Presented at the Triennial Conference of the Kenneth Burke Society
Iowa City, May 1999
The college core curriculum is the one place where most college students will learn the basic foundations for critical thinking and the rhetorical processes necessary to it. Here is the territory where they will discover or not discover the profound importance of responsible dialogue through interpretation, logical persuasion, and argument beyond the generic competitive I win/you lose metaphors that our culture places upon them. Because culture is, itself, a matrix of diverse perspectives and attitudes, it offers a parallel structure to the college core curriculum which supplies the various foundational references to a general understanding of an academic culture all too alien to our students who subscribe to the primary tenets of popular culture outside of the realms of a "pure" education. Yet, if we see the very real and influential pop culture domain in the same way that Kenneth Burke sees college curriculum, as "so many different terminologies: that construct a "whole picture" (Language 5), we can see the profound importance of a rhetorical approach to core curriculum as a way to reveal to our students that an academic culture and popular culture are convergent parts of their whole cultural being. Because of rhetoric’s overarching importance across the curriculum, it is imperative that we introduce first-year college/university students (our 13th graders) to their own culturicity Dialogic theory and practice is a means to their personal involvement in a participatory learning experience that works to join rather than divide the two cultures they must learn to balance and assimilate.
James Berlin offers that one of the best places to promote a cross-curricular, dialogic rhetoric is in the English classroom and especially in the first-year college writing course. Observing that "Humans create the conditions of their experience as much as they are created by them" (Culturesxviii) Berlin suggests that cultural experience is equal to textual experience, that we can read and interpret it, revise it, or if passive, simply be controlled by it. Because of cultural hegemony’s textual quality, then, we might be able to read/interpret/revise it in the place where texts are traditionally studied: the English classroom. It is here, Berlin offers, that students (and their teachers) can "recover the view from rhetoric" as "a perspective that reveals language to be a set of terministic screens that constructs rather than records the signified" (Cultures xvii-xviii). Berlin’s use of the Burkeian position-words, perspective and terminism implies another Burkeian term, attitude, which offers yet another implication that our basic response to experience depends upon the place/position from where we see it—the ontological thing is static, never changing, while our view of it from an ever-evolving attitude is the basis of what we witness as change. This spatial metaphor for knowing shows how Burke, himself, comes to the conclusion that education is both seen as and purveyed as a set of terminologies based upon the purveyor’s purpose and intent which, in turn, must be defined in terms of perspective, terminism, and attitude which are further determined as the cultural dialectic moves on. The perspective of a traditional core curriculum then derives from the institutional attitude that students need a sound foundation of general knowledge upon which to build a more focused knowledge within a chosen specialty. And this, of course, is good.
Yet, in our zeal to design an efficient (and economical) core curriculum or gen-ed program, we tend to forget that First Year Composition (FYC) is a major player in a foundational education designed to address both objective and subjective communication-across-the-curriculum and on into the streets beyond. But, to be successful, the students (and the teachers) need to see the parallels and relationships between all core coursework in their first two college years. They need to understand the synaptic connections that take place across the boundaries of implied specialization and the varied pedagogical signals and dialogic nuances too often obscured in institutions that see FYC as, in many ways, remediatory and less important than upper-level specialization.
A traditional core curriculum offers the cursory "factoids" deemed necessary to cultural and social development, "hard" information about history, mathematics, psychology, the soft sciences, and language. Yet, without the ability to selectively weave these necessary facts into a useable knowledge, students too often step into their majors with the idea that each of their core courses exist in a vacuum, literature without history, economics, psychology; history without literature, psychology, sociology, and so on. This mindset is even more evident in the mandatory introductory science courses, with their scantronic, fill-in-the-blanks mentality instead of the narratological writing-intensive assignments that compel students to braid discrete facts into a useable knowledge set. Because the real purpose of a core curriculum is to promote critical thinking and the students’ ability to synthesize and place into responsible dialogue the discrete pieces of a specialized, isolated facts, we need to understand not only how we see what it is we teach and why we are teaching it; we also need to address the students’ attitude toward their own education relative to the "other" more real culture "outside." Expanding upon Ann Berthoff’s dictum that, "How a teacher sees language is how she will teach it" (42), how any teacher sees his or her subject is how it will be taught. As well, how students see their learning experience is how it will be "placed" in the larger picture of their cultural being. The attitude door swings both ways.
