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English 15

Course Coordinators: Cheryl Glenn and Gregg Rogers

What is English 15?

English 15 at Penn State challenges students to an ambitious semester-long inquiry into the subject of rhetoric, an ancient art that has always been closely associated with education and with democratic institutions. The course has a simple goal: to help students to become "critical citizens" inside and outside the university, people who engage actively and influentially with the communities they belong to because they have an awareness of how communities are created and influenced through language and other symbols. The course proposes to create a safe and yet provocative environment where students can develop sophistication as a producer and consumer of discourse.

Why is the rhetorical approach important?

Rhetoric is the study of how language works and how to make it work well. All human beings are somewhat skilled in rhetoric, in more or less intuitive ways. But the difference between intuitive rhetoric and conscious, artful rhetoric is something like the difference between walking and dancing, or between tossing a ball around and playing an organized sport. The goal, then, is to develop more conscious skill, especially in what broadly might be called "argument."

Acquiring skill in rhetoric and argument means learning to write (and speak) with a coherent sense of audience and purpose, and with a strategic sense of argument and design. It also means learning to read (and listen) rhetorically, with a critical yet open-minded attention to the methods of persuasion employed by others. Such methods may be used to teach, explain, create knowledge, alter beliefs, protect the innocent, recommend actions, reform society; they also may be used to manipulate, exploit, and deceive.

What else do I need to know?

This course asks not simply for self-expression, but for student participation in public discourse on matters of public interest--such as might be expected of educated adults in the world outside of school. Interesting, important discourse develops not in isolated egos, but within communities committed to some mutual inquiry or to some shared question. In consequence, this course depends greatly on what students bring to it, so students must provide a real commitment to the work and to their peers in the classroom. The University sometimes estimates that students should spend a minimum of two hours of study time outside of class for every hour in class, so in this course students can expect to have various kinds of reading and writing homework due at virtually every meeting of this class.

Links for Instructors

Required Concepts and Skills--Here you can find the skills that are taught in English 15.

Responsibilities of Teachers with Students in English 005--Here you can find more information about recommending students for English 005, and what having a student in English 005 looks like.

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