Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Writing in a Military College Setting

Academic journal article Academic Exchange Quarterly

Teaching Writing in a Military College Setting

Article excerpt

Abstract

Rhetorically based composition training, as a part of liberal arts training, provides military students with the critical thinking skills needed for them to become leaders in a military that is facing increasingly complex and ambiguous situations. Writing assignments force students to consider the rhetorical context that surrounds a given situation, to properly evaluate evidence, and to consider all of the worthy alternatives to an important issue before charting a course for belief or action.

Contextualizing Our Teaching

The student arrived at office hours, his hat folded neatly, his boots smartly polished, his uniform crisply creased, and his insignia positioned precisely. He sat straight, poised in his conviction that he was right, arguing from deeply held beliefs, monitoring his tone to keep it even and his attitude to keep it positive. However, he was neither happy nor composed; in fact, he was disgusted by the required literature readings. He had spent years on active duty in the military police, seeing so much ugly behavior that he did not want to read about it in his first-year composition class. Why couldn't publishers choose stories other than those about death, despair, or loss--stories in which spouses are faithful and children live normal, happy lives? Surely, he argued, other human activities were worthier of study; there must be stories offering models for students to emulate. After all, the school is a military college: of all places, its curriculum should focus on the virtuous and honorable.

North Georgia College & State University is the senior military college of Georgia, a military institution since its founding in 1873. The Corps of Cadets, now a cadre of 600, accounts for almost fifteen per cent of the undergraduate student body. Cadets train for leadership roles, wearing uniforms, drilling weekly, sounding off to higher-ranking student officers, participating in daily physical training, and observing retreat every evening. Many commission into the U.S. Army upon graduation, and North Georgia enjoys a reputation for producing leaders: NGCSU has schooled many officers, some of them generals, over the years. The reasons for its success as a military school, and the answer to the cadet's questions about the subject matter of the literature for the composition class, stem from the same source: at NGCSU, we teach the liberal arts, which build leadership skills. By "liberal" we emphasize the original sense of the term: we teach students how to make choices. Indeed, in certain cases, we teach some of our students about the very existence of choices because many have backgrounds that suppress individual choice, insisting on a single, received set of beliefs that are nonnegotiable. Our job--particularly as writing instructors who teach from a rhetorical approach, but also as professors of the liberal arts--is to challenge students' thinking, not to change their minds, but to teach them how to understand the complexity of problems so that they can think through situations, weigh evidence, explore alternatives, and make choices. Encouraging students to question simplistic answers, this curriculum--rather than opposing the Corps--works in partnership with military science courses. Our work has the same objectives: educating critically thinking men and women who can respond well in situations beyond their comfort zones and who understand the implications of their words and their actions.

According to the NGCSU Commandant of Cadets, Colonel Tom Palmer, military science training has shifted to situational training exercises (STX) to offer students varying conditions that can alter drastically. Today, even newly commissioned officers face "volatile," "complex," and "ambiguous" situations, demanding tactics beyond those learned in basic military science courses. Therefore, training has changed; it is no longer just a checklist of skills to endure to get a diploma. …

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