Posts Tagged ‘politics’

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Multimodal Mondays: Analyzing Rhetorical Power and Rhetorical Performance in “Amazing Grace”

posted: 7.6.15 by Andrea Lunsford

The other week I wrote about the murders in the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC, and about the urgent need for writing teachers everywhere to engage students in both the active pursuit of understanding, peace, and justice—of making something good happen in the world through their own writing and speaking—and in rhetorical analysis of the context and discourses surrounding such events.

Then came the funeral of the Reverend Clementa Pinckney and President Barack Obama’s eulogy, at the conclusion of which he sang “Amazing Grace.”

If you have not watched the funeral and the eulogy, I urge you to do so now. I expect that teachers and students will be watching this eulogy for a long time to come: it is arguably one of Obama’s most powerful orations ever.

And then came many commentaries on and responses to the President’s eulogy, including that of writer, journalist, and correspondent forThe Atlantic James Fallows, with an analysis entitled “Obama’s Grace” (June 27, 2015).

Fallows’s analysis, along with President Obama’s eulogy, makes the beginnings of a terrific lesson in rhetorical power and rhetorical performance. As Fallows says, students need to watch and hear Obama’s oration rather than read it: here, the spoken word is crucial, allowing us to follow the oral rhythms, the pacing, the pauses, the crescendos, the depths and pinnacles of tone the President achieves. As they did in ancient Greece, the performative aspects of the eulogy—which are very strong and very instructive—link perfectly with the President’s message; in fact, they deliver that message as much as the words themselves, and perhaps even more.

As Fallows points out, Obama chooses grace as the unifying motif and theme of the eulogy, a “stroke of genius” on his part. In his analysis, Fallows traces the use of that word and allusions to the hymn “Amazing Grace,” showing how Obama carefully frames his remarks, even on policy, in light of that concept (rather than “justice” or “equity”). “We don’t earn grace,” said the President; “We’re all sinners. We don’t deserve it. But God gives it to us anyway.”  Thus Obama gestures toward the act of forgiveness the survivors offered, rather than rate or hatred. “God has visited grace upon us, for he has allowed us to see where we’ve been blind.” (Indeed, Obama uses what comes after those words in the hymn—“but now I [or we] see”—as a drum beat throughout the eulogy.

Fallows also attends to the cadences of the President’s speech and especially to the way he switches registers, or code-switches between African American and white ways of speaking. As Fallows puts it, “Sometimes he spoke almost as if he were an A.M.E. preacher, . . . [and sometimes as a] neutrally professional-class-white-American,” shifts that “illustrated his own bridging potential” for bringing people together.

What I’d like to do is work with students to listen and respond to Obama’s eulogy; then to read and respond to Fallows’s essay; and then to go back to the speech, listen to it again, and carry out their own rhetorical analysis. They can begin by looking closely at the elements Fallows discusses: the theme of grace, the shifts in register, and the use of religion, which Fallows says may open even those who hate him the most to the “grace of such a presentation.” But as teachers of writing and rhetoric know, there is so much more to be noted in this speech: the use of anaphora and other figures of speech; the bringing together of emotional, logical, and ethical appeals in connecting not only to the congregation in the church but to people around the world; the power of orality/aurality throughout, and especially in the conclusion, as he pauses long—and then begins to sing, slowly, “Amazing Grace.”

So, out of the horror and tragedy inflicted on the Emanuel AME Church, the Black community of Charleston, and throughout the country, this eulogy offers students of writing and speaking an opportunity to see how an attempt to change the national discourse actually works, and to examine their own discourses as well. That is one of the ultimate gifts of rhetoric: the ability not only to analyze the words and acts of others but to turn that same analytical power on ourselves and use what we learn to become better writers, better speakers, better people.

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Multimodal Mondays
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Freedom: A Definition Issue?

posted: 4.10.15 by Donna Winchell

Indiana’s controversial Religious Freedom Restoration Act reminds us once again of the role that definition can play in argumentation. The case has been made that the recent Indiana law is no different from the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act signed into law by President Clinton in 1993. One crucial difference, however, is a matter of definition. The federal RFRA states, “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” The wording of the state law is identical except that the term “governmental entity” replaces “government.” That is not the crucial difference, however. [read more]

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Categories: Donna Winchell, Popular Culture
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What a Difference a Word Makes

posted: 3.6.15 by Donna Winchell

Language has made the headlines once again. We teach our students that word choice affects their arguments. President Obama has drawn criticism over the last few weeks, mostly from Republicans, for being what some critics consider overly cautious. He has chosen to carefully avoid use of the word “Islamic” in referring to ISIS terrorists [read more]

