As the Introduction to this volume points out, all of the approaches to argumentation collected here offer some form of alternative to the "argument as war" metaphor. In each approach, "argument" is redefined as one or another form of negotiated inquiry into common grounds for belief.
Rogerian rhetoric also moves away from a combative stance, but is distinct from other models of argumentation in three ways. First, it goes even farther than most other models in avoiding an adversarial approach. Second, it offers specific strategies based on nondirective therapy for building the co-operative bridges necessary for noncombative inquiry. Third, and in my opinion most important, it has the potential to offer students an opportunity for long-term cognitive and ethical growth.
Ever since Young, Becker and Pike introduced the discipline of composition to Rogerian rhetoric in 1970, our profession has remained deeply divided over whether such a rhetoric is conceptually sound, useful in practice, or even possible. Some have argued that it is nothing but warmed- over Aristotelian rhetoric (Lunsford 1979); others, that it is untrue to Carl Rogers' principles (Mader 1980), or that it is a cumbersome welding-together of persuasion and non-directive therapy, two fundamentally incompatible processes (Ede 1984). All of these criticisms point to real problems with the model, problems which often reflect the way it has been conceptualized by its proponents. Nonetheless, the literature of composition studies reflects a continuing fascination with Rogerian principles. Textbooks continue to suggest these principles as alternative methods of persuasion (Coe 1990; Flower 1993), and a recent collection edited by Nathaniel Teich (1992a) presents a wide variety of both philosophical and pedagogical investigations into Rogerian perspectives.
In this chapter I will try to account for this continuing fascination with Rogerian rhetoric and explain what it can offer that no other approach to argumentation can quite match. To do so I will briefly survey the history of Rogerian rhetoric and outline its basic principles. Then I will discuss some of the ways in which Rogerian principles can be used in practice to teach both a technique of inquiry and an ethic of inquiry.
BACKGROUND: ROGERIAN THERAPY AND ROGERIAN RHETORIC
Carl Rogers is more familiar to many as a therapist than as a rhetorician. However, the goal of therapy, like the goal of rhetoric, can be broadly described as "attitude change." Whereas the rhetorician may want his audience to adopt certain specific beliefs, the therapist may not--in fact, should not--have a clear model of specific behaviors which he wants the client to adopt in place of the dysfunctional ones that brought her into therapy in the first place. Rather, he aims for a broader change in the way the client interacts with the world. Nonetheless, the essence of both arts is to induce change through verbal means--Plato's "art of influencing the soul through words" (1956, 48).
Rogerian therapy informs rhetoric by offering a new way of thinking about the means of inducing change. Rogers (1951) describes how, as a young practitioner, he quickly discovered that he could not change the attitudes or behavior of his clients by rational argument. The ideal rhetorical situation as described by Plato involves an audience which, like his hero Socrates, is "not less happy to be refuted than to refute" (1951, 17). Alas, this attitude is rare among real, vulnerable human beings who are not characters in a Platonic dialogue. Clients in therapy, at the peak of their vulnerability, are particularly unhappy to be refuted. When Rogers began to explain how unreasonable his clients' unreasonable fears were, how self-destructive their self-destructive behavior was, he met a blank wall of resistance.
The problem, he decided, was that rational argument of this type always implies a form of evaluation. Argument may convince a person to buy this kind of car or to vote for that politician, but the closer the subject of argument comes to the beliefs that constitute the core of a person's sense of self, of identity, the more any attempt to change beliefs is perceived as a threat and met with walls of defence.
The way around these walls, Rogers discovered, was to change the role of the therapist. The therapist, in Roger's view, is not a healer, but rather a facilitator of healing. She does not explain her point of view to the client, but instead listens actively to the client as he gets in touch with his own thoughts and emotions and does his own healing.
For the art of rhetoric, the most immediately useful aspect of Rogerian therapy is the specific technique that Rogers developed to facilitate this self-healing process. This technique is called "restatement" or "saying back." Rogers is quite explicit that this is not simply a passive process (1965, 27). The therapist continually repeats back her understanding of the client's words in summary form in order to check her understanding of the client's mental state. Thus the therapist might say, "It sounds as though what you are really saying is that you hate your father." The client might respond, "No, that's not quite it," and the therapist would continue with more probes such as, "Well, perhaps you were just angry with him at that moment." Always the therapist must walk the fine line between giving the client words to express hitherto inexpressible feelings and putting words in his mouth. As a therapeutic tool, Rogerian reflection is both difficult--it can quickly degenerate into an irritating echo-chamber of voices--and breathtakingly successful when done well.<1>
In this "pure" form, Rogerian therapy is not "argument." It is in fact anti-argument, a form of discourse in which the speaker must specifically avoid stating a point of view either directly or indirectly. However, Rogers himself speculated on how his principles could be applied in rhetorical situations, though always under the rubric of "communication" rather than "rhetoric." In his 1951 paper, "Communication: Its Blocking and its Facilitation," he proposes that the empathy and feedback model could be used to facilitate communication in emotion-laden situations outside the therapeutic relationship, such as political or labor negotiations. His formula is simple: "Each person can speak up for himself only after he has first restated the ideas and feelings of the previous speaker, and to that speaker's satisfaction" (332). In later articles he details Rogerian-style negotiation sessions that have produced astonishing results, including the Camp David negotiations conducted by Jimmy Carter, a conference involving health care providers and impoverished and embittered health care consumers, and even opposing sides in Northern Ireland (Rogers and Ryback 1984).
