My interest in parrhesia leads me to question, articulate, and enact the pedagogical values held by my discipline in my approach to teaching. This pedagogy manifests principles of care and empowerment for my students and centers on three primary goals: engaging students in inquiry-based learning, imparting and analyzing rhetorical knowledge, and inspiring critical civic engagement.
In order to critically think through and arrive at their own values, students in my classes are asked to question their assumptions and create knowledge collaboratively. To enact this community-based work, students often research inquiry questions in small groups and present their finding to their classmates for discussion. For example, students may research various sides of a public controversy, noting the biases, differences, and similarities in how that issue is presented by different media outlets, compare sources, and navigate these complex representations to exploring what is at stake for various parties, as well as articulating the underlying values that drive these perspectives. This work prepares them to navigate this often-contradictory information and to question the presentation of issues they see through the media, as well as to assess and evaluate sources to begin their own research process. These invention and research activities lead to the ability to articulation their own perspectives and create public arguments that engage and address multiple sides of complex issues. This approach of learning both independently and collaboratively supports students in developing skills necessary for success in professional and civic life, while challenging them to explore and articulate the values that are the most meaningful to themselves and their communities.
Once values are understood and articulated, rhetorical knowledge is necessary for students to enact these principles in larger communities. Founded in knowledge of both classic and contemporary rhetorical theories, students in my classes explore issues such as audience, historical/cultural context, speaker positionality, rhetorical appeals, style, and distribution of texts to critically analyze the messages they encounter, and to be effective and ethical users of rhetoric within the texts that they produce. As a creative way to demonstrate the ways that rhetorical choices affect the construction of texts, students may be asked to “remediate” a previous project or argument into an alternative medium for a non-academic audience. One such project involved groups researching absent histories and contemporary Native American literatures, interrogating the intersections of these issues with place, culture, and practices of their campus and to “remediate” the inquiries into mediums such as PowerPoint presentations, videos, web sites, or zines with larger public audiences in mind. This process teaches not only skills for composing in diverse modalities that students may be called upon to utilize in their academic, professional, and civic careers, but also requires sophisticated rhetorical awareness in order to create a successful project. In addition to supporting skills of genre awareness in a variety of settings, disciplines, and mediums, these activities also allow students who have discovered a critical cultural awareness that touches upon their own values to have a meaningful way of enacting and sharing those values with wider audiences. One such student in my class who had never been exposed to Native American literature or culture became involved in campus associations and events on campus as a result of his research and worked beyond the scope of the class to encourage Native American visibility and voice in an environment where it has been historically marginalized. These moments of effectively utilizing rhetorical knowledge to enact deeply-held values demonstrates acquisition of desired learning outcomes, and also gives students a means of intervening in their communities to become more engaged citizens.
After questioning issues and beliefs through inquiry-based research and articulating positions in rhetorically sophisticated ways, students have the skills to ethically intervene in their communities and the larger world. To model an open and collaboratively constructed learning environment, I enact democratic principles in the classroom, encouraging students to take responsibility for their learning community by contributing to decisions about shared classroom practices, speaking up when their needs are not met in that environment, and being mindful of the needs and perspectives of other community members. To enact this ethic, students collaborate to create classroom rules and practices and may be asked to analyze multiple examples of a genre we are working on in class to arrive at agreed upon criteria for project rubrics. I promote a participatory environment that encourages students to explore and express their own ideas, to hear the perspectives of others, and to collaboratively arrive at practices that are fair and inclusive of their communal values. Though we may not always reach full consensus, this process demonstrates how respectful communication – both speaking and listening – is integral to a functioning community, an ethos I hope they take with them when they engage with larger communities outside the classroom.
In my attitude as a teacher, I attempt to maintain a balance between supportive scaffolding and mentorship while encouraging self-direction, curiosity, and critical questioning of cultural and textual practices. I offer guidance, framing, and specific knowledge in areas pertinent to our projects while at the same time encouraging students to find their own answers and articulate their values while also being respectful of others. These skills are in alignment with my own values as a citizen and a teacher and will, I believe, better prepare students for future professional and civic engagement as ethically and rhetorically informed participants in social and political realms. This pedagogy acknowledges the responsibility that I have to my students, as well as to the world at large, to encourage critically aware participants who can speak from and effectively enact their values within their communities. It is my hope that by articulating and enacting principles of care and empowerment in the classroom, I will encourage students to discover and act upon the values they deeply care about in order to create a richer and more ethical future.