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  • Writer's pictureSpencer Bennington

Back to Class!

Updated: Nov 11, 2020

Hello and welcome back to Rhetorical Roundhouse, your home for kicking, learning, and SOON, philanthropy! Last week I sketched out a few ideas that have been rolling around in my head about the future of the RR Network as a charitable organization. Today, I'll be focusing a little bit more on something near and dear to my heart--teaching those youths.

Last week marked the beginning of spring semester and the end of a long chaotic winter break. For me, this meant getting out of one headspace, one dedicated to my family's needs, my own projects and goals, and to the uncertainties of my near career future and adopting one that is focused more on others. I've always felt more comfortable thinking of others instead of myself--it's why I hated birthdays as a kid (and kind of still do) and, I think, it's one of the reasons I love teaching so much--both Tae Kwon Do and English.

So this week I wanted to give a brief overview of the course I'm teaching at USF this semester because I feel like I'll be sharing tidbits and insights from it as I go along. For those of you out there interested in pedagogical scholarship or just in how martial arts as a subject can intersect with a writing classroom, this is for you :)

The course I'm teaching is ENC 3310, the semi-amorphous beast in our Professional and Technical Communication degree major that has the rather ambiguous title of "Expository Writing." Just what are the students supposed to "expose" in this class? Good question. For years, the class varied wildly depending on the instructor. Some taught it as a creative nonfiction class, some as a grant writing class, and some as a more specialized business writing course. Recently, however, the dedicated team of pedagogues in charge of revamping the PTC curriculum (two of my favorite shrimps) attempted to reign in the course a bit to meet more of a uniform standard. This is in no way to limit the freedom of individual instructors--quite the contrary, actually--instead it's to allow creative freedom from instructors while giving them programattic student learning outcomes as anchors to help ground their decisions. Similarly, the course has been revamped in such a way as to carry a thematic focus on the subject of "discourse" and "discourse communities," that is, the way people talk about certain subjects and how that particular communication forms groups. Again, this focus allows instructors the freedom of choosing a more specific subject with which to theme their course, so long as they are teaching students the principles of how to recognize rhetoric, discourse, and how these facilitate communities in physical and/or digital spaces. Now, an ENC 3310 course could range in topics from the way groups talk about fairy tales to the ways they talk about Bruce Lee (I bet Paul Bowman would teach a fantastic Bruce Lee discourse class).


With this in mind, I wanted a way to bring my own martial arts research into the classroom, but I didn't want to force my students to research something they weren't interested in. So, I thought back to the root of when I realized I could talk about martial arts as a rhetorical act, a moment I've mentioned countless times on this blog, the summer I finally read Debra Hawhee's Bodily Arts. What was initially fascinating to me was the way Hawhee was talking about the body itself and how it could "do" rhetoric. So, with that in mind, I designed my own ENC 3310 course around the theme of "bodily discourse communities."

To help students facilitate this conversation, I initially looked at two books from which to pull supplemental readings. The first is simply called The Body: A Reader. Over Christmas I read the introduction and through many sections and realized, unfortunately, that while this reader does the really important work of introducing theory from Butler, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Bourdieu and the like, it's still not nearly accessible enough for a classroom of undergraduates. Let alone a group that may well be composed of students taking my class as their only college writing class. So I had to scrap it. Instead, I stuck with The Body Reader a collection of shorter essays more directly related to 21st century discussions of the body: gene selection, manscaping, body dysmorphia, etc. I'm hoping that the students will respond well to these more topical readings and be able to find discourse communities of interest to them based on some of the topics they present on from this book.

So far students have read a bit about rhetoric including Bitzer's original theorizing of the "rhetorical situation" and Vatz's critique of such a notion. For tomorrow they're supposed to read Swales so we can start talking about what exactly makes a discourse community. I have to say, based on the two classes where I've interacted with them so far, I'm impressed. They really seem engaged and excited by the possibility of investigating a bodily discourse community. What's more, I'm happy to report that, like any good class, they have me thinking outside my own little box. On the first day I had them write answers to three questions:

1. What is a body? 

2. How do different types of bodies change the ways people interact with one another?

3. Can you think of any ongoing discussions right now pertaining to particular types of human bodies?

I must say, their answers were surprising in many ways. They talked less about the big issues of race and gender and all the heavy ideas I expected and more about nuanced ways of existing in the world. For example, we had a fairly animated conversation about how we perceive tall people, and how tall people may perceive themselves as well as others.

I'm excited to have more chats like these.

Tomorrow I will be trying to demonstrate some examples of "embodied rhetoric" as I understand it. Martial arts will be involved. Stay tuned to find out more.

For now, I'll conclude by including my course description, SLO's and the semester schedule. If you like the idea of this class or have suggestions for how I could make it better, please feel free to contact me at

As always, thanks for reading. Happy teaching!



Course Description:

In this course, students will learn how to analyze and ethically participate in a specific discipline, profession, or online discourse community, either formal or informal. Students will analyze and learn to compose in the language, style, genre conventions, and technological modalities that characterize the discourse community and its rhetorical situation. Students will consider how to effectively and responsibly participate in the given discourse community and professional discourse communities, in general. The course emphases participation in professional discourse communities and the production of professional discourse.

For this section, students will be asked to focus specifically on a discourse community concerned with “the body” in some form or another. These communities could be interested in public policy surrounding the body (dietary restrictions, laws about smoking, women’s health, medical insurance, etc.) , they could be practitioners of a particular bodily art or practice (dance, martial arts, yoga, etc.) or they could simply share some beliefs about bodily aesthetics (tattoos, fashion, makeup, etc.). The point is that despite the “body” being something all humans understand/have/inhabit/use, it takes on multiple different meanings depending on the group discussing it. Your job is to analyze a particular bodily discourse community well enough that you can then participate in those discussions effectively in order to present a strategy to the “uninitiated’ for how to succeed in becoming part of such a community.

Student Learning Outcomes:

● Identify the conventions of discourse--linguistic, visual, and technological--within a community, and discuss the intended audience(s) and goal(s)

● Compose discourse adapted to community conventions and designed to converse effectively with the target audience of other participants in the discourse community

● Produce a deliverables to include communications circulated within the community, reports on the planning and practice of communication within the community, and rhetorical reflections on the experience of participation in the community and class

● Design deliverables in multiple media that effectively communicate the conventions of professional discourse to an uninitiated audience of new members or the general public

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