English 450: Theories and Methods of Argument

By Jones, Rebecca | Composition Studies, Fall 2008 | Go to article overview

English 450: Theories and Methods of Argument


Jones, Rebecca, Composition Studies


Course Description

Theories and Methods of Argument serves as an upper level course in the Writing concentration of our B.A. in English and American Language and Literature (the only other official concentration is Literature) at the University of Tennessee, Chattanooga (UTC), a metropolitan university in the South. Additionally, the course is an option for our minor in Rhetoric/Writing which is distinguished from our other minors in Literature and Creative Writing. The catalogue describes this as "an advanced study in the theories and methods of argument . . . rooted in Rogerian rhetoric, in the Toulmin model of argumentation, and special focus will be placed on the New Rhetoric via Chaim Perelman and Kenneth Burke." At the 400 level, Theories and Methods of Argument is one option for 3 of the 27 hours of required 300-400 level courses in the Rhetoric/Writing concentration. During this particular semester, it was cross-listed as a "Senior Seminar," a capstone course required by all majors.

Institutional Context

Theories and Methods of Argument (TMA) was developed shortly after major changes in the English Department curriculum, one of which was to reduce the number of required literature survey courses and instead add the following requirements: "Introduction to Literary Analysis" and "Introduction to Rhetorical Analysis." After this upheaval, the curriculum committee worked to add separate minors in Literature, Rhetoric/Writing, and eventually, Creative Writing. In 2003, TMA was proposed (along with "Origins and History of Writing: Hieroglyphs to Hypertext") as a course that was needed to flesh out both the concentration in Writing and the new Rhetoric/Writing minor. Because there are many Rhetoric/Writing courses on the books and only a few professors to teach them, I was the first to teach this course during my second year at UTC. As such, the course had no pre-existing design beyond the few sentences in the course description.

Along with other faculty specializing in rhetoric and writing, Eileen Meagher has spent many years at UTC promoting, developing, and Anally implementing a strong rhetoric and composition program. One tangible outcome of these efforts is a cadre of students familiar with rhetorical principles. After taking the required introductory rhetoric course and a steady offering of upper level rhetoric and writing courses, students in our program are familiar with rhetoric. This allows for a more in-depth discussion of rhetorical theory and principles and makes basic discussion of rhetoric unnecessary - at least according to the students.

While our department demonstrates a commitment to rhetoric and writing, the university as a whole has taken a step backwards in terms of teaching communication skills. Due to the large number of Tennessee students that rely on lottery scholarships to go to college, the requirements for graduation was reduced several years ago to 120 hours, as the scholarship funds only four years of education. As a result, writing intensive requirements were dropped beyond our freshman composition sequence. Likewise, there is no public speaking requirement (though many students still take the course). Also, our Writing Across the Curriculum program has faded into non-existence in the past few years. As a result, our courses with emphases in rhetoric/writing offer only a small space for students to "officially" hone their public speaking and writing skills.

As it turns out, UTC is an anomaly in the number and variety of rhetoric courses on the books. Both Thomas Miller and Brian Jackson have offered surveys that exhibit the dearth of rhetorical education in most public universities. The survey portion of Jackson's article continues Miller's previous work in assessing how much rhetoric (written or spoken) is taught in public universities beyond introductory freshman courses in English or Communication. Both surveys report that very little rhetoric is taught. …

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