Arlene Holmes-Henderson - Education for citizenship: a new case for Classical rhetoric and oracy?
Arlene Holmes-Henderson is Senior Research Fellow on the Speaking Citizens project
The Classical rhetorical framework, developed by the Greeks and Romans as a method for citizens to represent themselves effectively in public, has much to offer the development of speaking citizens.
Finding out precisely what, why, how, are themes I will be exploring as part of our new project.
The study of rhetoric cultivates knowledge and skills which are particularly pertinent and beneficial to deliberative democracy and, in such a conception of democracy, rhetoric complements critical argumentation as a method of deliberation between citizens. Rhetorical training does so by facilitating narrative imagination, engaging the emotions and by providing a communicative bridge between diversely positioned deliberators.
In order to become rhetorical, students need exposure to the considered construction and deconstruction of communication in concert with the rhetorical framework and a theoretical vocabulary for reflecting on and making sense of their rhetorical experience. The critical ability which grows out of the skills associated with creation and interpretation of communication may help them to observe that ‘every communication situation is unique’ (Petraglia and Bahri 2003: 24) but crucially that they are suitably equipped to respond orally in an appropriate, responsible and articulate way.
Many English and Classics teachers in the UK are now teaching rhetoric (Hazell 2020). It is hoped that this might help ameliorate what Eagleton (2013) has called a ‘crisis of criticism’; he suggests that there are elements of contemporary Western culture which conspire against literary sensitivity and that there is an important job to be done in making society more attentive to the word. We must teach young people to ‘listen closely’ and ‘speak well’.
My research contribution to the Speaking Citizens project will be two-fold: policy and practice. My policy-focused research will interrogate the extent to which oracy fulfils the aims of citizenship education as conceived in the policies of the four UK nations. Do active and participative citizens need to be able to speak up, represent themselves and their ideas to others in society? Or is that too ‘maximal’ an interpretation of citizenship? (McLaughlin 1992). I intend to analyse the discourse of curriculum documents in Scotland, England, Northern Ireland and Wales to illuminate where oracy and citizenship skills overlap.
Looking at practice, I will conduct an evaluation of oracy teacher training packages to investigate what they offer, how much they cost and what the motivations of school leaders and classroom practitioners are who sign up. What makes them keen to promote the profile of speaking skills on the curriculum? This analysis will be contrasted with the classroom practice of English and Classics teachers who teach rhetoric via literature without additional training.
By comparing these two pedagogical approaches, I will contribute new research evidence which will underpin future decisions made by educational professionals about how to introduce and/or embed oracy and rhetoric in their schools.
Booth, W. (2004) The rhetoric of rhetoric; the quest for effective communication, Wiley-Blackwell, Oxford.
Eagleton, T. (2013) How to read literature, Yale University Press, New Haven and London.
Hazell, W. (2020) ‘State school teaches Aristotle to 11-year-olds because they felt patronised by modern texts’, iNews, 12th February 2020, https://inews.co.uk/news/education/surrey-state-school-teaches-aristotle-11-year-olds-1556475
McLaughlin, T. (1992) ‘Citizenship, Diversity and Education: A Philosophical Perspective’, Journal of Moral Education,21: 235–50.
Petraglia, J. and Bahri, D. (2003) The realms of rhetoric: the prospects for rhetoric education, State University of New York Press, Albany.