In the world of composition studies, many educators believe that all writing is argumentative. They may suggest that some arguments are more overt while others are more subtle, but they reinforce the idea that there is always an argument to be found. In the FYC course that I am shadowing currently, this idea of all writing as an argument is being presented to students, and there is a plethora of research that supports the presentation of writing in this way. However, the deeper I’m immersed in writing studies, the more I believe that presentation of all writing as an argument is problematic for students. The word “argument” carries a specific connotation that can mislead students into a false understanding of what is meant by all writing is an argument; therefore, it is important to shift student thinking from argument to exploration.
In Susan Kirtley’s article “Considering the Alternative in Composition Pedagogy: Teaching Invitational Rhetoric with Lynda Barry’s What It Is,” she approaches the idea of shifting away from teaching writing with an emphasis on argumentation and moving toward the idea of invitational rhetoric. She presents this concept as “a means of sharing one’s point of view, an invitation rather than an expectation marked by a commitment to parity, respect, and choice regarding one’s audience” (340). The basic idea being that invitational rhetoric posits the writer’s position while inviting others to engage in a dialogue that potentially creates exploratory discourse.
For me, this conceptual application of rhetoric opens doors for writers and writing. It gives writers the opportunity to shed the trappings of “argument” in favor of exploration and discovery. Kirtley suggests that invitational rhetoric “[fills] a gap in our curriculum by exploring alternatives to the tradition of equating the teaching of writing with the teaching of argument as persuasion” (357). This filling of this perceived gap is important to me because I believe that it will allow students to be more engaged with writing, from process to product.
My goal in my own FYC classroom is to help students move beyond the concept of composition courses teaching argumentation and academic writing. I want students to understand that rhetoric in writing is a tool not just for persuasion but also for exploration and discovery so they can use writing as an instrument for learning.
Kirtley, Susan. “Considering the Alternative in Composition Pedagogy: Teaching Invitational Rhetoric with Lynda Barry’s What It Is.” Women’s Studies in Communication, vol. 37, 2014, pp. 339-59.