Core curricula can set up a value system much more relevant than many of our colleagues might believe. First-year college students (or 13th graders) are still at a very moldable stage. Already entrenched in what Freire refers to as "a fear of freedom" (Pedagogy 31) and what Burke refers to in Veblen’s terminology as "trained incapacity," they come to us not so much as seekers of a truth that will free them as much as they come from a sense of cultural obligation. Some come to us as resistant learners, others to gain grace (and grades) through piety, intent on pleasing their newest taskmasters. Because of our students’ skewed perspective of authority and the institution, the desire to please for grace is a cultural phenomenon that gen-ed teachers need to address first and foremost. The sooner our entry-level university students discover that academic and intellectual success come of personal involvement and cross-disciplinary application of fact through purpose/intent rather than intra-disciplinary fill-in-the-blank testing, the sooner they will "assume the attitude" from which they will see their education and their success as their own responsibility. Until this happens, the necessary braid of core curriculum can not take form. But, our 13th graders need a healthy push in the right direction in order to comprehend the dialogic nature of a full education; yet, we see in too many core classrooms a dangerous absence of both theory and praxis necessary to this realization. Because we hold the authorial title of professor these children attach a great deal of faith in what we show and tell them both verbally and tacitly If they understand that success depends upon the short-term memory of final exams or an arbitrary point system, clever youth will find a way to address the homestretch and, in so doing, will neglect the dialogic process that leads beyond the "scoring position." in favor of simply "navigating the system" of instructors who teach "by the book" rather than from books. Thus, the way a class is presented, how it is taught, the reading list, the instructor’s attitude, all influence a student’s foundational attitude toward language, critical thinking, and rhetorical processes both inside and outside the classroom.
Three Con Men
To promote and validate teaching/learning that recognizes the dialogic transaction between classroom fact and personal intent, we can turn to the more productive and complex rhetorical applications alive in modern theory but often neglected in classroom practice. Concepts like Kenneth Burke’s consubstantiation, Paulo Freire's conscientizacao, and Edward O. Wilson’s consilience. These three con words can "con" our students into their own sense of knowing by insisting that they join critically their various strands of knowing into rhetorical responses relative to each situation at hand. The further implication here is that all experience is textual, all situations rhetorical, and that through rhetorical strategies, they can control the dialectic of their own cultural being to their advantage. The con prefix here informs, primarily, the necessary dialogue of learning by joining rather than separating differences or oppositions as means to power.
Burke’s consubstantiation insists on a rhetoric of identity in order to achieve a sort of dialogic parity without risk to either party’s own substantial identity and thus generate a third truth relative (and acceptable) to each previously polarized side. Consubstantial identification is, for Burke, "necessary to any way of life" As an individual one acts—has substance. Yet, because we are never fully alone, the way of life is acting together, and, as Burke further observes, "in acting together, men have common sensations, concepts, images, ideas, attitudes, that make them consubstantial." (Rhetoric21). Identification, then, is neither singular nor objective; rather, it is dialogic and dialectic. Plural in nature, identification involves transaction—an action that always serves to answer for both sides the question, "What’s in it for me?" with the identificatory offerings from both sides of the "Mending Wall" that both separates and joins them dialectically. Each new responsible transaction will always result in new transitive paradigms that can do nothing less than strengthen their very complex relationship. Consubstantial rhetoric generates collaboratively the questions we wish to ask and discuss more so than the answers/truths we will abide by inasmuch as both rhetors must realize that complete closure is, quite simply, the end of dialogue and thus, total isolation. In this sense pure identification (or for the purpose of this essay, overt academic specialization) would be consubstantial with an ultimate truth, a false combination which would stop the whole dialogic/dialectic process and destroy the healthy sense of strife or ambiguity (25) necessary to a cultural truth-system. In his call for a rhetoric of identity through consubstantiation, Burke sets up a binary overlap between a collaborative, dialogic truth system where one is able to maintain both a social identity as well as the personal substance that drives it and an unattainable static truth system based upon a pure identity (ultimate closure) which must be the product of ultimate answering. In the terminology of Composition studies, consubstantiality joins traditionally the polarized concepts of process with product dialectically to maintain that products serve, mainly, to generate new processes—answers engender further questions. Because, as Burke observes of Aristotle, rhetoric "proves opposites" (25) and because humans are rhetorical beings, a pure monologic identity is simply impossible in a dialogic world.