It is this power to create an atmosphere of co-operation that led Young, Becker and Pike to propose an alternative form of rhetoric based on Rogerian principles (1970).<2> Rogerian rhetoric as recreated by Young, Becker and Pike is aimed at those situations in which more confrontational techniques are most apt to fail: that is, in highly emotional situations in which opposing sides fail to establish even provisional grounds for discussion. Young, Becker and Pike recommend that, rather than trying immediately to present arguments for her point of view and to refute her opponent's, the writer should first undertake a task similar to that of the Rogerian psychotherapist. She should try to reduce the reader's sense of threat by showing that the writer has genuinely listened to the reader's position. This reduction of threat will in turn induce an "assumption of similarity": the reader will see the writer as a human being more or less like herself and therefore be more likely to listen to what the writer has to say.
Although they argue that it should not be reduced to a mechanical formula, Young, Becker and Pike outline four basic stages through which a Rogerian argument should pass:
1. An introduction to the problem and a demonstration that the opponent's position is understood.
2. A statement of the contexts in which the opponent's position may be valid.
3. A statement of the writer's position, including the contexts in which it is valid.
4. A statement of how the opponent's position would benefit if he were to adopt elements of the writer's position. If the writer can show that the positions complement each other, that each supplies what the other lacks, so much the better. (283)
Not every version of Rogerian rhetoric emphasises exactly these stages, but the common denominator among all versions is that the writer must state the opposing viewpoint first, before stating her own, and do so honestly, with understanding, and without either overt or covert evaluation.
ROGERIAN RHETORIC IN THE WRITING CLASSROOM
Beginning with Maxine Hairston's seminal article (1976), a number of writers have recommended Rogerian rhetoric as an alternative form of argument to be used, as Young, Becker and Pike originally recommended, when emotions and a sense of threat preclude direct debate in the classical mode (Bator 1980, 1992; Coe, 1992).
Lunsford and Ede (1984), Gage (this volume) and others have argued that those who view classical rhetoric as inherently combative have been misled both by later misreadings of Aristotle and his contemporaries and by an incomplete understanding of the role of the enthymeme. They argue that the enthymeme, the heart of Aristotle's structure of argumentation, differs from the logical syllogism precisely in that it involves the rhetor in the building an argument from the opinions of the audience. Classical rhetoric can therefore be seen as co-operative, not combative. This in fact is the basis for Lunsford's argument that a Rogerian "alternative" to traditional rhetoric is unnecessary (1979).
Regardless of the merits of these arguments, the traditional conception of rhetoric still poses limitations. Traditional rhetoric as envisioned by Aristotle and by most modern textbooks on argument is typically triadic; that is, it is aimed at a third party who will judge the case on the basis of the arguments presented by competing advocates, politicians, researchers, advertisers, or other partisan arguers. In this case it matters little if one arguer threatens the beliefs and self-esteem of the other, for it is not the opponent he is trying to convince, but the audience as third party. The process of inquiry claimed for the enthymeme creates co-operation between rhetor and audience, not between rhetor and opponent.
But what about the instances--far more common in everyday life--in which two parties are directly trying to convince each other? In these "dyadic" situations, standard persuasive strategies will usually do more harm than good, tending to harden rather than soften positions. In such cases of dyadic argument, a technique is required that will create the grounds for reasonable discussion that classical rhetoric presupposes. Rogerian rhetoric offers such a technique (Coe 1992).
The challenge for the composition teacher, of course, is how to teach students to put Rogerian principles into practice. Rogerian rhetoric is often tried and dismissed as impractical, too difficult for students to use, too difficult to teach, or too easy for students to misinterpret as a particularly sly form of manipulation.
I believe that some of these problems stem from a failure to recognize just what Rogerian rhetoric really is. The basic model of Rogerian argument, particularly when abstracted from the rich context of heuristic techniques in which Young, Becker and Pike originally embedded it, looks like a form of arrangement: a recipe for what to say first. But arrangement is only part of the business of any rhetorical system. Logically prior to arrangement--and as I will argue, embedded in the process of arrangement, not separate from it--is the process of invention. In Rogerian terms, this means exploring an opposing point of view in sufficiently rich complexity that it is possible to reflect it back convincingly to an audience.
The problem of invention is accentuated by the written medium. A writer is in a much worse position than the therapist, for writing does not allow the back-and-forth movement of face to face conversation that makes possible the continual readjustment of the discourse. But if we are content to relax our standards somewhat, it is still possible for students to learn how to apply a form of Rogerian principles in writing. To do so, they must learn how to imagine with empathy and how to read with empathy.
By "imagining with empathy," I mean more than teaching students to imagine another's views. This would be little different from classical audience analysis. I mean teaching students to think carefully about how another person could hold views that are different from one's own. This is what Young, Becker and Pike mean by finding the "contexts in which the opposing viewpoint is valid." Rather than simply imagining an isolated set of arguments for an opposing viewpoint, the writer must imagine the entire worldview that allows those arguments to exist, that makes them valid for the other.
By "reading with empathy," I mean teaching students to use the printed words of another as a guide to this imagining process. In a sense, this is no more than what is usually known as "research." When preparing any written argument it is useful to do one's homework. But whereas students often associate "research" with the mere looking-up of "facts," research in a Rogerian context emphasises the looking-up of facts in the context of the arguments that support them, and looking at those arguments in the context of other worldviews, other ways of seeing.
This kind of imaginative reconstruction does not come easily. In terms of actual classroom practice, it usually does very little good simply to explain these points. Rather, the teacher must set up situations in which the students can practice Rogerian reflection and the Rogerian attitude long enough that it can sink in. For instance, the teacher can set up a dialectical situation in which they can practice on real, present people in a context more like the original therapeutic situations for which Rogerian principles were originally designed. The oral, face to face conversation serves as a bridge to the more difficult imaginative task of the distanced written conversation.
