying time in history. His world was chaotic. People were killed seemingly without reason. How could this world have any truth? How could such a thing exist? His terms, his premises, and his argument all reflected this. Plato and Aristotle both had premises, similar terms, and a similar way of arguing their case… but their voices were different. They reflected their persons. Reading one compared to another is like reading about completely separate topics. One is ideal and comes from god, one is real and is found in the world, and one was never there at all.

I see this on a day to day level as well. As I was reading through students’ papers in my internship, I came across one that argued that the author had THE MOST complicated life. I had to stifle a laugh. She gave her premises, defined her complication, and presented her argument. My thoughts immediately flicked to my grandmother’s life. She grew up in Nazi Germany. She is Romani-Gypsy. That is a very complicated life. However ridiculous I found this student’s claim, I had to remember that she felt she had the most complicated life out of all the lives she knew (her life). She was arguing from her own philosophy, her own definitions and experiences. But even then her argument falls flat, because how could anyone prove that he or she has the most complicated life? There isn’t a grading system. We can’t know all lives. Even within her own philosophy, it doesn’t work, because it still exists within a wider discourse because she is referring to that discourse (ie: the world. The most complicated life [in the world]). I’m not saying her life was uncomplicated. That’s not really the point. But it was clear to me then that rhetoric is even more important in the classroom than I thought.

People make sweeping claims (like that one, for example!), and writing is convincing when it is believable. Generalizations can’t be entirely believable. They don’t have enough evidence. That’s why philosophers debate for centuries about enormous topics such as truth and reality tv beauty. But they debate not because their personal voice gets in the way of their argument (though sometimes it does), but because these topics are big, complex, and hard to prove. Personal voice in a well-argued article can enhance the piece. It’s part of the magic of rhetoric. It’s adds color and persuasion. It seems that voice might be a source, or at least inspiration, for these arguments. But voice alone cannot drive a paper. It needs to be sound and it needs to make sense. It seems that we are teaching our students not only to use their voice, but to use it within rhetoric, because that is what makes it effective. Especially in smaller-scale, easy to prove arguments that one finds in personal essays. It is crucial for the writing to have a strand of logic because there is simply no room for those kinds of errors. They are too glaring, and too easy to fix to be overlooked. For instance, my grandmother always says she is a weed. By this she means she is tough like a weed. It is an interesting metaphor, considering her reasoning (which she has walked me through).

Weeds are undesirable to some people.

Some weeds survive extermination.

Romani-Gypsies were “undesirable” to the Nazis.

My grandmother is Romani-Gypsy.

She survived Nazi extermination.

My grandmother is akin to a weed in this way.

Her logic, though metaphorical and personal, is easy to follow. It’s an easier claim to support than a claim like “I have the most complicated life,” which really could never be demonstrated so neatly. And perhaps that is the point. Metaphors and claims and all those wonderful things are a part of writing, but they are also a part of our wider discourse. We are not born knowing how to make sense. Rhetoric is worth teaching. Even if all these writings are coming with their own definitions, voices, and premises, they are still communicating something, and bridging that meaning between people is what rhetoric does. Otherwise, it is all just a babble of voices.

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