Freire’s con word, conscientizacao, brings Burke’s con word into the sphere of political, democratized education. Conscientizacao is best defined as:
a process by which a learner moves toward critical consciousness . . . by breaking through prevailing mythologies to reach new levels of awareness--in particular, awareness of oppression, the process of conscientization involves identifying contradictions in experience through dialogue and becoming a "subject" with other oppressed subjects--that is, becoming part of the process of changing the world. (Theological)
Conscientizacao insists that humans enter into a dialogic relationship with their cultural and political situation, that they comprehend "the active role of men in and with their reality," that they see "culture as the addition made by men to a world they did not make (The Adult 403). For Freire, to see and comprehend these things is the foundation of literacy. Parallel to Burke, Freire’s con word offers humans the right to their own substantial identity and the privilege to a consubstantial cultural identity of which they are an integral part.
The bridge between Freire’s democratic and liberatory adult educational philosophy and the American university’s core curriculum program lies in its metaphorical application to our own students’ lives to show them as victims of the very culture they have come to embrace in terms of their own individuality. Ross Winterowd suggests, and rightly so, that we can place a Freireian grid over our own students’ lives. Caught up in what Winterowd refers to as Kultur, "a given, stable, immutable" hegemonic prison of "unquestionable value" (29), our students learn to live by the canonical codes of school, societal norms, and nationalistic codes. Products of a school-world of standardized teaching methods and evaluative tools, students come to learn how to map the administrational maze in lieu of a responsible learning experience. All the while these students become more and more the resistant learners, in large part, because they need to maintain the personal substance of their own identity which is all too often associated with a reductive academic evaluation model, i.e., grades. Real cultural literacy, implies Winterowd, is the ability to recognize kultur for what it is. In a very telling quote, Jim Berlin concurs with Winterowd when, discussing the goals of his own cultural studies course, he offers: "I don't want to make [my students] believe that they can be individual; I just want them to understand that they are coded" (Transcript 10). Berlin’s attempt to deconstruct his students’ flawed definition of the individual rests in their understanding Winterowd’s kultur as the ability to see the previously invisible hegemonic parameters of a market-driven existence and to comprehend that the only way to their individuality is through a dialogic relationship with one’s cultural "other." Thus the rest of Berlin’s cultural studies course addresses the hows and whys of codedness/kultur and the importance of his students’ participation in the master-texts of their own cultural existence.—not so much to become a part of it as to become a part of the process by which it "becomes" historically.
By entering critically into the process of their own (unavoidable) cultural dialectic, students’ come to discover the other side of Winterowd’s kultur: culture. True culture (designated by its true English spelling) is the "always becoming always being made" dialogic situation within the liberatory, dialogic classroom (29). Culture brings with it the positive identity (Burke’s substance) of a creative agent, not merely a partaker, but an active participant in political/cultural existence. The truly illiterate, observes Winterowd, "stand in awe of kultur," while the literate smother kultur in honest dialogic inquiry placing human action on what would otherwise be a sort of unquestioned "natural" motion. And, although we can’t change the weather (yet!), we can "beat city hall" and thus put asunder one of the more dangerous aphorisms of our time. Thus, Freireian illiteracy begins with an individual’s inability to see and understand his cultural situation and his inability to "effect a change in his former attitudes, by discovering himself to be a maker of the world of culture" (The Adult 403). In our own students’ existence, Freire’s "world of culture" depends on their ability to see and read the world-as-text and the text-as-world and to take responsible action in its interpretation and revision. From this attitude, they can gain a consubstantial relationship with the "world of culture" and in this process, join in their own future-making. From here, Burke’s concept of the sociological criticism of literature can just as easily become a literary criticism of society in his view of literature as "equipment for living" (Philosophy 293) ) This observation takes on very serious implications, especially when we, as teachers, discover that all writing, even student writing, is, indeed, literature, especially when we view students from a perspective of Freireian literacy standards.