Though these tasks are in one sense designed to serve as preparation for another, they are in no sense mere warm-up drill or "prewriting" activities separate from the business of argument itself. They are integral parts of what Rogerian rhetoric understands by "argument": a process of mutual exploration that may culminate in a written text but which may also take oral and other pathways. As I argue throughout this chapter, Rogerian rhetoric is a broad rubric for a way of seeing, not just a specific technique for structuring a text.
ROGERIAN RHETORIC IN ACTION: SOME CLOSEUPS
I will often begin with a discussion of a controversial issue that students pick from a list generated by the class.<3> For this exercise I usually depend on the knowledge that students already possess on the subject, though in more advanced classes I ask students to research the topic beforehand. I get students to identify themselves with one side or the other. Then I will call on a volunteer from each side to engage in a public Rogerian discussion (since my disastrous first experience with this technique I am careful not to use the word "debate").
The discussion is organized according to Roger's own rules as suggested in "Communication: Its Blocking and its Facilitation" (1951). Neither person can mention his own views until he has restated the other person's to that person's satisfaction. Thus the first "round" would consist of student A stating an argument, student B restating that argument in summary form, and student A either agreeing that the summary is accurate or attempting to correct it. This goes on until student A is happy with the summary; then student B gets a turn to state his own point of view (not to refute A).
The exercise often breaks down into a traditional debate in which one person either tries to refute the other's views or restates them in a way that will make them easier to attack. Emotional hot buttons get pushed, and more straw men begin flying about than in the monkey attack from The Wizard of Oz.
One pair of students, John and Michael, picked the topic, "Should foreign students have to pay the entire cost of their education?" Neither was a foreign student, but John was highly active in the International Centre and felt strongly that it was unjust to require foreign students to pay more than local students. He stated his reasons, including basic principles of equity and the important contribution that foreign students make to the university. Michael opened his "restatement" along the lines of, "So, you think it's okay to make our taxpayers pay for the education of a student from Singapore who won't even stay in this country?"
Obviously, this is hardly Rogerian reflection. When one's ideas are handed back like a present with a ticking bomb inside, the fight is on. But this is exactly the point. I want students to see the difference between this sort of rebuttal and true Rogerian discussion. Sometimes I involve the entire class in discussing whether a particular response is genuinely "Rogerian" or is really just a sneak attack on the other's values. After some discussion and more prompting from John, Michael eventually worked himself around to identifying the values behind John's statement:
So, if I understand you correctly, you don't think that the cost of education should be tied directly to the amount of money one's family has paid into a given educational system, or the obvious financial returns that a country can get from educating people. Rather, you think that a more general principle of equity applies and that we need to look at a more global good.He still didn't agree, but at least he understood John's point of view. Only John's assent that Michael had in fact got it right gave Michael permission to go on to state the reasons for that disagreement.
The process is exhausting and usually the class is over before the first exchange of views is complete. But by the end of the process, students (and the teacher!) have a greater appreciation of the difference between their own default mode of argument and the process of struggling toward a genuine understanding of another's point of view.
The point of this oral exchange is not so much to invent material for a particular piece of writing as to get the general feel of Rogerian discussion in its most "native" mode, face-to-face communication. Once I think students have got the hang of this, I move them on to the more difficult task faced by writers: recovering underlying values from other people's written texts. Again I pair them off and they begin by writing straight-ahead, univocal arguments for their own point of view on a controversial issue. Students exchange papers and try to write summaries that satisfy the original author, who in turn may write counter-summaries that extend and correct the reflected image of their ideas.
Kathy, for instance, felt quite passionate about the Young Offenders Act, a controversial Canadian law that severely limits the sentencing of criminals under sixteen years of age even if they have committed violent crimes. Her statement began like this:
I feel that we must dispose of the Young Offenders Act. It is a useless piece of legislation practically promoting crime. Hasn't our society enough evidence that the YOA doesn't work? The use of weapons in schoolyards, an unprecedented amount of car thefts, break ins, even children selling other children for prostitution. A slap on the hand prevents nothing. If greater punishment, including real time in jail were a threat, I guarantee that our youth would be a little more reluctant.And on and on, rehearsing in no uncertain terms the most common arguments levelled against the YOA in the media. Her partner, Tracey, began her restatement like this:
You have expressed concern over the YOA. You are concerned that it actually encourages crime because of the lack of deterrence. You feel that a person under sixteen knows right from wrong and should be held responsible for his or her actions, regardless of the personal situation or background which might be used as an excuse for committing crimes. You believe that we should place the betterment of society above the protection of criminals, regardless of their age.The important feature of this restatement is that it is not just a summary of the other's point of view, but, somewhat like Michael's, an attempt to get at underlying beliefs. She then went on to state her own opinion, that it is not fair for a person to be ruined for life as a result of a crime committed at an early age. But her response was moderate, and had to deal with the delicate balance between protection of society and protection of individual youths that she had detected in Kathy's position. The effect of the restating process was not simply to soften up Kathy by putting her in the right frame of mind to receive Tracey's argument. Rather, it put Tracey in touch with the complexities of the matter, enabling her to see the matter from another's point of view rather than just her own.
