This week, I’ve decided to go a little bit off track. Instead of a reading response, I am writing about a matter that’s been in the back of my mind for a while now. This may come off more as a rambling than an actual coherent reflection, since I am going off on a particular issue that came up as I went deeper and deeper into the Rhet/Comp field. Earlier this week, while I was reviewing some class readings, I was brought back to a question I have continuously asked to both myself and the texts we’ve been reading: must all questions have answers, and must we have a solution for every problem? Regarding Rhet/Comp in particular, must we necessarily find a way to integrate all discursive practices into one harmonious package?
I would like to argue that we don’t. Rhet/Comp is a complicated and diverse place. It is made up of cultural, discursive, pedagogical, methodological tensions that give for the most interesting and complex of discussions, out of which numerous questions, debates and ideas arise. Our class is the living proof of this. But Rhet/Comp is also a field where problems sometimes seem to take center stage and coming up with a neat solution that caters to the needs and opinions of everyone often seems like a priority. One of those problems, which we’ve discussed amply in the World Rhetorics course, is how to understand, acknowledge and integrate different rhetorical practices into the teaching of writing. But do we really have to answer the “how to” question? Can’t we just question? We strive so hard to come up with answers and solutions for problems that it feels that we sometimes stifle the discussion by reducing it to a puzzle we have to complete by the end of the course.
Problems do not have to have neat, harmonious solutions. Questions don’t always need to have complete, all-encompassing answers. Sometimes, it is alright to say “I don’t know,” because it keeps the discussion alive, it allows new voices to join in, new ideas and knowledge to accumulate, intertwine or even challenge other ideas and previously established forms of knowledge. It’s good not to know whether the cat is really alive or dead, because then there is space for unconventional possibilities, multiple states of being, more than one way of looking at a particular subject.
By saying that we don’t need to have an answer for everything, I’m not letting people off the hook to not discuss the subject. On the contrary, I am saying that teachers, students, scholars, everyone, should actively pursue dialogue, one where the goal is not to say who’s right or wrong, or come up with a framework where everybody’s opinions and theories can somehow be integrated into one artfully constructed Lego house. Instead, we should pursue a type of dialogue where the goal is to share different ideas and perspectives, to learn about all the different ways of looking at that blackbird – or at different rhetorics in this case – and acknowledging that they are all valid. Of course, this won’t work if the person is actually looking at a parrot and thinking it’s a blackbird.
This is, I believe, a perspective that could successfully be implemented in the classroom. Instead of simply discussing different rhetorical practices in class, the teacher should promote a discussion where these tensions are acknowledged and actively debated by students themselves. Many of them may not even be aware that such tensions exist. So, teachers should lay the problem out in front of the students and see what type of Lego house they will build with it. In the end, the teacher should openly acknowledge that there is no one solution to this issue. Both teachers and students should be encouraged to say “I don’t know” more often and continue from there.