Our third con man, Edward O. Wilson offers the con word, conscilience, a term that works to rejoin knowledge separated from itself by what he sees as a move away from the Enlightenment’s dialogic bid for the unification of knowledge to the postmodern deconstruction of unified meaning –or meaning at all (40-44). Succinctly, conscilience is the "jumping together of knowledge by the linking of facts and fact-based theory across disciplines to create a common groundwork of explanation" (9). Wilson’s consilience is, he claims, "the key to unification" (8) between the natural sciences and the liberal arts (the basis of a core curriculum) and has much to say regarding one’s attitude toward teaching in general. Though a scientist himself, Wilson sees conscilience not as a science but as more of a metaphysical world view—or, in Burke’s terminology, an attitude, a perspective, a terministic screen—shared by only scientists and philosophers. To continue in Wilson’s own words:
[Conscilience] cannot be proved with logic from first principles or grounded in any definitive set of empirical tests . . . Its best support is no more than the extrapolation of the consistent past success of natural sciences. Its surest test will be its effectiveness in the social sciences and the humanities. The strongest appeal of conscilience is in the prospect of intellectual adventure and, given even modest success, the value of understanding the human condition with a higher degree of certainty. (9)
Wilson continues with examples of a general problem-model that has its roots in social, environmental, biological, and ethical concerns. While each of these concerns could appear in specific ratio to give the problem a substantial identity – say the ethical concern of deforestation or the biological concern of the same action, or the economical concern of the same action--each of the four (and many more) points must exist in a consubstantial relationship in order to meet the problem at all angles in order to "finish" with regard to its primary concern relative to the "culture" of its dialogic constituents. Wilson’s ratiocination of given parts (or agents) in the problem solving process has much to say regarding Burke’s pentad and dramatisim, yet the primary attitude here is consubstantiation. If all experience is elemental, then all of the elements relative to a problem must be considered in a ratio specific to the nature of the problem’s solution and, as we discover in Burke’s pentadic approach to experience, both problem and solution are defined terministically. Consilience, along with Burke’s con word addresses the importance of dialogue to knowledge and the reductive impossibility of a pure identity and thus the non-existence of one ultimate truth-system. Wilson’s con word meets Freire’s con word on equal ground as well. Conscilience as means to collaborative problem-solving depends upon questioning a problem from all sides rather than from the static perspective of cold-hearted science or liberal-humanistic considerations, both of which maintain the attitude necessary to Freire’s indictment of the "banking method" of teaching wherein a dominant paradigm holds forth over honest, creative dialogue in the classroom. The seeking of a collaborative balance is imperative to sound pedagogy. If applied with Wilson’s Freire’s and Burke’s goal of consubstantial dialogue in mind, the concept of conscilience can, as Wilson offers, humanize the sciences while scientizing the humanities to bring a sort of whole knowledge into play, a knowledge that is neither specialized nor diluted. A collaborative model of whole knowledge can exist both productively and aesthetically in the face of postmodernism’s reluctance to recognize the fact that we can both regain and reform our grand naratiffs. And, in this process, we might reestablish the dialogue lost in the Balkanization of knowledge in our present core curricula
Our con men are a few of the great persuaders on the contemporary academic landscape. Yet their suasive trade is not in answers, but in merging the purpose and intent of sophistic and Aristotelian ways of knowing. We can see the sophistic side of consubstantial truth as a cultural concern that can be proven only in our own sphere of understanding. We can see the Aristotelian side as "provable" through the enthymematic truth systems we have built into our ideologue over the millennia. Pure logic simply is not logical within the human sphere of understanding. Until an auditor sees what we refer to as logic in rational, personally gratifying terms, a rhetorical identification with the speaker simply cannot occur. Thus the only way into logical conclusions is through contextual relationships intent upon consubstantiation. Ideas, like people, cannot stand alone; they need sounding boards, collaborators, friends, enemies, and when two substantial identities meet in a consubstantial situation both will be changed, if ever so slightly, forever by the birth of the tertiary truth they will engender. The basic components of these three rhetorical attitudes, consubstantiality, conscientizacao, and consilience, all have one thing in common: the insistence that we all must join in the dialogue of our own experience in and with the world, to maintain a voice in our own cultural/political environment and that this environment depends upon dialogic convergence of various specialized knowledge systems to both discover and [re]present new knowledge.