Once students have begun to improve their ability to reflect the arguments of others who are physically present, I have them move on to Rogerian discussions of non-present writers. One fruitful assignment is to have students reply to articles embodying worldviews that they do not share. Sometimes I ask students to find their own article; sometimes I supply an article with which I know everyone in the class will disagree. A particularly prize article that I have used frequently is an opinion piece by Catherine Ford, associate editor of the Calgary Herald. (The entire article is included as an appendix on page xx.) Ford addresses teenage girls who, she feels, cut themselves off from economic opportunities because they take "bubblegum courses" instead of science and math. She cites chilling statistics about how much time most women spend in the work force and how little most of them are paid, and equates science and math--which, she says, most girls have been "conned" into thinking are too difficult--with "one of the fastest ways to economic independence for women."
However, she begins by telling her audience that "the world is passing you by, while you're all out there spray-painting your hair purple and reading People magazine," and tries to get their attention by telling them that "you guys seem to have melted your brains with your stereo headphones." It's not hard to see that Ford is not exactly a master of Rogerian rhetoric, and the class usually has an entertaining few minutes raking her over the coals for her unsupported generalizations and unflattering portrayal of the very people she is supposedly trying to convert. Students taking a Humanities course are particularly irritated by being accused, by implication, of having chosen a "bubblegum" course. Then I set my students a dyadic task: to write a letter directly to Ford herself that uses Rogerian techniques to convince her to moderate her position.
To do so, we discuss not only the areas of validity in Ford's argument, but also try to understand both the rhetorical situation--why she might decide to adopt such an aggressive tone to get her point across--and also who she is as a person. Nobody in the class ever knows much about her personally, but with a little exploratory discussion, we begin to think about the implications of being a woman in her forties--to judge by her picture--who has fought her way up to associate editor of the city's major newspaper. From this and years of experience with Ford's writing, we build up a picture of a woman who prides herself on pulling no punches, who is easily angered by behavior that she perceives as foolish, and whose feminism frequently takes the form of being disgusted by girls who cut themselves off from the opportunities that she herself fought so hard to make for herself. Her insistence on "economic independence" suggests someone with a fierce personal pride and a hard-nosed attitude to life, but not--judging by other columns in which she discusses government fiscal policy--someone who values money for its own sake. In short, the students are applying consciously the reader-response process of constructing both a text and the person behind the text. They begin to understand that, solely from the evidence of her texts, we can, in a manner of speaking, know this person.
None of these personal details need to find their way into the final written product, of course. There is not much to be served by presenting Ford with a detailed picture of herself that is not directly relevant to the issue and could very well be inaccurate. The object of this part of the exercise is simply to sensitize the students to the idea that arguments come from somewhere, and if you can understand where they are coming from, you can negotiate meaning more effectively.
Here is an example of the sort of texts students produce when they sit down to produce their actual written responses:
From what I understand, you are angry that teenage girls seem to be letting life pass them by. They are playing into the roles society seems to have laid out for them, even though the deficiency of women in math and science is an enormous myth. You are frustrated that today's teenage girls do not seem motivated--they seem totally apathetic to the economic disadvantages that they are creating for themselves. I see young girls in shopping malls who seem to be wasting their lives away, concerned more with buying the right kind of makeup than with insuring that they will have the resources to lead independent lives.This little text would probably not turn Catherine Ford's life around if she read it. But it would be more likely to engage her in honest debate than would a text that began "How dare you tell me that I'm lazy and ignorant because I'm majoring in the humanities!" More important, it reflects a new understanding on the student's part. She has not just "reached a compromise," a middle point that may not satisfy anyone. Rather, she has thought through what she and Catherine Ford might genuinely share on a subject that she has surely discussed before, but perhaps not explored in this way.
However, I have to ask you this--what about all the successful women in fields other than math and science? I think there are many opportunities in math and science--opportunities that many teenage girls overlook because they think that these fields are too difficult. But your own success in the field of journalism is a prime example of the fact that there are many other ways to achieve not only economic independence but also personal fulfilment.
I don't think we should make girls feel inferior because they have genuinely chosen to enter a non-science field. But I guess the point is that girls should not feel locked out of any profession, and they should not take advantage of every strength they have and every opportunity life offers them. Otherwise they are going to end up being dependent on some guy because they don't have the skills they need to look after themselves.
The skills learned in this sort of reconstructive reading will, I hope, carry over from civil to academic discourse. As Booth long ago argued (1974), and as rhetorics of science and rhetorics of academic disciplines increasingly make us aware, there is no field of knowledge in which "facts" emerge unencumbered by values. A history paper or even the literature review section of a laboratory report can be enhanced by a Rogerian belief that points of view come from somewhere, that the lenses other people choose to hold up to reality are worthy of honest, empathic understanding.<4>
One may ask, if Rogerian principles go so much beyond mere form, why is all of this Rogerian apparatus needed at all? My answer is that, even if Rogerian rhetoric is best seen as fundamentally a matter of invention, this invention is driven by the Rogerian form. As Richard M. Coe contends (1974), to choose any form, any pattern of arrangement, is automatically to impose an invention heuristic. If students are attempting to "fill in the form" of Rogerian rhetoric, they know that they must produce a statement of another's beliefs that the other person can recognize as his own and can take seriously. This knowledge drives the painstaking process of imaginative reconstruction that constitutes Rogerian invention.
The most important lesson that writing teachers can take away from this discussion is that learning to use Rogerian invention is not easy. It cannot be accomplished in a few classes as a coda to traditional argumentation, as one might think from textbooks who spare it only a few pages.
I don't mean to suggest that an entire composition course ought to built around explicit instruction in Rogerian rhetoric from beginning to end. Dialogic communication is only one kind of communication, and Rogerian rhetoric is only one kind of dialogic communication. As a form of arrangement, Rogerian rhetoric may not always be appropriate: if communicative bridges are already in place, it may not be necessary to build them, and in some forms of triadic communication it may be desirable to underline only one's own point of view. Students therefore need to be taught a variety of rhetorical forms.
