The banner above stands at the top of my Rhetoric and Civic Life course website. Each person depicted--Angelina Grimke, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Frederick Douglass, Oscar Romero, William Wilberforce, and Sojourner Truth--embodied Lorenzo Valla's teaching that "No one who knows how to speak well can be considered a true orator unless they also dare to speak out." These people were civic actors of the highest caliber.
This yearlong honors course in composition and public speaking develops students into adaptable, creative, and engaged citizens. Students write speeches and essays, record podcasts, film documentaries, design websites, and organize public events concerning issues they are passionate about. Along the way, they learn how to render arguments in multiple media, how to learn unfamiliar media quickly, how to discover the reigning presuppositions and controlling narratives of their audiences, and how to change a personal interest into a project of public advocacy.
In the climax of the course, students organize, advertise, and execute a public deliberation event, in which community members and students gather to discuss a topic of common interest. For example, one group asked how we could ensure that our elections reflect the will of the people. Should we direct our limited resources toward extending the opportunity to vote to more citizens, or toward safeguarding our elections from tampering and malfeasance? Relying on their training in discussion management and facilitation, students helped the group decide for themselves that the former was more important to focus on right now.
The course comes to a close with an advocacy project, in which students address a specific audience about making a change for the common good.
An Example of Student Work
In her "public advocacy" project below, one of my former students persuades the leaders of her former high school to adopt a more diverse world literature curriculum. Her ability to communicate goodwill without compromising her convictions is exemplary of the ethos we cultivated in the class.
Another Example of Student Work
In his "public advocacy" project (select slides posted below) another student addresses the leaders of his hometown about the city's perennial problems with flooding. As a major in geography, he used his knowledge of an online map-making tool to mediate his argument. As a student of rhetoric, he appealed to the town's history and sense of pride in order to persuade his audience.