A Burkeian Pedagogy
Burke’s consubstantiation and the rhetoric of identity are pivotal in the development of a dialogic pedagogy. Though we find no references to Burke in the work of the other two con men, it is obvious that these thinkers meet in theory and form a common braid of rhetorical philosophy, political education, and science that has influenced such American educators as Jim Berlin, Peter Elbow, and Ira Shor, each of whom understands and encourages the political and cultural implications of a dialogic, liberatory education, especially in the undergraduate general education curriculum. But, how to put Burke and company into the classroom? Theirs is a highly sophisticated and complex path into better learning and thus their ideas are well beyond the ken of our 13th and 14th graders. The solution is, I believe, to view Burke and the con men from the attitude of teachers who need to learn rather than students who must learn. As Tim Crusius observes, "Younger students will most likely not understand theoretical abstractions or be able to apply them." But, as they develop, students will need theory to "bring to fuller consciousness their own half-articulated notions and to question ideas they have acquired from a too limited experience or from the quirks of a teacher" (109). Crusius’ implication here is that entry level college students run the risk of a partial education due to inefficient curricular development or teachers that might "shoot from the hip," and that the introduction of theory later in the their career will give students the tools to become involved, through critical inquiry, in their own learning process and be able to [re]define their place in the university. Hence, theory allows students to become, in many ways, their own teachers through application. The cultural overlap allows a healthy perspective from both sides of the teaching/learning wall. Teachers who see themselves as continual students (those who see teaching as a learning experience) will become equally involved in what must happen in the gen-ed classroom: the consubstantial identity between student/teacher, the open dialogue between academic-culture/pop-culture, a sound understanding of the self/other conversation, and, through these understandings, the necessary weaving of all the discrete strands of core-curriculum coursework into a durable fabric of useful, applicable knowledge. Yet, we cannot simply teach our 13th graders the theories behind our goals. Rather, students will learn through example, tacitly gleaning the policies and ideals of good teaching and learning practices until such time that they enter the theoretical part of their education to discover that they have been living these theories in practice for quite some time. But, in order for this epiphany to occur, we who teach entry level courses must have an abiding comprehension of dialogic theory and pedagogy to begin with.
Understanding the subtleties of dialogic theory and learning to consubstantiate them into useable teaching approaches will allow us to teach like Burke, Freire, and Wilson instead of teaching Burke, Freire, and Wilson per se. A good example here is Burke’s Pentad. Various colleagues in class and in prescriptive textbooks have tried with little success to use the Pentad right out of the Grammar of Motives as a tool to teach composition or speech with little success. One of the reasons for this failure is the teachers’ view of teaching. The terministic screening of education as the retention of formulae for success and teaching as the offering of these formulae works against the hermeneutical purpose upon which the pentad is based. "Teaching" the pentad as a way to write or outline a FYC text is simply reductive. Using it as an evaluative tool for the products generated by this approach is equally reductive. Because the instructor presents the pentad as a means to an end in what Crusius has referred to as a "too limited experience," the young writer too often will see writing as formulaic and then, because of the failure of the pentad (and the teacher) to improve her writing, she will see her shortcoming as a failure to apply the formula correctly. Hence, a faith-in-formula rather than faith-in-self view of writing will follow the student throughout her college career and into the world-at-large. However, if these teachers could apply a close reading and a deeper, philosophical understanding of the Pentad, they might realize that the model, itself, really can’t be used to generate and maintain FYC level performance. The teacher-as-student model addresses this problem. As Richard Coe observes too many unread teachers are willing to use the very confusing or overly simplified version of the Pentad offered in various textbooks rather than actually going to the source and learning first hand what Burke’s dramatistic model really is: a philosophy of knowing, a hermeneutics of interpretation that take us into writing as a psycholinguistic, sociocultural process (Beyond 368).