However, the general spirit of Rogerian invention should be woven into the fabric of the course through a variety of exercises that help students learn to understand others' points of view. Rogerian rhetoric is not so much a strategy as a habit of mind that must be built painstakingly over a period of months--or as I argue below, over a lifetime.
CRITICISMS OF ROGERIAN RHETORIC
Rogerian rhetoric has been subject to a number of criticisms which shed light on its strengths and weaknesses. In particular, these criticisms illustrate the importance of treating Rogerian rhetoric as part of a larger system of knowing and valuing, not as an isolated "technique."
One criticism of Rogerian rhetoric is that it can be manipulative. In formal structure, it looks suspiciously like the often-described "indirect structure" in which a writer buffers unwelcome news or an unpalatable request by flattering the reader. (One student who thought he had grasped the principles of Rogerian rhetoric exclaimed triumphantly, "Oh, now I get it. First you get the reader on your side, then you hit 'em with your own ideas at the end.")
Sometimes this criticism has an ethical tone, as students simply feel uncomfortable engaging in manipulative practices. (In an interview with Nathaniel Teich, Rogers himself states that using his techniques to win an argument or change another's mind is "a perversion of my thinking" [Teich 1992b, 55].) Sometimes it has a more practical tone. Students frequently protest that Rogerian rhetoric is too idealistic to be used in day-to-day life. People are too hostile, they say, have too often been burned by smooth talkers, to be moved into a more co-operative mindset by Rogerian techniques.
Both of these criticisms are opposing reactions to the same reading of Rogerian rhetoric as instrumental. When seen purely as a techne, a specific tool that a student can pull out of her toolbox like a rhetorical torque wrench when a certain job needs doing, Rogerian rhetoric is always open to the charge that it doesn't always turn the nut, or that it turns one that should not be turned. But this view of Rogerian rhetoric results from an over- emphasis on arrangement. When Rogerian arrangement becomes divorced from the therapeutic roots of Roger's philosophy, it becomes little more than an updated version of the benivolentiae captatio (securing of good will) recommended in medieval and modern letter-writing practice. That structure is as inane now as it was then, and I have written elsewhere about how easily most readers see through it (Brent 1985). Aside from the ethical issues, foregrounded flattery just doesn't work very well in an age in which readers have been inoculated by a lifetime of exposure to sales techniques that would have made Gorgias envious.
However, when Rogerian techniques are taught more as a matter of invention than of arrangement, the emphasis falls more on the underlying attitude rather than the form, the mutual exploration rather than the attempt to convince an "opponent." The goal of Rogerian rhetoric is to identify genuine grounds of shared understanding, not just as a precursor to an "effective" argument, but as a means of engaging in effective knowledge- making. It is a way of activating the Kantian imperative to pay as much attention to others' ideas as you would have them pay to yours. If the result sometimes looks manipulative to a cynical audience, this is simply the price we pay for living in an imperfect world in which we can never be sure of each other's intentions.
A deeper criticism comes from feminist approaches to language. On the surface, Rogerian rhetoric might appear to be an ideal instantiation of feminist discourse. Studies of women's language suggest that women in conversation tend to engage in more transactional and co-operative rather than linear and competitive behavior. "Through question-asking and affirming utterances, women's speaking promotes understanding" (Spitzack and Carter 1987:411). Rogerian rhetoric, because it privileges co-operative construction of meaning over goal-directed persuasion, the building of relationships over the winning of an argument, seems to fit neatly into the feminist perspective.
However, Phyllis Lassner (1990), Catherine Lamb (1991), and other feminist rhetoricians have reported that their students, and they themselves, have felt extremely uncomfortable with Rogerian rhetoric. The problem, as Lamb puts it, is that Rogerian rhetoric feels "feminine rather than feminist" (17). Although studies of women in conversation frequently show them working harder than men at promoting understanding and maintaining relationships, the typical method of doing so, especially in gender-mixed groups, is through self-effacement (Lakoff 1975). Their tendency to interrupt less than men, to ask more questions and to avoid direct confrontation, can be seen not just as a "maternal" desire to focus on relationships, but also as a willingness to give in, to let the conversation be directed by men. "It has always been women's work to understand others," claims Lamb. "Often that has been at the expense of understanding self" (17).
For men, who have been brought up to value the individualist, goal- directed construction of self, the challenge is to connect with others. For women, brought up to see themselves as socially constructed through their relationships with others, the challenge is to find ways of having a well- defined self without sacrificing that connectedness. Elizabeth Flynn's comparison of compositions by male and female students ("Composing as a Woman" 1988) dramatically illustrates these differences in orientation to self and other. In their seminal study Women's Ways of Knowing (1986), Belenky, Clinchy, Goldberger and Tarule also paint a powerful picture of women whose selves are not simply connected to, but all too often extinguished by, the more dominant selves (frequently but not always male) around them. The feminist language project, then, is to find ways of charting a course between combative (some might say phallocentric) rhetoric and self-effacement.
Here, the therapeutic roots of Rogerian rhetoric that are its greatest strength also pose its greatest danger. The role of the Rogerian therapist is precisely to efface the self in order to enable the client to use language as a tool of self-exploration. Even for the therapist, this is risky. Because the client in a therapeutic relationship is by definition dysfunctional in some way, the possibility of the therapist's personality being significantly changed by the client's is not necessarily an attractive prospect. "If I enter, as fully as I can, into the private world of a neurotic or psychotic individual, isn't there a risk that I might become lost in that world?" (Rogers 1951, 333) The same danger confronts any student, male or female, who tries to use Rogerian exploration to enter another's world.
