Wednesday, July 6, 2011

BYU-Idaho Teaching & Learning Conference

Last week I posted a conference proposal-in-progress. This week I've got the proposal-as-submitted. Any thoughts are welcome.


Title: “Would that All God’s Children Were Poets”: On Teaching the Virtue of Words


As an online writing instructor, I view it as my primary responsibility to help my students begin to grapple with the ethical implications of language use, to help them understand more deeply the responsibilities communicators have when writing, speaking, and/or listening to others. This philosophy of responsible communication centers on four main things:

1. Alma's faith in the persuasive potential of spiritually-sensitive language. Mormon calls this “the virtue of the word of God” (Alma 31:5); it can also be characterized as what writer Patricia Karamesines calls the rhetoric of belief, which, in her words, “labors to close the gap between people and between a people and that to which it aspires, like the company of God.”

2. God’s counsel to Joseph Smith about how to access power in the priesthood and to most effectively influence others for good (see D&C 121:41-46). Especially germane to the issue of ethical language use is God’s statement that “no power or influence can or ought to be maintained [. . .] , only by persuasion” (D&C 121:41; italics mine)—persuasion being the subject of rhetorical education at least since the ancient Greeks.

3. The idea—which is closely related to number two and which was first explored at length by philosopher J.L. Austin—that we can use language to act upon the world, to influence others in ways that compel them to action without violating the principles of moral agency. My main interest here is on the ways in which carefully-crafted language can open minds and spirits to new possibilities and new relationships and transform knowledge, behavior, and relationships in the process. By carefully-crafted language I mean poetry and rhetorically-sensitive prose, e.g., prose marked by such figures of speech as metaphor, metonymy, parallelism, etc., and with a keen awareness of audience, a well-defined argument, and clarity of voice and tone.

4. The ethical, empathic affect of generous, rhetorical listening (a principle developed in depth by rhetoricians Krista Ratcliffe and Wayne Booth), of making ourselves vulnerable to others’ language, to others’ stories such that we can enter into their experiences and, like Christ, work to bridge the distance between Self and Other.

In my presentation I will elaborate on these ideas, drawing from the work of prophets, poets, philosophers, rhetoricians, and scholars of language and mind in order to explore how these principles inform my study of language and my teaching of the foundations of writing and reasoning in FDENG 101 Online.

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