Student-teacher relations in rhetoric and writing classrooms : pedagogy, history, theory

Detweiler, Eric, 1985-
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This dissertation focuses on ethical and rhetorical issues surrounding the authority relation between teachers and students of rhetoric and writing, examining how that relation gets troped and enacted in both historical and current pedagogical scenes. I also consider a range of platforms, writing exercises, and rhetorical devices that have mediated, structured, and destabilized student-teacher relations. I put questions of pedagogical authority in conversation with recent work in rhetorical ethics. Inspired by continental thinkers, rhetorical theorists have started tracing out ethically oriented projects focused on questions of responsibility—projects that, in short, position ethics as rhetorical. While such theorists are often not exclusively or explicitly concerned with pedagogical practices, I argue that their work has significant implications for such practices and, moreover, that pedagogical practices have implications for rhetorical ethics. In so doing, I call into question commonplace ways of connecting theory to pedagogy in the field of rhetoric and composition. That is, while rhetoric and composition scholars often position pedagogical outcomes as the end of theory—beginning with theory and then performing a “pedagogical turn” that translates or crystallizes that theory into a pedagogy—I oscillate between pedagogy and theory in an attempt to see how else the two might speak to and complicate each other. In chapter one, I focus on one of the most persistent ways of troping the student-teacher relation: Socratic irony. In chapter two, I turn to for-profit massive open online courses (xMOOCs). While advocates of such courses have claimed xMOOCs radically refigure student-teacher relations, I argue that they rely on long-standing assumptions about students’ autonomy. I challenge such assumptions by laying out what I call a pedagogy of responsibility. In chapter three, I illustrate such a pedagogy by reworking a classical rhetorical exercise called prosopopoeia. In my fourth and final chapter, I turn my attention to the priority the thesis statement is granted in contemporary writing instruction. I question the thesis statement’s relationship to certitude and rhetorical mastery, arguing that writing teachers might put more emphasis on hypothesizing and uncertainty