Richard Fulkerson’s views on using Toulmin in the FYC composition class bears out my views on teaching Burke’s Pentad as a way to generate/evaluate a text. Like the Pentad, Toulmin’s rhetorical model (or at least his model as presented in commercial writing textbooks) implies that there is a formulaic pattern for a successful argument essay and that if this pattern can be learned, the rest of the process will come almost automatically. This whole implication of utilitarian formalism relates directly to Winterowd'’s kultur, the immutable situation in which a student works toward a static, systemic prize with the promise of a successful product if only all of the formulaic rules are followed. If we see teaching writing as the teaching of structure and form, we risk our students’ move toward consubstantiation. Because these children are yet in the throes of institutional hegemony, they will work largely toward the answerable and less toward the ambiguous identity necessary to true to process. As Fulkerson observes, "students taught the model largely by itself are not likely to construct effective arguments" (22). By demonstrating that writing is a product relative to a static process, specific models for writing remove students from the dynamic processes of their own work. Even though a Toulmin type essay often is successful and a Pentadic essay, if done "correctly" will work, good writing without these formats will be as efficient because of the fullness and logical progressions all good writing requires. If students are forced to follow prescribed rules, they might too often forget their own creative way into their own textuality. It is important to observe here that, though Fulkerson does not see the Toulmin method as a good teaching tool, he does see it as possibly a good analytical tool, a grid to place over after-the-fact writing to check for logic and efficacy. The general consensus of Burke’s Pentad leans toward its use as analytical tool as well. Thus, to reverse the process by offering an analytical tool as a generative tool reduces dialogue and process in the name of a pre-named product all too often designed to facilitate its own evaluation as in the traditional five paragraph essay where formal concerns prevail.
Coe observes that it is Burke’s explicit wish that more of us would use his work rather than simply admire it (Critical) But, as Coe further observes, many of us have trouble reading Burke and thus run the risk of misapplying his theories in the classroom. In fact many of us who claim a Burkeian perspective might well be using Burke to our students and our own disadvantage. In the same way Peter Elbow discusses, in his very thoughtful "Pedagogy of the Bamboozled," how the American university gives lip service to Freire’s theories while maintaining non-Freireian standards in the individual classroom and general curriculum, we need to discuss and evaluate our use of Burke in our own work. Do we work from a truly Burkeian attitude? Do we work for a consubstantial, rhetorical classroom/curriculum? Do we promote literacy as a metaphor of poetic dramatism? Or do we "bamboozle" our students by simply "teaching" his stuff secondhand from mass-oriented textbooks and hope the kids get it? As teachers, we need to look inward for an honest appraisal; as theorists, we need to promote an attitude of faculty development and maintenance so that our less-read colleagues and apathetic administrators can discover for themselves what our dialogic con men so fervently advocate. Theory without practice is useless; practice without theory is impossible. While theory can happen outside of the classroom, practice is what does happen in the classroom; and a firm understanding of theory will engender efficient practice. Elbow’s indictment in "Bamboozled" is not so much an attack on the university’s conscious neglect of Freire as much as it is an indictment of its understanding of Freire. A Burkeian approach runs this same risk: Teachers thinking they are doing well simply because Burke is visible in their syllabus and reading list may forget that teaching like Burke is much different than just teaching Burke.
Though Burke’s work is not formally directed toward teaching per se, his theories have large implications for classroom practice. Burke-oriented educators like Freire, Shor and Berlin insist that dialogue is essential to education and freedom because a true sense of cultural literacy (not necessarily Hirsch’s) will reveal the fact that no one of us can actually be free any more than we can maintain a pure identity. The closest one can come to this mythological freedom is to become aware of the cultural/hegemonic boundaries that surround us all and learn how to expand them relative to our own purpose and intent through dialogue. Thus, a core-curriculum’s real goal must be the opposite of specialization. It must work to set up the various interlocking pieces necessary to broader and more textured conclusions as our students’ fact-base grows. By emphasizing cultural—and here, I include the classroom--experience as text, we can become our own con men and "con" our students into becoming visible participants in the cultural and political forces that might otherwise control them and thus realize Burke’s ideal of "literature as equipment for living" and its logical reversal of living as equipment for the literature that is our cultural life. The sort of critical thinking required of this sort of education can best occur in the English writing/reading classroom where culture and personal experience can come to terms through honest, critical dialogue and the enabling rhetorical and stylistic strategies that will help students to add their voice to Burke’s "never ending conversation."