Moreover, as Lassner points out (1990), the detached, unemotional tone recommended by standard Rogerian rhetoric goes against the grain of most women's preferred ways of knowing. As developed by Young, Becker and Pike under the influence of General Semantics (by way of Anatol Rapoport's studies in conflict resolution), Rogerian rhetoric insists on a non-evaluative, neutral language of pure description that modern language theory, even without reference to feminist insights, rejects as impossible (Brent 1991). This privileging of rationalist objectivity, with its concomitant assumption that emotional involvement destroys the purity of reason, can be seen as yet another variant on the old theme that women make poor scientists, poor speakers and poor leaders of society because they are inclined to be emotional.
Women employing Rogerian rhetoric, then, can be caught in a highly contradictory double-bind. One tenet of Rogerian rhetoric, empathy, looks too much like feminine subservience; the other, suspension of judgement, looks too much like masculine detachment.
To deal with the first problem, it is important to keep in mind the differences as well as the similarities between Rogerian rhetoric and Rogerian therapy. Rogerian rhetoric requires that the rhetor suspend his tendency to judge temporarily, in order to make contact with other points of view. But the process does not end there; the Rogerian rhetor, unlike the Rogerian therapist, has his own point of view as well, and puts it forward in concert with the picture he has constructed of the other's view. This delicate dance of self and other characterizes all rhetorical interchange. If Rogerian rhetoric is to take its place as a means of participating in this dance, it must be a whole rhetoric, a rhetoric in which the rhetor's views and those of others collaborate in a dialectical process of meaning-making.
When students use Rogerian reflection to understand other points of view, then, it is important that they use the glimpses of other selves not just to understand those other selves but also to gain a fuller understanding of their own beliefs and what has caused them to think differently from the others they take in. In classroom practice, this means that the teacher needs to direct discussion toward differences as well as similarities, and toward understanding the roots of those differences. The students coming to grips with their first defensive reaction to Ford's article, for instance, explored not only what might have made Ford such an outspoken advocate of math and science, but also their own experience of gender differences, the reasons for their varied choices of specialization, and their relationship with different forms of knowledge in their high school years. As part of this process they use not only Rogerian reflection but group conversation, storytelling and freewriting--all methods of exploration that can be and have been used without a Rogerian context, but which take on new depth in a Rogerian frame.
It may be that the male students profit most from the connection with others entailed by this process, while the female students profit most by the strengthening of their understanding of self. I do not, however, wish to buy into the politics of separation by setting up Rogerian exercises differently for male and female students. Rather, I try to allow space for all differences in meaning-making by emphasising the connections between the two parts of the process--the exploration of self and the exploration of other.
To deal with the second problem, "neutral" language must be valued, not as a pure good in itself, but in a dialectical relationship with emotional language and the connection with self that emotion entails. As noted above, students get a chance to try out their first reactions to an opposing point of view, responding for instance to Ford's caricature of teenage girls with the derision that an overstated viewpoint deserves. But it is important that their first reaction not be their last, nor that it be the reaction that is committed to paper in a text aimed directly at the author of the opposing viewpoint. And even when they are passing through the most overt stage of Rogerian reflection, in which hostile language is to be avoided at all costs, I do not make them feel that avoiding overt hostility means adopting a tone of total detachment. We can strive for empathy, understanding, and the completest possible construction of the other, without supposing that language can ever be a fully neutral descriptor.
In short, most of the more problematic aspects of Rogerian rhetoric result from insufficiently complex uses of the technique and a failure to bring it into line with views of language, gender and politics appropriate to the nineties. Neither Rogers nor Young, Becker and Pike ever pretended that their ideas were anything but a stage in the development of new paradigms of communication. To teach Rogerian rhetoric as if Young, Becker and Pike's twenty-year-old formulation were the last word is to ignore the promptings of teacherly common sense as well as the work of Bator, Teich, Coe, and many others in constantly updating the spirit of non-adversarial rhetoric.
ROGERS AND THE ETHICS OF RHETORIC
Throughout this chapter, I hope that I have been clear that I believe Rogerian rhetoric is more an attitude than a technique. The specific form of Rogerian discourse, in which one must be able to reflect another's point of view before stating one's own, is not just a technique to get someone else to listen to you. It's a technique that helps students learn to connect with other points of view, explore them fully, and place them in a dialectical relationship with their own as part of a process of mutual discovery.
I believe, in consequence, that the benefits of Rogerian rhetoric go far beyond teaching students an alternative model of argument. An important goal of a liberal education is to create citizens who are fully equipped to take their place in society. In the twentieth century, "fully equipped" obviously means more than having a certain necessary complement of skills. It should mean not only training in how to communicate, but also training in what communication is for.
Once a person has fully internalized the process of inquiry into another's beliefs--not just the surface of those beliefs but the underlying experiences and values from which they spring--it will be proportionally more difficult for him to treat others as mere instruments for the fulfilment of his own desires. He will be in a better position to find, as Booth puts it, "grounds for confidence in a multiplicity of ways of knowing" (1974; see also Bator, 1992).
This growth in understanding of others is frequently placed under the heading of "cognitive" growth by developmental researchers such as William Perry. This name is certainly not inappropriate, for the ability to think through one's own position relative to those of others, and to find grounds for at least provisional confidence in an intellectual position, is certainly a cognitive act. But it is also an ethical act. Cognition is concerned with understanding and ethics is concerned with valuing, but the one presupposes the other. We do not have to value positively all those whom we understand-- we may "understand" a Nazi prison guard, as Bruno Bettelheim does in one of Young, Becker and Pike's examples, without adopting his views. But we certainly cannot make informed ethical choices without being able to explore other points of view.
