More than a mere device

May 9, 2013

In her defence of creative writing, Fay Weldon argues that our schools and universities need a new discipline called literacy (“Persuasion: teaching not the what, but the how, of crafting words”, 2 May). Such a discipline, however, already exists, even if it’s little taught in the UK (my own university is a happy exception). I refer to rhetoric, for what is rhetoric - in the classic rather than the pejorative sense - if not the art, craft and study of “us[ing] words effectively and persuasively”, as Weldon puts it?

The roots of rhetoric go back to before Aristotle, and for centuries - along with grammar and logic - the subject formed part of the core curriculum of the West. Shakespeare’s mastery of the arts of language was based on a firm foundation in rhetoric. The same applies to Winston Churchill, the winner of the 1953 Nobel Prize in Literature, who at the tender age of 23 had written an essay aptly titled “The Scaffolding of Rhetoric”.

Today, rhetoric is a compulsory first-year course in many US universities, some of which also offer full undergraduate and postgraduate programmes in the subject. In this country, by contrast, rhetoric as a discipline has fallen into a far from benign neglect. Yet rhetoric is omnipresent in society: not only in advertising, as Weldon reminds us, but in journalism, law, marketing, politics, public relations, teaching - any occupation where effective communication is at a premium (and where is it not?). Creative writing may have its merits, but rhetoric is unique in offering a combination of academic rigour, employability skills and the tools for active citizenship. It is high time that it was restored to its rightful, central place in the education of our students.

Is Michael Gove listening?

Neil Foxlee
Senior research fellow and associate lecturer in rhetoric
University of Central Lancashire

You've reached your article limit.

Register to continue

Registration is free and only takes a moment. Once registered you can read a total of 3 articles each month, plus:

  • Sign up for the editor's highlights
  • Receive World University Rankings news first
  • Get job alerts, shortlist jobs and save job searches
  • Participate in reader discussions and post comments
Register

Have your say

Log in or register to post comments

Featured Jobs

Most Commented

Monster behind man at desk

Despite all that’s been done to improve doctoral study, horror stories keep coming. Here three students relate PhD nightmares while two academics advise on how to ensure a successful supervision

Sir Christopher Snowden, former Universities UK president, attacks ratings in wake of Southampton’s bronze award

opinion illustration

Eliminating cheating services, even if it were possible, would do nothing to address students’ and universities’ lack of interest in learning, says Stuart Macdonald

Female professor

New data show proportion of professors who are women has declined at some institutions

celebrate, cheer, tef results

Emilie Murphy calls on those who challenged the teaching excellence framework methodology in the past to stop sharing their university ratings with pride