I found Chapter 2, “Rhetoric and Composition”, of Janice Lauer’s book English Studies to be quite fascinating. In the current day and age, the connection between rhetoric and the study of English literature are very closely tied, so it amazes me that this bond was formed only a few decades ago. As an English teacher, I find the connection between rhetoric and English studies to be vital both in developing critical thinking skills necessary for life as well as well as analyzing literature at a more critical level. As Lauer points out, studying English without rhetoric leaves out the many external and internal factors that influence one’s writing such as culture and investigating the author’s purpose. After all, no work of literature is ever conceived in a vacuum. Similarly, English studies, while considered a singular discipline, is inseparable from almost every other subject. Notably, philosophy, sociology, history, and so on add many layers to what would otherwise be a basic study of grammatical rules.
On the college level rhetoric and composition have seemingly exploded in popularity as Lauer points out, with countless courses focusing on developing each student’s voice and tactics in regard to forming effective arguments. However, an emphasis on rhetoric and composition in English classes has expanded beyond merely the bounds of higher education. In my personal experience, modern middle and high school ELA courses have a far greater focus on critical thinking, determining the author’s purpose and audience, inclusion of multiple disciplines, inclusivity in regard to studying works from a variety of cultures, and–overall–allowing each writer to express his/her personal opinions and voice than they did when I was a middle and high school student myself. This is an excellent step forward and yet I do fear that it presents a few minor problems that must be dealt with. Firstly, we should be cautious not to place too great an emphasis on these higher levels of thought before students are ready. It is great for students to be encouraged to think critically at a young age, but placing too much emphasis on this may prove to do the opposite. Secondly, students must learn the basics, however monotonous they may be, before they can tackle higher concepts. On this front, I disagree with Lauer who suggests that direct grammar instruction should be eliminated and replaced by individualized instruction. While this is a great idea, I find it be far-fetched given that teachers do not have adequate time and resources to allow for such instruction to be effective. Ultimately, students must learn the rules before they can attempt breaking them, and the simplest way to do so is with direct grammar instruction at a young age. Once this is achieved, than students can begin tackling the higher concepts of rhetoric and composition (which they will, no doubt, already have some familiarity with given their exposure to so many forms of media).
Lauer finishes Chapter 2 by explaining rhetoric’s current place in education and where it is likely to head in the future. I agree whole heartedly that this area of study will continue to expand and grow in popularity, especially in the current age of information where the average person has a much broader perspective on the world than they did only a decade ago. As time progresses, studies related to culture, gender, reader-response, etc. will remain relevant and seep out of the realms of higher education and into high school classrooms. These approaches will hopefully allow for new ideas to be shared at a greater rate and encourage students to develop a broader perspective on the world and its inhabitants.