Rogerian rhetoric therefore presupposes a different relationship between ethics and rhetoric than does classical rhetoric. Quintilian for instance insists on virtue as a precondition to good rhetoric: rhetoric is "a good man speaking well." If "virtue" includes being able to achieve understanding of other people, not only those with whom we must argue directly but also those countless others, alive and long dead, who contribute to the rhetorical building of our selves, then Rogerian rhetoric reverses the equation. Rogerian training in speaking well helps to create a "good" person by contributing to ethical as well as cognitive growth. Good rhetoric is a precondition to virtue.
This is a heavy burden, and of course Rogerian rhetoric cannot be expected to carry it alone. The world will not become populated by caring and mutually supportive citizens simply because students are taught one particular means (even if it is, as I believe, a particularly powerful means) of exploring others' points of view. But we could certainly do worse than to take up Rogers' challenge to "take this small scale answer, investigate it further, refine it, develop it and apply it to the tragic and well-nigh fatal failures of communication that threaten the very existence of our modern world" (1951:337).
CODA: BEYOND ROGERIAN RHETORIC
Young, Becker and Pike end their book with a section called simply "Beyond Analysis." With almost no comment they reproduce A. M. Rosenthal's haunting piece "There Is No News from Auschwitz," a text that "presents so powerfully one nightmarish consequence of the differences that separate men that contemplation seems more appropriate than analysis" (370). It is an eloquent testimony to the need to develop and teach any textual practices, however imperfect and in need of continued development, that we can find which might help our students bridge such tragic differences.
I would like to end, with equally little comment, with an incident that suggests a more optimistic counterpart to Rosenthal's dark vision: a renewed faith in the healing power of language.
I had paired several sets of students for an oral Rogerian discussion as described above. One pair decided to discuss drunk driving. They are not exactly on "opposing sides"--who would be for drunk driving?--but they had very different views of the problem and its consequences. Was that all right? I told them that it was; in reality, differences of opinion seldom divide along neat bipolar lines of cleavage that allow pat "yes/no" sides.
Lisa went first. Her initial "statement of position" was much fuller than usual. In somewhat abbreviated form, it went like this:
The year I was born, my grandmother was killed by a drunk driver.Gayleen went through the motions of reflecting back Lisa's statement, appreciating the pain and the anger contained within it. But there really wasn't much to uncover. Lisa's eloquent narrative hide little that needed to be dug out by Rogerian techniques, and they reached agreement very quickly that Gayleen had "got it."
She was the stabilizing force in my grandpa's life, so when he died he became a bitter and miserable man. The only time I've ever spent with my grandpa is when he lived with our family after he was seriously injured in another drinking and driving incident. This time he was the drunk. This accident left him crippled and even more miserable.
I see my grandpa once a year. He is usually in his wheelchair complaining. All I think is, "You did this to yourself." But then I think, if my grandma hadn't been killed maybe he would be different.
The driver that killed her robbed me. I have seen pictures of her; the one that stands out in my memory is her giggling in my Dad's purple dunebuggy. She was wearing a short skirt, had a beehive and was 50 years old. I never got to meet her.
My family does not dwell on what happened so many years ago. We never talk about what happened to the other driver. But we never drink and drive.
Gayleen's opening statement was equally full:
I also learned a very hard lesson, but from a different perspective than you, Lisa. I too was the victim of a drunk driver, and I too lost something that day that I will never be able to regain. The difference is that a member of my family was not killed by a drunk driver--a member of my family was the drunk driver.What more could be said? What could be "reflected back"? Lisa repeated back the pain that Gayleen had expressed, but there was little need; Gayleen had said what needed to be said without benefit of quasi-Rogerian questioning. And as for working through propositions to isolate areas of mutual validity-- well, as you might imagine, we never got that far.
When I was nineteen years old, my fiance went to a stag one night. They all drank and then drove home. On the way home, he went through a stop sign and broadsided a car, killing a woman in the back seat.
From that day on, my life was never the same. While the court case dragged on, I was trying to plan a future. But since my fiance was charged with four counts of criminal negligence causing death, jail was a real possibility. Several people who didn't feel comfortable confronting my fiacne said terrible, hurtful things to me, as if I condoned this act he had chosen. "Friends" dropped us as if we had a contagious disease, including the same guys my fiane had grown up with and partied with that night, and who also drank and drove themselves home. I also grieved for the family of the woman who was killed, a woman about my mother's age--I kept thinking that it could have been her.
My fiance was never able to talk about his feelings about that night. Though we got married and were together for twenty years, it set a pattern for him of avoiding difficult situations and emotions. He continued to drink and drive--perhaps ten times in twenty years, but it was ten times too many, and it was the one thing we argued about until our marriage fell apart.
I always wanted to tell the woman's family how truly sorry I was for their loss. I thought of her every day for many years, so that now the incident is a part of the fabric of my being. I don't drink and drive, yet I feel the same shame as if I had been behind the wheel that day.
At the end of their "Rogerian discussion," they shared the background of their topic. Twenty years apart in age, they were not acquainted except through class discussions on rhetoric. Gayleen had recognized Lisa's name at the beginning of term, but they had not discussed the incident until they were paired by random number draw. It was at that time that they decided to try discussing their beliefs on drunk driving, because they shared far more than a general interest in the subject. The accidents they had discussed were actually the same accident. Gayleen's fiance had killed Lisa's grandmother.
