The First-Year Composition requirement has institutionalized argument as a rite of undergraduate passage. To make it through nearly any first-year sequence, students must at least try on the hat of the rhetor.
Of course, there are many approaches to argumentation current among textbook users (writing instruction practitioners); no one agrees of course on how or why to teach argumentation. In the ongoing history of modal instruction, our departments have designated argumentation a “higher order” academic endeavor, one juxtaposed against some (perhaps essayistic) version of self-expression. As teachers, many of us present argumentation as a premium skill, integral to writing in the university and to responsible civic belonging. Cultural studies models engage in epistemic critique or perhaps just get students arguing about the issues that emerge out of discussion of the multi-cultural (variously understood). Discipline-based approaches facilitate inquiry into the rhetorical practices of any given field. Service learning and other community-based curricula attempt to engage the live rhetorical situations of the home communities of students and local citizens. Many programs and teachers emphasize reading argument and spend little time with rhetorical invention, and some reverse this ratio.
While we tend to be sympathetic to big claims for the importance of argumentation and rhetoric generally, we are more interested in instigating self-consciousness pedagogy than in refereeing among methodologies. We are not surprised that all of the reviewers here consider the ethical implications of teaching, learning, writing and reading arguments. Students and teachers often experience argumentation instruction viscerally as a situation of conflict. How do textbooks facilitate, dodge or manage such conflicts? We agree with our colleagues who argue that there is no value-neutral method in writing instruction, and argumentation (more broadly rhetorical theory) brings this positionality of pedagogy to the fore. Even when teachers and students attempt political neutrality, teaching argument or rhetoric is an engagement with social power. What happens when we adjudicate between lines of reasoning with our students? How do our students experience this? How does the event of rhetorical instruction play out as its own rhetorical situation? What ethics of communication do we promote when we teach argument? What’s at stake for all those involved? These and other questions keep us keenly interested in argumentation pedagogy and more generally the relationship of rhetoric to writing instruction.
We thank these authors for initiating the conversation and welcome you to respond to the reviews or to submit your own, and we hope these reviews inspire further inquiry into the methods and stakes of teaching argument.
Continue to Issue Two .