SUSAN KATES University of Oklahoma
This essay grows out of a larger work, a case study of rhetorical instruction developed for disenfranchised students in the US. My archival research has allowed me to isolate particular features of rhetorical instruction for women, African-Americans, and labor workers in America between 1889-1937 in three specific institutions. Through what I would describe as "activist" writing and speaking instruction, rhetoric teachers at Smith College, Wilberforce University, and Brookwood Labor College offered students a distinctly politicized kind of rhetoric course at institutions designed for women, AfricanAmericans, and labor workers. I would argue that teachers at these institutions enacted a prototype of what we now describe as critical pedagogy -- a form of education most commonly associated with educators such as Paulo Freire, Henry Giroux, bell hooks, and Ira Shor, to name a few. One feature of critical pedagogy, as many of you know, is that educators help students to interrogate their marginalized position in society and to enact social change as a result of this understanding -- an act that occurs through reading, writing, and speaking about oppression. This is the kind of education that took place at the sites of my study, particularly in the rhetoric classroom where the brand of rhetorical instruction, I would argue, was distinctively activist.
Three specific features characterize what I would call activist writing and speaking instruction: (1) a celebration of the language conventions students carried to the rhetoric classroom, (2) politicized writing and speaking assignments designed to help students to interrogate their marginalized standing, and (3) an emphasis on education for social responsibility. It is, however, the attention given to language conventions in rhetoric courses that I want to focus on today. I am interested in the fact that the rhetoric teachers in my study appear to have understood so much about the relationship between language and identity that they were quite respectful indeed of the language conventions that women, African-Americans, and labor workers carried with them to the rhetoric classroom. In every instance, the pedagogies of these teachers not only allowed for various language conventions but in fact celebrated them, and sought to make students aware of the strategic function of