5 The Professor as a Rhetor
I would like to dedicate my chapter of the book to all of the teachers and professors that have inspired me to grow, both as a person and as a student. I have been fortunate enough to have several people along my academic journey who have urged me to pursue learning and passion to the highest degree. I also dedicate this to my close friends and peers who continue to inspire me to be curious and explore life from several perspectives. I can honestly say that I could not have come as far as I have without the support and encouragement from these role models.
Keywords: Deliberative Rhetoric, Trust, Credibility, Reasoning, Emotional Appeal
We were never taught how to learn. Starting from preschool, we are asked “What do you want to be when you grow up?”, with our answer usually followed by an amused chuckle and a pat on the head. As someone who has been dreaming of being a doctor since around that age, I was also often told something along the lines of “Well then, you’ll have to study hard so that you can get into a good college!” With this tangible goal in mind, I dedicated myself to the art of being a good student: straight A’s almost all my life, active participation in extracurricular activities and sports, and a handful of letters of recommendation by my teachers. However, I shortly realized that what they don’t teach us in school is how to learn effectively and how to maximize the teacher-student relationship for optimal learning. So, I began to observe how these factors play into the everyday life of a student and how they can frame how we understand our classes. Along the way, I have come to realize the power of words, specifically how they are orchestrated by our teachers and professors. The education system is built on the foundation of deliberative rhetoric, in which our teachers and professors play the role of rhetors, and we students as the eager audience. I argue that teachers and professors exhibit the importance of deliberative rhetoric in a classroom setting and use its components in order to maximize the success of we students in their classes. In this chapter, I explore how trust and the three main forms of proof of deliberative rhetoric – Ethos, Logos, Pathos –are present in the classroom setting and argue that they should be used by educators in order for students to maximize their learning experience.
Rhetoric is the ability to recognize the available means of persuasion in any given situation (Rhetoric by Aristotle). Deliberative rhetoric, specifically, is the art of speech and/or writing with the goal of exhorting or dissuading your audience to take a specific action or adopt a certain belief (Silva Rhetoricae). This form of rhetoric focuses on the future, rather than on the present or past (Langston). According to this definition by Aristotle, I argue that teachers and professors are expert deliberative rhetors, spending their days urging us to believe in certain facts of life and developed theories. As educators, their primary goals include teaching we students effectively and encouraging a desire to learn. Therefore, it is extremely important for all teachers and professors to recognize the importance of their words, and how they can transform them to bring about the most gain for we students. In other words, as rhetors, they must use the tools of deliberative rhetoric in order to establish an effective relationship with their audience. (As a current college student, I will use “professor” for the remainder of this chapter for the sake of simplicity.)
Trust is an extremely important concept that all rhetors must establish. An effective rhetor is someone who is able to pick up on the audience’s uncertainty about a topic, and then become a source of trust able to give accurate information. After all, the goal of the audience is to find something to trust, and the goal of the rhetor is to get the audience to believe in them. As such, the rhetor depends on three forms of proof (and their individual variations) to help them achieve this goal – Ethos, Logos, and Pathos.
Professors establish their credibility and trustworthiness through Ethos (Garver). There is no shortage of methods that educators depend on in order to succeed in this endeavor. As students, we are encouraged to use flashcards, practice problems, note-taking, and countless other learning methods to succeed in class. However, we never question the truth of the information we are given by our professors; that is, we accept the material as proof of valid information, rather than turning to literature and established evidence for a deeper understanding. On the first day of every class every semester, our professors open up the course by introducing themselves. Without fail, they will mention what degrees they have, from which universities/colleges they got them, and how they used them as foundations for higher education and work experiences. By doing so, our professors not only set themselves up as the experts in the classroom, but also establish the fact that their experience with the course content make them a credible and trustworthy source of information. Furthermore, just the fact that our professors are so experienced that they are able to teach a college course adds to their reputation from even before starting the class. These are examples of Inartistic Ethos, in which the rhetor turns to their reputation as evidence of their credibility (Walzer). It is important to note that there is a second form of Ethos, artistic ethos, that is equally important to inartistic ethos. Artistic ethos points to how rhetors build on their credibility with how they present themselves to the audience, namely by their embodiment of intelligence, virtue, and good will (Walzer). In the case of education, intelligence is the most likely way that professors use artistic ethos to establish their credibility. Through the use of detailed lectures, accurate application of concepts via homework and exams, and encouragement to ask questions, professors showcase their impressive sense of intelligence on the relevant facts of the course. As such, it is generally difficult as students to doubt the credibility of our professors if they use these techniques effectively. However, it is important to note that students should also be encouraged to question their professors (in a respectful manner, of course) in order to become more well-rounded and curious scholars.
