Teach what you know

Donald Stewart’s “The Continuing Relevance of Plato’s Phaedrus” offered me some much-appreciated insights into that dialogue of Plato.

If only we would have read this article before class last week! Then we would have known the answer to the question “What is the Phaedrus about?”–and all without having to engage in the mental struggle we did in class! We could have just read that “there is now little doubt about the answer to the first question. The subject of the Phaedrus is rhetoric.” It’s so straight-forward. Thank you, Donald Stewart, for making that imminently clear! (…and for making us feel somewhat slow for not recognizing that truth immediately…) And thank you, Dr. Edlund for making us personally wrestle with the question. Plato would be proud. And I’m sure that Derrida with make all things clear…

I hope I’m not like Derrida in focusing on one obscure passage, but what really stuck out to me was “the true rhetorician must have knowledge.” As a rhet/comp TA, I can get overwhelmed with the vast scope that is the purview of rhetoric. Every text can be examined rhetorically, and let’s not limit that to written texts. Every subject seems to be fair game for my 104 class. And now in planning my 105 class, the process begins again. What am I going to teach? What texts do I use? “Of the making of books there is no end” said Solomon, and that was 3000 years ago! So to the rescue come the ideas of Plato: “The true rhetorician must have knowledge.” With that in mind, I feel more confident that it’s okay to teach what I know. In fact, I SHOULD teach what I know. I’m not strong in analyzing, for example, political discourse, so maybe Plato would say it’s okay if I instead teach analysis of texts I’m more comfortable with. Although I haven’t chosen to adopt a full-on “Writing About Writing” model of teaching, I’m sympathetic to many of its goals (if not its texts). And I think that Douglas Downs and Elizabeth Wardle are on the mark when they say that there is nothing wrong with an instructor teaching “about things she knows and enjoys.”

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s