Making and Unmaking the Prospects for Rhetoric: Selected Papers from the 1996 Rhetoric Society of America Conference

By Theresa Enos; Richard McNabb et al. | Go to book overview

language, "words which, though formerly in good use, are now obsolete" (24). He sees the evolution and changing nature of language as an annoying inconvenience -- a challenge to those like him, whose job it is to define the appropriate modes of communication. In this respect he stands in opposition to Jordan, who uses history in order to liberate women from the debilitating rules of grammarians.

I focus on this treatment of the history of language conventions in Jordan's rhetoric text not to suggest that she believed that women possessed another language entirely or that she denounced the purpose served by a wide variety of language conventions. This feature of her pedagogy seems to me, however, useful for examining the ways in which pedagogies for marginalized students may have been developed in other historical moments. It is only one of the ways that Jordan suggests that women might have ways of communicating that were rewarded less in the larger culture. (I should add that a good bit of her text deals with conversation and letter-writing and the various rhetorical situations requiring these more private forms of discourse.)

As rhetoric historians begin to examine the history of rhetoric instruction in increasingly local and specific sites, pedagogical features such as those that I describe here appear to be important to trace, for though situated in a different historical moment, they suggest that rhetorical instruction in the US has always been informed by ideological concerns. Demonstrating but one of the ways that educators have historically chosen to acknowledge the political dimensions of rhetorical instruction, Jordan's work emphasizes that educators have often tried to respect the conventions of communication students bring to the rhetoric classroom and that pedagogical challenges arise from doing so. Whatever else might be said of Mary Augusta Jordan and the rhetorical theory she wrote and taught over a thirty-seven-year career at Smith, it appears that one of her primary purposes was to teach women how to write and speak what was on their minds and in their hearts by demystifying the very language conventions she hoped they might learn at the same time. This was a bold pedagogical step at a time when most of society encouraged women to doubt the powers of their own intellects. Thus, as Jordan crafted a rhetoric curriculum that slightly altered the prescriptive eighteenth-century rhetorics of male colleges, she enacted a pedagogy on the borderlands of more traditional institutions that allowed women to see the importance of rhetoric for reading and revising the world.


Works Cited

Donawerth Jane. "Textbooks for New Audiences: Women's Revisions of Rhetorical Theory at the Turn of the Century." Women and the History of Rhetoric. Ed. Molly Wertheimer. Columbia: U of South Carolina P, forthcoming.

Freire Paulo. Pedagogy of the Oppressed. New York: Seabury, 1973.

Genung John Franklin. The Practical Elements of Rhetoric. Boston: Ginn, 1886.

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