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Teaching the Tensions

posted: 1.30.15 by Donna Winchell

The last few weeks have seen two threats to freedom of speech that have generated international attention. The first was North Korea’s threats against Sony if the movie The Interview was released because the comedy was about the assassination of North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. Although the threats were enough to delay the release, within days the movie opened peacefully nationwide and was soon available on demand. It may have been only a movie—and a mediocre one at best—but it was a matter of principle. Threats to freedom of speech became much more serious with the massacre of twelve journalists at the French weekly Charlie Hebdo following the publication of cartoons mocking the prophet Mohammed. They may have been only cartoons, but twelve people died for the right to publish them, and hundreds of thousands marched in support of that right. [read more]

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Categories: Argument, Critical Thinking, Discussion, Donna Winchell
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What’s your word of the year?

posted: 1.22.15 by Andrea Lunsford

Surprisingly (to me at least), Merriam Webster announced “culture” as their Word of the Year for 2014, noting that it was the single most-searched-for term during the last twelve months, coming in ahead of “nostalgia,” the second most-searched-for word. Over at Oxford, they pronounced “vape” the word of the year, in a nod to the e-cigarette movement. And dictionary.com went with “exposure,” related to the fears surrounding Ebola. [read more]

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Categories: Andrea Lunsford, Popular Culture
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Generalizing from the Headlines

posted: 10.3.14 by Donna Winchell

The headlines about Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice and the accompanying video of him knocking his then-fiancée unconscious in an Atlantic City hotel elevator sparked national debate about domestic violence.  Rice is awaiting appeal of his indefinite suspension by the NFL. He has already been judged in the court of public opinion. Widely publicized events like this one, however, provide compelling examples that can be used in teaching argumentation. [read more]

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Teaching Arwa Aburawa’s “Veiled Threat”: Radical French Graffiti

posted: 8.13.14 by Barclay Barrios

I love Arwa Aburawa’s contribution to Emerging, “Veiled Threat: The Guerrilla Graffiti of Princess Hijab” (p. 27).  It’s wonderfully complex for an essay that’s relatively brief, touching on questions of religion, politics, commercialism, and art.  What I love most about it is the way the reader has to suss out whether or not Princess Hijab’s art is radical or conservative, as it has been read both ways.  [read more]

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The Election

posted: 10.17.12 by Barclay Barrios

This is the post I’ve been avoiding.

I’ve been avoiding it because, simply, I’m tired of the election, frightened by it, sick of it, overwhelmed by it, have been driven to the brink of paranoia around it.  It’s not that I’m apathetic (far from it); it’s just that I’m done.  In fact, I end up avoiding almost all political news (which drives my hubby crazy since politics is his hobby/passion/addiction, one exacerbated by living in Boston and listening to talk radio).  I won’t use this forum as my soapbox though I will say I envy those of you who get to look at the issues, who have the exorbitant luxury of considering where candidate X stands on jobs or taxes or education or Syria or the national debt or any other issue.  For me, every election is a single-issue election.  As a queer, I need answer only one question: which candidate gives me the best chance of existing for another four years?

Despite my personal aversion to any discussion of the looming election, it’s no doubt something that can (maybe should) be taught in the FYC classroom.  For me, though, it’s not about advocating for whichever left-ish or right-ish or middle-ish position you think is “correct” or “just” or “true.”  For me, teaching the election has everything to do with helping students to see that polarization is a central problem — one that everyone needs to address. [read more]

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Categories: Barclay Barrios
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Politics in the Classroom?

posted: 9.13.12 by Andrea Lunsford

Observing the Republican and Democratic conventions has led me to think about the degree to which politics enters my classroom.  MLA held an entire conference on this question during the “culture wars,” and I remember giving a talk that attempted to sum up the sense of the meeting.  As I recall, while there was great disagreement—some were profound supporters of professorial activism; others determinedly against such actions—the consensus was that classrooms are political spaces in some sense:  the question is whether the teacher proselytizes or whether she and her class interrogate all sides of issues, as in rhetorical analysis.

A good and longtime friend and colleague, a staunch Republican who has gotten more and more conservative over the years, tells me that his students have no idea what his politics are.  In fact, he says, if they venture to discuss the issue at all they assume he is liberal-leaning.  But I wonder.  He is prone to use examples in his teaching that have very right-leaning views along with those that in some way criticize left wingers.  So I wonder whether his students may not read between the lines and be perfectly aware of his politics—even if they don’t say so to him. [read more]

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Warrants and Presidential Politics

posted: 6.29.12 by Donna Winchell

The warrant is the element of argument that invariably gives students the most trouble. Stating an argument in the form of the triad of claim, support, and warrant adequately sums up only a very simple argument or a very clear cut one. Arguments are generally much more complex than that triad would suggest, although it is an invaluable means of checking the validity of a part of an argument. [read more]

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