Building the Polis: English teaching, ethical criticism and the new rhetoric 12-14 July 2010, University of Sydney, Australia

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Arts, English and Literacy Education Network (AELE, Faculty of Arts) and School of Letters, Art and Media (SLAM, Faculty of Education), University of Sydney
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This conference is open to teachers and academics from both secondary and university sectors to discuss what ethical criticism and the new rhetoric might offer the profession as a way of developing a robust and ethical polis, where students are oriented toward one another and oriented toward the wider world.

Subject English has always been inextricably wound up in the creation of “citizens”, whether those citizens are directed toward maintaining the cultural and political status quo or whether the classroom be a space for raising consciousness and dissent. In the reading of texts (whether those texts be canonical or not), in the teaching method (whether those methods be traditional or not), and in student work (writing, speaking, conversations in classrooms) the trajectory of the English teaching profession is to develop the capacity for students to engage as citizens so that they can create and will care for the future polis. Whether we challenge our students in the roles of reader or writer, whether we ask them to produce or follow texts shaped as narrative, information, or argument, we are challenging them to construct or construe knowledge, feelings, values, and beliefs that help fashion moral selves and societies. We are challenging them to explore how words can transform isolated individuals into groups of collective belief and action or possibly groups of non-commitment and inaction. But groups poised in the world nonetheless. We are, in essence, viewing Subject English as constitutive of what the ancients understood as rhetorical education.

We have engaged some exciting keynotes who will cover ethical criticism and the new rhetoric in the English classroom, at university and at the high school level: Professor Dave Kaufer (CMU), Professor James Phelan (Ohio State University), Professor Roslyn Arnold (USyd) and Associate Professor Will Christie (USyd).

Possible topics that delegates might cover are (but not restricted to):

• Reading rhetorically – what does new rhetoric teach our profession about the art of reading ethically?
• Writing rhetorically – how can the new rhetoric teach our profession to see writing beyond correctness and a matter of social engagement.?
• Ethical criticism – what do figures like Wayne Booth and Martha Nussbaum offer for the profession across both secondary and university sectors? What are the implications of understanding narrators and characters along with student writers and readers as human beings who participate in a moral universe and who inherit ethical responsibilities?
• Critical pluralism – how can we become a profession that fosters difference without dissolving into relativism? What makes some interpretative positions better than others and how can we teach students to argue for that difference? How can we teach students that respect and disagreement are compatible viewpoints?
• Teaching rhetorically – how can English teachers position themselves to foster civic agency within our students? What are the classroom protocols and motivators that can help students envision themselves as members of a public, as citizens?
• Writing rhetorically – how do we draw an argument from our students that is theirs and not ours? How do we prepare our students to understand argument as “equipment for living” (Kenneth Burke’s term) rather than a formulaic “thesis statement” followed by “statements of support”? How can writing be assigned and sequenced to nurture a rhetorical view of argument?
• The rhetorical imagination – what does the imagination offer civic society? How can we cultivate imaginative literature to inspire the rhetorical imagination of our students?

Submission deadline: March 31, 2010. Submissions and enquiries to

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