A Theory Based Approach to The Dialogic Classroom
If a reigning theory of communication and new rhetoric is good for the teacher, it goes, as well, that this sort of foundational thinking will be good for the student too. However, passing on theoretical concepts to new undergraduate students is at best a difficult task, especially if we try to do it in a task-oriented, top-down pedagogy. Because a new-rhetorical classroom setting is, in itself, nontraditional, teaching strategies will have to move beyond tradition as well. For example if we are to promote Burke’s rhetoric of identity or Freire’s generative theme model, we must necessarily avoid the jargonistic, theory-biased approach and simply offer through example and dialogic assignments the cooperative behavior necessary to our goals. Thus, bringing Burke into the core curriculum might mean leaving his terminology in our offices while we carry into practice the concerns this terminology addresses to the classroom.
Based in the concerns of how we teach over the traditional concern of what we teach, a student-centered portfolio system based on strong revision and personal choice will promote a Freireian democratic classroom and, by extension, the sense of Burke’s consubstantiation, his poetic metaphor (Permanence esp. 263-272), merger and division, (Grammar 403-406) and the concept of the corporate I. This sort of dialogic evaluative system offers the student the privilege of and the responsibility for her own grade by allowing her to revisit and revise her work and control what it is the "grader" will see at the moment of truth at semester’s end. FYC, itself, offers a well-constructed learning environment, a cultural community, based not only in formal but theoretical concerns designed to promote, in plain talk, a deep seated comprehension of things like dramatism, consubstantiality, rhetoric of identity (indeed, a concept of rhetoric in general) without actually using exclusive terminology.
Likewise a dialogic reader-response approach—to all texts from print and screen to personal—will serve to instill a primary comprehension that literature and, by extension, culture is, indeed, equipment for living and open to interpretation from all possible perspectives. This privilege to interpret at all levels reinforces in our students that active participation is required of all experience, that a healthy sense of inquiry is what makes their own life "come to life" through responsible critical transaction. Again, all of these high-theory approaches must be brought to students in the students’ own terminology not the teacher’s or the primary theorist’s. Relative to Burke’s rhetoric of identification, this is one of the main points behind Freire’s "generative themes" approach (Pedagogy 92-118): In order for the student to move into the world, she must begin from her cultural, terministic home-base. The step in her path to higher understanding will emerge from her present understanding. To throw our students into a malaise of new terminologies and expectations beyond their present understanding opens a dangerous gap between the self they know and the self they feel they must become. And in this process, a lot of kids simply put up the vectors and hope to wait out the academic storm in what Ira Shor has referred to as a self-imposed Siberia of resistance (When Students 61-66) whose physical manifestation is the area in the classroom farthest from the teacher. A dialogic classroom will work toward [re]assimilating these "Siberians" by questioning and dynamic becoming rather than answering and static being. It will address savoir faire over simple savoir through active culturally aware application rather than a static, rote-memory reward system, through experiential learning directed toward long term memory and future goals rather than short term memory and present achievement . But, most importantly, a dialogic attitude will allow previously conned students to become their own con men in their ability to as join and [re]join the ever-evolving interpretation within their own experience.
The Poetic Metaphor: A Culture of Dramatic Participation
Often, the Burkeian perspective can be offered, switched, changed, without ever mentioning Burke or his theories per se. Through the instructor’s example or through well-designed reading/writing assignments, we might compel young thinkers to actually approach the world, experimentally, from alternate attitudes where they can discover for themselves a new rhetorical propriety that will remain with them as they move across the curriculum and later, into the workplace. By working to have our students see the world from a Burkeian poetic attitude rather than simply seeing Burke’s theories in a big scary book or in an equally scary test-situation where they will be castigated if they fail to recall, we can actually do what Burke probably wanted in the first place—to actualize a world that sees itself through the lens of a new ontological metaphor, a poetic metaphor for living that works through dialogue (he would call it dialectic) and an attitude of consubstantiation. In a world (or classroom) as such, students would see rhetoric from Burke’s perspective of dialogic identity rather than falling tacit prey to hegemonic prescriptivism.
