Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Author Interview with Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation Author, Magedah Shabo

This Friday, August 20th, Prestwick House will debut our newest title, Rhetoric, Logic, & Argumentation. Author, Magedah Shabo, has agreed to speak about her experiences in writing this unique guide to writing using the concept of rhetoric, how this project has influenced her personally, and how this comprehensive text will improve your writing classes.

How does this book differ from more traditional texts?

I don't know of any other book that treats logic as a tool for writers. That's probably the most unique thing about this text: the fact that it gives logic its proper place in the language-arts classroom, as the primary mode of rhetorical persuasion.

It may not be universal practice to teach logic in the context of communication these days, but the idea certainly isn't new. In fact, it's straight out of Aristotle. The book is really based on a classical understanding of what a student must know in order to communicate well.

Why do you think it is important for students to learn about rhetorical appeals, logic, and logical fallacies?

The Common Core standards are the most pressing reason for teaching these skills at present. The standards for reading and writing require that students perform logical analyses and write sound arguments. If students haven't studied rhetorical appeals or the basics of logic, they'll have to rely on guesswork and intuition as they work toward these goals. But students who've studied these subjects will have the advantage of understanding the legitimate methods of persuasion, how logic works, and what a sound argument looks like.

The point isn't simply to fulfill the standards for their own sake, though. The idea is to teach what benefits students the most—and the Common Core Initiative makes a great case for emphasizing these subjects. In their publications, they say that the ability to write a sound argument is a major determiner of success both in college and in the workforce. For those who are interested, there's a section dedicated to this topic in the standards' Appendix A, called "The Special Place of Argument in the Standards."

What sorts of examples and exercises are included in the text?

Many of the examples in the book are taken from famous works of literature. The rhetoric section includes several speeches that illustrate the different approaches to persuasion, and the logic portion of the text includes fallacious quotes from several fictional characters.

As for the exercises, they range from simple multiple-choice to complex analysis questions. Some of my favorite exercises are the ones that ask students to imitate a given example of a fallacious argument or to evaluate a famous quote from a logical perspective. These exercises should help students achieve some of the Common Core writing standards.

How do you envision teachers using this book in their classrooms?

There are a few different ways to approach the text. Teachers can cover the entire book, or they can focus on a discrete unit, like the section on rhetoric or the chapter on the ad hominem fallacy. The material is concise, and it's divided into short chapters, so it should lend itself well to the time constraints of a classroom situation.

The book was written with AP Language classes in mind, but it could really be used to help students fulfill the reading or writing standards in any advanced course. It should be useful in lessons on composition, rhetoric, speech, debate, or analyzing nonfiction. We've also had a teacher suggest using the text to accompany novels like 1984 and Brave New World.

What level of student is this book appropriate for?

The teachers on our review board seem to think that the book could benefit students at various levels. The general consensus is that it's ideally suited to the intended AP-Language audience, but several teachers have said they'd like to introduce the book's concepts to pre-AP students in tenth or even ninth grade. Others have recommended using the text in composition courses at the college level.

The text scores a 9.7 on the Flesch-Kincaid Grace Level test, which is supposed to correspond roughly to a tenth-grade reading level.

What was your favorite part of the book to write?

One aspect of the book that was particularly fun for me was incorporating classic works of fiction into the text and interacting with them. I enjoyed interrupting fictional conversations to point out fallacious arguments from Huck Finn and Professor Pangloss, among others.

The whole book was a pleasure to write, though. The topics of rhetoric and logic are fascinating, and I learned a lot in the process.

What new projects are around the corner?

I'm currently working on a book that's geared towards the Common Core's Reading Informational Texts standards. This book is still in the concept stage right now, but the idea is to compile a group of grade-appropriate texts and use them to walk students through the reading standards.


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