What would happen if we taught students first and foremost to listen instead of argue and persuade? What if we taught them to attend to the ways in which they are embodied, material beings entangled with spaces and places that shape them and their convictions rather than how to forcefully exert their views on audiences? Would not their ensuing communications and discourses be both more responsible and more effective? Would not our society and social fabric be better off in nearly every respect?
Such was the rhetoric of the ancient Sophists who paved the road for contemporary universities, but who were eclipsed by Plato, Aristotle, and others who taught us to speak but not to listen. My pedagogy returns to the Sophists, to listening, to responsible response, and to attending as fully as possible to the lifeworlds that compose the collective soil to which the individual is a response.
I thus attend to the goals of the university classically conceived: to develop critically conscious, well-rounded citizens capable of contributing to a democratic society. The university is a unique space in which to prioritize civic and democratic values over commercial and other interests, and in which students develop themselves intellectually, affectively, and ethically.
To create a civic-oriented environment that attends to these values and to student success, I ensure that students’ sociospatial worlds become an integral part of how they learn to think, read, write, and respond. I prepare students to engage communication as an intensively public activity with sociopolitical effects that demands a lucid and incisive interrogation into the ways that each student’s subjectivity is cut from a material-discursive fabric that affects communication. This fabric can only be altered and improved with a rigorous investigation into its composition, strengths, weaknesses, and social texture.
To augment the necessary personal and public effectivity of my courses, I engage both diverse cultural traditions and the issues that carry weight for student communities. In one first-year composition course, for instance, I teach a variety of canons ranging from the ancient Chinese poets to contemporary Chicanx and Latinx authors, which my seven years of experience as Editor-in-Chief of Pomona Valley Review (Cal Poly Pomona's liberal arts journal, founded by American poet Virginia Hamilton Adair) has prepared me for with its literary breadth and with the ways it has enabled me to work with writers from varying traditions, and with various modes of expression.
For one essay, I ask students to pick a writer from our course to profile, discussing what resonates in the writer’s language, and why, while utilizing readings on composition theory and praxis. Students go beyond what they enjoy about a writer. They analyze and conscientiously unpack the significance of the writer’s life and words for their lives, their community’s life, and the global society beyond.
In another first-year composition course, I amplify this approach in a “Proposing a Solution” paper, wherein students fasten course topics, materials, and the struggles of their individual communities side-by-side in efforts to tighten and attune the humanizing and consequential connections between coursework and world. Here, they research a solution to an issue that one of their discourse communities faces. A student of mine concludes, “[Ryan] opened up another world of writing to us.”
My 2019 article in Composition Forum’s 41st issue investigates four primary effects of my pedagogy (in first-year composition especially). My pedagogy increases: 1) students’ awareness of the sociocultural and material contexts of assumptions and practices; 2) their engagement with learning; 3) their opportunities to encounter difference; and 4), their application of education. I work with eight years of student feedback and evaluations, including five years of first-year composition feedback, to link my pedagogy to these four effects on student learning and growth.
Therefore, by teaching students to listen and attend to their backgrounds, places, convictions, and communities, I prepare them not merely to forcefully defend pre-established beliefs, but rather to responsibly contribute to conversations that matter. Such is the view of rhetoric as the totality of responsible address and response that I foster in the classroom.
In the “cultural artifact” assignment students explore artifacts from their pasts—books, mementos, symbols of convictions—and analyze the artifact’s relation to their ways of being. The cultural artifact assignment consists of a half-page printed image of the artifact and a half-page, single-spaced analysis of its significance. Analyses include two course terms, concepts, or ideas from readings and discussions, thereby forging coursework to world. The cultural artifact imbricates students’ dynamic movement through academe with their material-discursive lives before, during, and after the classroom, rendering legible and critique-able the ways in which reading, writing, communicating, believing, and acting are impactfully entangled with the sociospatial and cultural worlds that walk into the room with students.
"Referring to Taleb, my ideal day-by-day routine was one that had no random occurrences, no unfortunate events, and predicted cost-and-benefit activities that I could see the end of to its fullest. Even after that whole phase of writing and planning out a weekly schedule ended, the desire to have everything 'settled' or predictable in my eyes was straining on my ideals and behavior. . . As Foucault would say, this condition of tutelage developed due to the fear that those random or misfortunate events in my life would never disappear, where my days wouldn’t be great or perfect because of them. . . . But even with my paraskeue (equipment), nothing could’ve helped me prepare for these events."
"This is a picture of my watch. It is a very basic leather Swiss Army watch that my father gave me when I graduated high school 3 years ago. The fact that it is a graduation gift is not important, I could not have cared less about graduating high school. Instead, the watch is important to me because it represents a very basic concept that I grew up cherishing, which is time. Growing up, although a child's life is very basic, I would always keep track of time. To me, time controls us and guides us. It is a marker of all things. That day in the hospital was my first experience with death. It becomes clear now that my need to always wear a watch with a second hand, to hear that basic ticking, has become equivalent to my heart beating. On that day, I was not counting up to my grandfather's death, or counting up to the moment where I could play. On that day, the 8 year old me began to count the seconds of her life, and began to acknowledge that there is an end to it. The watch that I wear on my wrist does not simply tell time, but it tells me that I am blessed with the gift of still having time."
The “place-based autoethnography” (8-10 pages) maps a student’s discourse community in a way that draws forward the ecological, geographical, and kairotic, or emergent, emplacement of students' identities and convictions. Students utilize course material to interrogate the codes, practices, and values of a community that has shaped them, thus locating where certain of their assumptions and customs originate. This essay moves students closer to forming effective, ethical responses to difference, as well as analytical approaches to discursive practices, by illuminating the contingency of their own ways of being. Students chart this move toward responsible communication in the final "portfolio": five cultural artifacts, the autoethnography, and a "Dear Reader letter" where students index resonant readings and assignments to their (r)evolution in my course. My intent is not to change students’ interpretive structures, but to scaffold the critical, listening-based architecture of thought that makes change possible.
"Due to the stubborn, shortsighted ideology I had developed, it never occurred to me that my parent’s teachings could also be applicable to Liberal Arts—not just STEM. Although it seems extremely obvious now, I never considered the two concepts coinciding together; therefore, in that instance, I started to reflect on some of the ideologies Foucault mentions in his work, What is Enlightenment? In Foucault’s work he discusses three concepts that metaphorically symbolize a component of one’s psyche: the book, doctor, and spiritual director. The book represents knowledge, the doctor represents physical health, and the spiritual director represents one’s spiritual health. This is to say that when I walked out of the auditorium, I realized that all those three components of my being were co-dependent to my Discourse Community; therefore, I was not my own being. I had no sense of individualism because I was the exact creation of my Discourse Community. I relied too much on the ideologies of others and I did not have any of my own formulated reasons."
"In the chapter 'The House: from Cellar to Garret,' Bachelard states, 'For our house is our corner of the world. As has often been said, it is our first universe, a real cosmos in every sense of the world' (4). My house was my first universe and in this universe, I was exposed to violence and socially accepted ideas of patriarchy and gender roles. From the beginning, I saw the negative effects of these socially accepted deceptions. My feminist views began in the home and these views shaped not only how I see my 'corner of the world,' but how I see the whole world. I saw my mom get abused, stay silent, and get yelled at. My corner of the world influenced me to want to make more people aware of women’s inferior position in society and to justify why it is wrong. The gender roles that are prevalent today categorize gender, where men are elevated over women. As a result, women get abused and degraded. I don’t want to stay silent like my mom. Instead, I want to use my desocialized thinking to change society’s perception of gender."