The class was left speechless by the courage they displayed in talking about this incident in front of people who until two months ago had been total strangers. They also had the courage to revisit the long-standing grief and anger with each other and with their families. Lisa, who had never really talked with her parents about the incident and what it had meant to her family, talked now, and gave a copy of Gayleen's speaking notes to her father. A renewed process of healing through language was begun.
Rogerian rhetoric is lauded for its power to build bridges. But in this instance, the elaborate scaffolding of Rogerian rhetoric was unnecessary because Gayleen and Lisa, through the most impossible of chances, had already found the opportunity to work through their long-separated feelings in both private and public rhetoric. The bridges were already in place when they stood to speak.
There is no news from Auschwitz, but there is news from Communications Studies 461. One news item is that Rogerian rhetoric is not always necessary if the conversants have the will to communicate. But the more important news is that the power of rhetoric, Rogerian or not, to heal is as powerful as its ability to persuade. It has a power that is beyond analysis.
1. It is instructive to watch Rogers in action in films such as Three Approaches to Psycholtherapy II - Dr. Rogers. I do not necessarily suggest showing these films to a composition class, as they set up such a powerful image of Rogers' methods as therapy that it may be difficult for students to make the transition to written rhetoric. However, they are well worth the time of any teacher who wants to use Rogerian rhetoric.
2. For a more thorough critical analysis of the strengths and weaknesses of Young, Becker and Pike's entire project, as well as a more complete discussion of the criticisms that have been levelled at Rogerian Rhetoric over the years, see my article "Young, Becker and Pike's 'Rogerian' Rhetoric: A Twenty-Year Reassessment," College English, 53:452-66.
3. Nathaniel Teich recommends exactly the opposite. Because controversial arguments tend to produce intractable position, Teich suggest avoiding them and concentrating on less emotionally taxing ones ("Rogerian Problem-Solving" 57-58). I take his point, but because emotional situations are precisely the ones in which Rogerian rhetoric is most necessary, I tend to damn the torpedoes and let students argue about gun control, nuclear disarmament and such. Perhaps the main criterion for choosing between these paths is how long the course is--that is, how much time the instructor is able to spend on damage control.
4. In Reading as Rhetorical Invention (Urbana: NCTE 1992), I extend this argument to claim that all research, even into the most apparently "factual" information, is strongest when it consists of this sort of imaginative reconstruction of the person behind the text. That we can never do so perfectly--that all reading is fundamentally indeterminate-- ought not to dissuade us from teaching our students to come as close as they can.
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Science Courses Key to Future Jobs Catherine Ford, Calgary Herald
Okay out there - all you teenage girls - listen up and don't turn the page. This is specifically for you.
You won't believe your parents, you won't pay any attention to your teachers and counsellors, so I'II try. (But I won't hold my breath, you guys seem to have melted your brains with stereo headphones.)
The world is passing you by, while you're all out there spray-painting your hair purple and reading People magazine. About 10 or 15 years from now, you are going to be working at some menial, low-paying, miserable job and wondering what happened.
Allow me to tell you what is happening while it's happening and maybe you can do something about it. There's a whole great world out here waiting for you, if you have enough sense to prepare for it. Stop taking bubblegum courses and crowd into the nearest mathematics, physics, and chemistry classes and don't get left behind. Because you are being left behind even as you think that math and physics are too tough for you to take, and what difference will it make anyway?
It could make all the difference in the world to your future. Yes, you may well be married at 18. You may well meet Mr. Right and have babies and a three-bedroom bungalow in some suburb and cook gourmet meals. But please, for once in your life, listen: you will also work. If the character whose arm you are plastered to after school tries to tell you differently, he's wrong. He may say he will love and support you and let you stay at home and bring up babies, but the cold hard statistics call him a liar.
These days, having a career is not a choice, it's a necessity. You will work for about 30 years of your life and if you think that school is boring, you ain't seen nothing yet. When you graduate from high school, these are the facts you will face.
Over 80 per cent of women spend up to 30 years in the work force.
On average, women earn 40 per cent less than men.
Half of Canada's families with two wage earners bring home less than $15,000 a year.
Most women work in clerical, secretarial or unskilled jobs.
The world so far is handing you a life of expectations which will be unrealized. We are in the midst of a technological revolution, and the science courses which are the foundation for jobs in that revolution are overwhelmingly populated with your boyfriends.
Why? Because you think that science and math are too difficult. You have been conned into thinking that. There is no difference between the brains of men and women. You think they're difficult because a society which tries to keep you in your place has led you to believe that.
You think that science and math are unfeminine. That is unadulterated nonsense. If you buy the "unfeminine" label you are condemning yourself to that ghetto reserved for women who still believe it's cute to be stupid. There is only one thing less attractive than stupidity, and that's being stuck in a boring job --or being unemployed, on welfare and seeking job retraining when you're 30.
Within a few years, many of the "traditional" jobs for uneducated women will not exist, as the computer takes over. By dropping science and mathematics, girls eliminate at least half of their job opportunities for the future, and if that isn't frightening, consider the economic implications.
Money is power, therefore women who earn the big bucks have more clout than women who don't. As Senator Bud Olson said last weekend at a conference on Women, The Law and The Economy: "Opportunities and freedoms flow from economic independence." Almost in the same breath he said that women are "discouraged" from entering science and math courses, yet those fields provide one of the fastest ways to economic independence for women.
It seems unfair to have to make lifetime decisions when you're only 14 years old and the most important thing is to have a date for the Grade 9 dance. But it's even more unfair to condemn yourself to always being treated as a 14-year-old, which is about the level of treatment that uneducated, un- skilled workers are afforded.