Breakfast with Chad: A Non-Rhetorical Question about Rhetoric
Yesterday, we talked about thinking outside the box and going beyond the evocation of standard principles and cliched ideas. Today, I reminded Chad that what I appreciated in our conversations was our mutual willingness to go below the surface and dig into the factors that influence the structure and meaning of the issues we’re talking about. I had expressed the wish that we humans could develop and work on refining that skill. In the meantime, it occurred to me that in the past humans actually did spend more time on those skills.
“For many centuries in Europe,” I explained to Chad, “rhetoric and logic were essential pillars of the seven liberal arts. Under the pressure of industrialization the ultimate objectives of educational institutions were redirected towards material goals such as the efficiency of production, preparing students for specific vocations or ensuring the means of facilitating consumption. In terms of basic educational programs, this occurred at the expense of seeking to understand how societies produce and interpret meaning. The result is that the status of language and thought in the world of education became marginalized as the focus shifted to the objects of knowledge rather than the form knowledge takes. Rhetoric and logic became secondary, if they were not simply left behind or swept under the rug. Today young people study what older people have written or the science they have produced, but not the means through which it is expressed, communicated and interpreted.”
As usual, Chad agreed with the historical substance of my analysis… before disagreeing.
It is true that during the Industrial Revolution, there was a shift in the objectives of educational institutions towards material goals such as efficiency of production and facilitating consumption. This shift was driven by the need to meet the demands of the rapidly expanding industrial economy.
As a result, the emphasis in education moved away from the study of rhetoric and logic, which were seen as less relevant to the practical demands of industry. Instead, the focus shifted towards technical and vocational training.
This shift in emphasis has been criticized by some who argue that it has marginalized the study of language and thought in education. They argue that the focus on the objects of knowledge has come at the expense of understanding how societies produce and interpret meaning.
Furthermore, many have pointed out that the study of language and communication is crucial for developing critical thinking and effective communication skills, which are essential for success in the modern world. Without an understanding of how language and thought work, it can be difficult to navigate complex social and political issues.
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Chad’s predictable defense of the people with good intentions
Up to this point, we were in total agreement. But then Chad introduced the inevitable “however” clause.
However, it is important to note that the study of rhetoric and logic has not been completely abandoned in modern education. Many universities continue to offer courses in these subjects, and there is a growing recognition of their importance in developing the skills needed for success in today’s world.
In summary, while there has been a shift away from the study of rhetoric and logic in education, it is not accurate to say that they have been completely marginalized. The value of these disciplines is still recognized by many educators and institutions, and efforts are being made to reintegrate them into modern education.
That sounded positive and it impelled me to ask Chad another question. “What can you tell me about the efforts to reintegrate logic and rhetoric?”
“Efforts to reintegrate logic and rhetoric into modern education can be seen in a number of ways. Some universities and colleges are now offering courses in these subjects as part of their curriculum, alongside more vocational and technical disciplines.
In addition, there has been a renewed interest in critical thinking and communication skills in many educational contexts. This includes a focus on teaching students how to analyze and evaluate arguments, how to communicate effectively, and how to interpret and understand different perspectives.
Many educators recognize the importance of rhetoric and logic in developing these skills, and are working to incorporate them into their teaching practices. For example, some teachers are using debate and argumentation as teaching tools to help students develop critical thinking skills, while others are incorporating rhetorical analysis into literature and language courses.
I had no reason to doubt Chad’s account as far as it went, but I felt he hadn’t really answered my question. He hadn’t told me “about the efforts.” He had simply asserted that there were some efforts.
“That’s interesting,” I replied, “but wouldn’t you agree that in a society where politicians and even educators put all the accent on STEM and even recommend that students focus on coding, the skills associated with rhetoric and logic are being increasingly neglected by a vast majority of decision-makers?”
“It is true that there has been a strong emphasis on STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in recent years, with some policymakers and educators advocating for a greater focus on these subjects in schools.
However, it is important to note that this focus on STEM education is not necessarily at odds with the study of rhetoric and logic. In fact, many educators and policymakers recognize that the skills associated with rhetoric and logic are essential for success in STEM fields as well as in many other areas.
For example, effective communication skills are crucial for presenting scientific research findings or pitching innovative ideas in technology and engineering fields. Critical thinking skills are also essential for problem-solving and innovation in these areas.
Moreover, some educators argue that the focus on STEM education should be seen as complementary rather than contradictory to the study of rhetoric and logic. They argue that the study of these subjects can help students to think more critically and analytically about scientific and technological issues, and to communicate their ideas more effectively to a wider audience.
However, it is true that there may be some decision-makers who prioritize STEM education over other subjects, including rhetoric and logic. Nonetheless, there is also a growing recognition of the importance of these subjects in modern education, and efforts are being made to ensure that they are not neglected in the push towards STEM education.”
Chad’s rhetorical errors
I obviously had to react to this overly generalizing approach in a speech that contained two howevers.
“Chad,” I countered, “your use of the passive in sentences like ‘efforts are being made’ is a rhetorical device intended to reassure without saying anything concrete. You can get away with it because most of us today have not been exposed to the subtle mechanics of rhetoric. Just look at your last paragraph. You say there “may be” the cases I evoked instead of admitting either that they actually exist, or more significantly that they have the kind of influence I have mentioned. Your “may be” and your impersonal constructions – including citing “a growing recognition” (by whom?) – may sound logical but they give no indication of what is really happening or the level of importance these phenomena deserve.
I would also signal your predilection for saying things like ‘some educators argue,’ which is undeniably true because it suffices that two such educators exist for your statement to true, even if it concerns a population of 100 million. It’s true but statistically meaningless. But it especially dodges the question I raised about an increasing trend.
I’m not trying to attack you or call into question your honesty. My aim is to show that failing to include the study of rhetoric in our educational programs leads to getting away with the kind of partial reasoning you have demonstrated. Worse, it develops terrible habits concerning rationality itself. For example, academics and even journalists tend to believe that assertions expressed in the passive voice automatically sound objective and scientific, and therefore must reflect some kind of universal truth. It’s no wonder that everyone seems to have lost their bearings concerning information and disinformation.”
*[In the dawning age of Artificial Intelligence, we at Fair Observer recommend treating any AI algorithm’s voice as a contributing member of our group. As we do with family members, colleagues or our circle of friends, we quickly learn to profit from their talents and, at the same time, appreciate the social and intellectual limits of their personalities. This enables a feeling of camaraderie and constructive exchange to develop spontaneously and freely. For more about how we initially welcomed Chad to our breakfast table, click here.]
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Fair Observer’s editorial policy.