Confidence in Grammar is Confidence in Rhetoric

I had never before considered the nature of grammar. The rules of grammar were something that I was taught in early education, and have blindly followed for my entire educational career. Before our class discussion on grammar, I thought that if writing was grammatically correct, then it was correct. If academic writing did not follow the rules of grammar, then it would be reflected in the assignment’s grade. Anne Curzan’s article, Says Who? Teaching and Questioning the Rules of Grammar, along with our class discussion brought me to the realization that use of grammar can be a choice. This choice, being that it is planned and intentional, is an act of rhetoric.

Two characteristics of rhetoric, as explained by Herrick, are that it is planned and adapted to an audience. In Curzan’s article, she touches on the idea that grammar should be questioned when taught in the educational system. She states that grammar should not be taught as a “Because I say so” subject. By questioning the standards of grammar, students will not only have the better understanding of the subject that Curzan stresses, but will also be better able to understand the best uses of grammar. With a thorough understanding and confidence in the subject matter, writers will be better equipped to be adaptive in the use of grammar. The way I see it, just as a medical school graduate is better equipped to know the best medicine for a specific patient, a writer who has been correctly taught the nature of grammar is better equipped to adapt its usage to a specific audience.

By taking a planned approach in the use of grammar, the writer becomes a rhetorician. This use of rhetoric is not through the choice of words used, but in the most basic rules of the way in which these words are written. When grammar is not blindly followed, but used as a tool of conveying a message, it can become a powerful form of rhetoric.

But what about Social Sciences?

Being an economics major, my eye was quickly drawn to the section of our text titled, Deirdre McCloskey and the Rhetoric of Economics. In this section, Herrick points towards Professor McCloskey’s opinions on rhetoric in economics. In summary, McCloskey argues that economists nearly always have persuasive intent behind their arguments. Whether it is the way the argument is framed, or the style of the argument, economists’ arguments reflect individual opinions. After reading this section, I couldn’t agree more.

Nearly everything in economics is theory. Even the most basic tools used to study an economy, supply and demand, is not a law of economics, but a theory. Yes, this is a theory that is rarely questioned, but it is still based off of certain assumptions. The presence of assumptions was one of the most shocking things I learned in introductory classes. Even when the most complex calculus and statistical methods are used, any economic conclusion that is made is entirely dependent on the assumptions that were made to arrive at that conclusion. The fact that there is no black and white in economics allows for the presence of rhetoric in every component.

In one of my most recent classes, the overarching message was that an economic study is never unbiased. Although the class focused on the statistical biases and measurement errors, we also touched upon the natural human biases which cannot be ignored. It is not uncommon to find two articles using data on the same population from the same time period, come to opposite conclusions. This fact shows the rhetoric used in the choice of assumptions and staging of the problem and associated conclusion. The presence of this rhetoric however, is a positive thing in my eyes. Economics is not a science, but a social science. These opposing views from the same data display the preferences of different parties in society. Conflict is a necessary step in order to find solutions which best suite society as a whole. In economics, it is important to acknowledge the biases and use of rhetoric in order to understand the needs of different groups. Once we can better understand these needs, we can come to more efficient solutions. As McCloskey puts it, by using rhetoric in economics, we “move to the rationality of arguing like human beings.”

Invitational Rhetoric in Art

Invitational rhetoric does not seek to persuade an audience, but to share the rhetor’s perspective. As Foss and Griffn put it, invitational rhetoric has the goal of inviting the audience “to enter the rhetor’s world, and see it as the rhetor does.” With this definition, perhaps physical art is an interesting example of the methodology.

When our tour group entered the Accademia Gallery, Isabella began to explain some theories behind Michelangelo’s work process. At one point, she explained that it is believed that Michelangelo truly believed that the figures of his sculptures were contained within the stone. His goal was then to uncover the figure by removing the stone in the right way. To me, it seems as though Michelangelo was uncovering his vision of the figure, showing to his audience his perspective on what the figure looks like. If we consider Michelangelo’s David, it is not that he was trying to persuade his audience of the emotion that David had before killing Goliath. By creating The David, Michelangelo showed an audience the emotion that David had in his world. Michelangelo invites his audience to see what this event looked like from his perspective. It seems fitting that a sculpture or a painting can be considered invitational rhetoric. No matter the purpose behind a piece, there is always a form of expression. Through painting and sculptures, artists provide a physical representation of the world from their perspective. By doing so, they engage in rhetoric which does not seek to persuade, but to express a vision.

Rhetoric in Today’s Education

In our first lecture, Professor McCamley brought up the question, “Should rhetoric be at the cornerstone of education?” This question certainly made me think about my educational experience with rhetoric, as I began to form an opinion on the topic. Many points were brought up about the expansive presence of rhetoric in our everyday lives as well as in our future. The discussion began pointing to the conclusion, which I came to agree with, that rhetoric should in fact be at the foundation of our education.

Personally, I feel as though rhetoric is something that is expected of students, however it is no often formally taught. Although I had previously been required to write persuasive papers, or direct a piece to a certain audience, the concept of rhetoric and the understanding of its history was not formally introduced to me until college.

People today often argue that millennials don’t care about current events and politics. Perhaps this is because there is an overwhelming amount of information available to us at our finger tips. Without formal education on rhetoric, we are sent into this world of information without the proper tools to fully understand what is being said as well as the intention behind why it is being said. Without this, it can become overwhelming to determine fact from fiction.

With politics becoming increasingly media driven, it could be beneficial to look to the past and the foundations of rhetoric. By establishing a more thorough teaching of rhetorical concepts in our educational systems, future generations can better understand the intention behind media news and become better equipped to make informed decisions.