By relying on accepted reasoning and evidence in order to support their argumentative claims, professors are able to teach students. Now that we students have trust in our professor’s credibility, how do we know that the information that they are giving us is accurate? Another significant form of proof of deliberative rhetoric is Logos, which relies on reason and logic to further exhort or dissuade the audience of something (Langston). Professors make claims about the class concepts that they are attempting to encourage we students to believe, and give the reasoning and logic behind the truth of those concepts. As such, we as students are better able to understand the reason for why the theories at hand have been developed and, furthermore, their application to the class. For example, when teaching material such as the Theory of Evolution and Natural Selection, professors usually include content on Darwin and his journey to the Galapagos Islands in order to demonstrate how and why he developed this important theory. Therefore, we students are more likely to understand the real-life application to the theory as it was developed. Furthermore, as the rhetors in the setting, the professors must use well-developed and established reasons behind the information in order to effectively reach their audience of students. Otherwise, we students are forced to turn to more shallow and short-term understanding of the content through techniques such as simple memorization. By not giving us the opportunity to explore the logic of the theories, we can only develop an indifferent perspective on the case. Such use of reasoning and logic to support argumentative claims is an example of artistic logos, which emphasizes the use of argumentative claims and their subsequent reasons in the aim of persuasion (Walzer). Once the basis for the concept is established by the techniques of artistic logos, professors work to advance our understanding of the content by highlighting established evidence, such as data and statistics, developed examples, and relevant testimonies. By doing so, they are highlighting the importance of their class content to real world events and ideas that we as students can relate to. This is extremely vital for the teaching of such course content because it allows us to understand each concept on a deeper level, while also encouraging us to discover our own examples and experiences of the content. For example, when talking about mental health issues, it is helpful and important for the professors to include statistics on common mental health disorders in order to show the students how prevalent such issues really are in the general population. From here, we students are better able to get a sense of how important this topic is given the fact that it is supported by researched data and evidence. This use of established evidence by the rhetor to aid persuasion is inartistic logos.
By using techniques that appeal to our human emotions of empathy, professors can demonstrate the importance of their courses, and even inspire we students to pursue this topic to higher levels of education. The last form of proof of deliberative rhetoric is Pathos, which appeals to our emotions (Langston). This aspect is much harder to relate to education as a whole, but it is common for professors to strategize and design their lectures to include relevant examples and images/videos that are included in order to appeal to our emotions as students. These usually aim to inspire us to learn more about the topic at hand or see the real-world connection of the concept. For example, in a nutrition course I took last semester, it was difficult for the class to understand the true importance of nutrition in a medical setting until we talked about eating disorders and medical conditions associated with specific dietary limitations. My professor decided to include specific images and examples with emotional undertones in order to show us the significance of the class content and to encourage us to draw further connections between nutrition and medical diagnoses. In doing so, this is an example of artistic pathos, which is highlighted by vivid descriptions and purposeful identification with the content through emotional appeal (Walzer).
The education system is founded upon the idea of teachers and professors as deliberative rhetors and we students as the audience with the aim of persuasion in a classroom setting. Educators rely on Ethos, Logos, and Pathos in order to maximize their teaching and help we as students to develop a deep understanding of the class as a whole. By building upon their credibility as professors, they work to explain the reasoning and logic behind the theories, with support from techniques that appeal to our emotions all so that we can relate our classes to real- world issues. As I said before, we were never taught how to learn. What, then, is the difference between a successful student like me, and a peer who is struggling through the semester? The answer lies in our professors. Unfortunately, there are still some teachers and professors who have not yet realized the vast range of tools at their disposal that can be used to enhance their role as a speaker to their target audience. That is, they have yet to acknowledge the fact that as teachers, they are rhetors. Those educators who have recognized the importance of words and rhetorical tools that they can take advantage of in their classroom ultimately have better classroom interactions and understanding. By becoming an effective and inspiring deliberative rhetors, they are more likely to be able to persuade their audience to develop a deeper understanding of their lectures. I can honestly say that I am fortunate to have had such amazing teachers and professors thus far to guide me in my academic journey.
Aristotle. The Internet Classics Archive: Rhetoric by Aristotle. The Internet Classics Archive |Rhetoric by Aristotle. http://classics.mit.edu/Aristotle/rhetoric.html.
Camille A. Langston. How to use rhetoric to get what you want. (n.d.). TED-Ed. Retrieved March 15, 2021, from https://ed.ted.com/lessons/how-to-use-rhetoric-to-get-what-you-want-camille-a-langston
Garver, E. (2009). Aristotle on the Kinds of Rhetoric. Rhetorica, 27(1), 1–18. https://doi.org/10.1525/rh.2009.27.1.1
Silva Rhetoricae: The Forest of Rhetoric. (n.d.). Retrieved March 15, 2021, from http://rhetoric.byu.edu/
Walzer, B. (2015). Deliberative Acts: Democracy, Rhetoric, and Rights by Arabella Lyon (review). Philosophy & Rhetoric, 48(1), 107–116. https://muse.jhu.edu/article/572066