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It's all Greek to me!
This term I was cleared to teach a college level course in Rhetoric. Upon receiving the textbooks, I was astonished this was a freshman level course offering. Three texts were required by the "power's that be" for my students (and I) to learn. One was an "Introduction to Rhetoric", and the other Plato's arguments and "Rhetoric" by Aristotle.
I have several Masters degrees, but when I wanted to get a Masters in philosophy about ten years ago, the college I worked at refused to allow me into the program. I find this happens quite often when there are elitists making the decisions. I have utilized many philosophical arguments in my literature classes, Kant being one of my favorites. I also studied the history of Western Civilization, which spent a great deal of time on the Greek master rhetoricians, but nothing prepared me to teach this course to those at the Freshman undergraduate level.
A dear friend of mine who is also a colleague told me once that he could teach anything if he had the materials to review prior to the course. I always felt the same way. There are no strategic teaching methods taught at the graduate level to learn how to become a good teacher. You either connect with the material and the students, or you are ineffective, boring and just plain horrible at teaching. There are many tenured professors who meet that criteria. I refuse to be mediocre, so I continue to learn year after year, and take challenges in my course teachings.
The first night of the class we talked briefly about modern rhetoric, and I showed the immensely pathos filled speech of Randy Pausch's "The Last Lecture". Randy was one of the most effective professors in the field. His style of delivery, while he was on the brink of death was upbeat, yet haunting. He remains a role model, as does Morrie Schwartz, the professor of Sociology who died from Lou Gehrig's disease and is chronicled in "Tuesday's with Morrie".
I spend a great deal of time trying to connect the material I teach with modern day analogies and conversational examples. I know I am only as effective as possible on that day, with that class. Some things work time and again, and others bomb depending on the presentation. In each subsequent teaching of the material, I learn more than the students do. And I like it that way. To make something fresh out of material taught over and again, one must be aware of the things they do not know, or new resources that may look at something in a new way.
Last week, it was difficult to get the students jazzed up about Socrates and Gorgias having an argument about the very idea of rhetoric. The Sophists felt good argument was more important than truth. Plato and by default: Socrates felt differently. He did not see rhetoric as an "art". Tonight we will discuss how Aristotle felt about this idea. Each time we delve more and more deeply into the rhetorical questions of the past and present time. And each class gives me more of a feeling of cohesion and confidence, while remaining humble.
Life offers us what we need to know. Just because it was all "Greek" to me, (pun intended) does not mean it does not bring more information to the way we can argue, the way we can think critically, and the way we can learn how to argue effectively. The worst thing we face in this world is the idea our way is the only way to see something. Through introspection and communication we can grow by discussing our truth and the way we see things, while being open to new challenges that are presented to us that we never expected!