It is Burke’s dialogic nature that compels him to embrace rather than suspect ambiguity. Because human action in the world is essentially the playing out of epistemology upon an ontological stage, we must necessarily live within the tenuous relationship between purpose/intent and the always already world that precedes us. Nothing is stable, truth is contextual and, thus, Burke concludes that "the ultimate metaphor for discussing the universe and man’s relations to it must be the poetic or dramatic metaphor" (Permanence 263) This metaphor is dramatism itself, the playing out of intent/purpose through a multifaceted, ever-shifting dialectic movement. And, although, as I suggest above, there is no real place for a static application of Burke’s Pentad in a core-curriculum classroom, the idea behind it has much to offer. The reigning idea here is that the world of human action is a readable text and that this text has certain recognizable structural codes that work together in ratio-specific patterns to bring a unique contextual meaning. The poetic metaphor depends upon this structural understanding of human action; and although the concept is difficult in depth, a cursory comprehension of human symbolic action (both as language and as culture) will allow students to see that we can, indeed, change (or revise) human action and the products of human action through a fuller understanding of the textual dialectic of self and other in the world, a concept parallel to both Burke’s and Freire’s dialogic theories that to understand what it is to be human is "at least implicit in any writer’s comments on cultural matters" (Language 3), that "all educational practice implies . . . an interpretation of man and the world" (Freire, The Adult 398).
In the core-curriculum writing course (FYC), we can see a comprehension of Burke’s poetic metaphor as a move toward process orientations. Like the reigning theme of our con men, the poetic metaphor is dialogic, it works to further Burke’s dialectic through merger and division of ideas to achieve consubstantiation. Offering that "our thoughts and acts are influenced by our interests" (Permanence 262) Burke’s metaphor brings together the interests and ideals of his fellow con men and allows us to understand that we can do what we want, that we are free, but only to the extent of our own sense of purpose which is, itself, inextricably tied to our cultural community. Thus, even if we choose to rebel against this community, we still recognize the community in our realization that we are being anticommunal; and through seeing the world as a dialogic, ever-evolving text, even as anti-voives we can remain as active participants (rather than seeing resistance as alienation) in the conversation until the dialectic and the substantial individual are able to re-center themselves within the expectations of the community-at-large. If culture can be seen as poetic/dramatic, our students can come to see themselves in a state of "being as" in the world they have a part in making and maintaining rather than being of a nonnegotiable hegemonic motion. This active position of being as will necessarily generate the terministic screens through which they will act on and in their always already environment. If life is art, they will act artfully; if life is war, they will act militantly; if life is a readable text, they will act textually – that is they will realize that they can write and [re]write themselves into the world through various social revisions of the culturally well-read self.
Thus, the dialogic writing course, especially the FYC, allows a sort of practice session in social self-control. When students realize that the writing course is their domain and not the teacher’s; when they realize that their texts are their property, and not the school’s, they will come just that much closer to "thinking locally and writing globally" secure in the knowledge that a dramatistic world allows (requires!) revision relative to a strong sense of other – or, in Burke’s terminology: persuasion depends upon identity. Offering a college core curriculum through the lens of a poetic/dramatic attitude toward human action in the world is a means to further understanding the nature of knowledge in the very process of acquiring the new facts delivered through the foundational course work in the first years of higher education. Burke's view of the poetic metaphor’s offering "an invaluable perspective from which to judge the world of contingencies" (Permanence 266) will work well in [re]joining the discrete threads of college core curriculum and the contingencies fostered by an ever widening gap of specialization well before the time when upper-level course work will focus on specifics before a backdrop of interrelated general knowledge necessary to a well rounded professional career. Whether or not we agree with Burke’s aestheticist attitude, we can agree with the idea that the text of a sound core curriculum can and should be revised and edited for a lifetime of use and application if we view it through the dialogic poetic metaphor espoused in the theories of our three con men .
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