Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning as a Path to Virtue: The Ideal Orator in Professional Communication

Academic journal article Michigan Journal of Community Service Learning

Service-Learning as a Path to Virtue: The Ideal Orator in Professional Communication

Article excerpt

In a recent article, V. A. Howard, relying on a detailed study by Engell and Dangerfield (1998), decries "the market-model university" and its adverse effects on the humanities. According to Howard (1999), the market-model leads to "pegboard vocationalism," a term he coined to describe a belief held by many students and parents that higher education's primary responsibility is to prepare students to fit into an array of job slots. In Howard's opinion, this view has led to a decline in the enrollment in and a devaluing of the humanities, resulting in coarsening values and a general loss of concern for public service ideals (p. 125).

As a professional writing program director in an English department at a major technological, research-oriented university, I read Howard's article with interest. The modifier "professional" is integral to my work: I am responsible for preparing students for "job slots." Yet, while acknowledging that responsibility, I reject the notion that what my colleagues and I teach, despite its clearly practical nature, must be vocational in Howard's pejorative sense. Nor do I believe that, even if a field has a practical approach toward the economy, such a field must, by its nature, devalue the ideals of public service. My beliefs are predicated upon a strong connection between my field and classical rhetoric. Such a connection opens up opportunities for examining the civic values of rhetoric extolled by classical rhetoricians (e.g., Aristotle, Quintilian, Isocrates, Cicero) and integrating them into current pedagogy.

Classical Rhetoric and Service-Learning

Classical rhetoricians were concerned with preparing young men (1) for their roles as citizens by teaching them to be skilled persuasive speakers in various situations (e.g., legal, political, and ceremonial) for both public and private audiences. They taught practical skills to be used for the common good. For instance, in Rhetoric, Aristotle addressed human conduct in relation to activities that maintain community life (1954; Miller, 1989). He spoke of the orator's duty to "attempt not only to prove the points mentioned but also to show that the good or the harm, the honor or disgrace, the justice or injustice, is great or small" (1954, 1359b1923). Learning rhetoric was "useful" (1355b9), but it also had a "moral purpose" (1355b19).

Other classical rhetoricians and educators, such as Isocrates and Quintilian, had similar goals for teaching rhetoric. Isocrates (1990) sought to use rhetoric and oratory to advocate interests that bind communities together (Papillon, 1995), arguing that the "art of discourse ... is the source of most of our blessings.... and if it were not for this we should not be able to live together" (p. 50). In De Oratore, Cicero (1969) builds on Aristotle and Isocrates by promoting the need to prepare orators--citizens who, by uniting wisdom and eloquence and integrating theoretical and practical knowledge, work to shape the community's political life. According to Cicero, the orators' importance lies in their ability to "bring help to the suppliant, to raise up those that are cast down, to bestow security, to set free from peril, to maintain men in their civil rights" (I, viii). Quintilian (1972) extended Cicero's ideals to produce speakers and writers who had their communities' best aims at heart (Murphy, 1987). In his Institutes of Oratory, Quintilian explained that he wanted each orator, "whose character [he was] seeking to mould, [to] be ... a true statesman, not in the discussions of study, but in the actual practice and experience of life" (p. 126). In his mind this could only happen with "the broadest education," (p. 126) which would be applied to human affairs. All these rhetoricians are part of a tradition that helped to shape our western educational system's core (Barber, 1992, 1994; Halloran, 1976; Marrou, 1964), a tradition rich with evidence that higher education's mission in general is to be of practical service to society (Boyer, 1990; Wallenfelt, 1986; Waterman, 1997). …

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