I like to make videos

This is a video I made for my online public speaking class addressing some of the things that after two formal presentations they still need to work on.

The biggest problem in teaching speech and debating is the problem of performing to teacher expectations which expect students to exceed teacher expectations. This is the problem identified by Buddhists as “Pointing at the Moon.” There are some good koans about this problem. I talk about it in this video a bit. Much more to say about it in an upcoming post.

What I like about this video is the way it was shot, which is something we don’t teach in public speaking even though the types of public speaking our students will be doing will be highly web mediated. I want to point this out in my instruction, which is happening all online. This seems like a good way to do it.

Teaching online means that we need to study video techniques, techniques of lighting and storyboarding, but also the process of post-production: sound editing, color grading, and so on. It’s a terrifying new world for the professor who loves the chalk and talk.

Where Does Rhetoric Begin in Courses?

where should we start in class? With organization? Research? Developing an audience profile?


Wherever you start teaching in a speech or argumentation or debate course, that is where you are positing the start of rhetoric. 

The question of a start is the establishment of ends. What is the purpose of rhetoric? Why learn and study it?  


I was gifted this great textbook from 1900 the other day, and the authors start with style. Most public speaking instructors probably cover style, near the end of the term, along with ethics, in the sense that "audiences expect different things so speak the way they want. Now, back to the importance of a bibliography."

This attention to style could be seen as evidence of the simplistic refutation of rhetoric as being surface-only, an affront to the deep consideration of the true that philosophy, et. al. deal with. 

It could be the understanding that style is the only way we have to understand truth. If it comes across in one way rather tha  another it wont matter how true it is.  

in starting with style, this book doesnt mince words. Theres a much better understanding of acceptability than we get today. Most public speaking courses convey an obsession with facts. Facts are the only style needed. Bring your references of various types and you'll be believed. Qe grade a lot more on references than oration, as if we have lost faith in rhetoric as a productive, creative force for good. 

Where is the faith in oratory to make the world? probably in the same spot we left our faith in students. The last time students were praised as a group I cant remember. Instructors at my university praise an I individual student, but with the tone of surprised exception. The student is impressive because students are supposed to be terrible, and this one isn't. It's a sad situation. 

Where is our belief or sense that the world is more than a selection of careers? That making money means you are successful? that good grades mean you know things? All of these questions should be able to dissolve easily in the hands of the trained orator. Then be reconstituted as immutable truths. 

But no. Far more important they learn how to cite a scholarly source isn't it? That's our style and hence our truth. If the facts dont work, we just shrugand call others stupid. If only we had a practice that could be used to reconstitute stupidity and facts into a pliable substance for making things, attitudes, people, and thoughts. 

I hate everything I am writing right now

I give up. I don’t like anything I’m writing and I just really like reading. I can’t seem to get a paper into any shape that I’m happy about. And it’s mid July now. What happened to the productive summer?

I’ve been avoiding blogging because I thought of it as a waste of time and energy that I could put toward other, more meaningful writing. But what a weird sentence. Writing isn’t writing unless it’s meaningful, right? Right?? So to this end, it's back to blogging as it might kick start a better writing quality in my other stuff. I hope it does. At the very least, blogging makes you feel like you've done something, so there's a faux sense of accomplishment that I'll get from these posts. But I really hope that writing is writing, and that some productive recognizable but unquantifiable good comes of this in the other stuff I'm working on. 

A big project I'm working on and thinking about is public speaking. The course. I teach it a lot and I'm usually pretty unahppy with how it goes. Since we live in the era of text, a tertiary literacy (riffing off of Walter Ong’s Secondary Orality idea) we should be very comfortable with the idea of what is meaningful and what is not. But instead of that we are racing to the shallow end of the pool – the facts. We think writing is good if it is factual, full stop. There’s nothing much more to it than that.

I really want to do my part to upend this but the rhetorical pressures are real. So what is it you teach? Oh, it’s like marketing but for all things and ideas in the world. There isn’t a soul alive at the university who wants to think outside of a career path for a course of study anymore. Or if there are, they are few and quiet. There have to be ways to make room for practices of daily existence and not just career planning. 


So to this end I have been working on Roman education and Roman pedaogy, something that is similar and familiar to being a young person in the United States would be being a young person at the end of the Republic and the dawn of the Empire. Ceasar was totally uninterested in the legality and the process of what he was doing, he just wanted to be in power. I think that’s probably where the comparison ends with Trump. Anyway, the transition for the Romans would have been pretty smooth. It would have been as if no transition had occurred at all (perhaps some future historian is reading this and laughing as in their field they identified this elusion with President Johnson. No not that one, the Lincoln one). This differentientation of Empire and Republic is easy to do if you are watching Star Wars or if you are looking at history. If you are living in it, much tougher to discern. The Romans are showing us this through their pastimes, notably declamation and the concerns therein.

Secondly the Roman pedagogy is good for my purposes because it is from a society that is not capitalist. Are they imperial, are they conquerers? For sure, but I don’t think they are capitalists. I think to have capitalism, you must recognize money as a material value in itself and not as an exchange medium. Perhaps the difference is that the exchange medium has a value that can be rendered. Anyway, people who have read Marx closer and better than me can comment on this. I think it’s good to show models of powerful societies to students that are not capitalist in order to get the wheels turning that they have all the choice in the world as to what sort of system or economy we are going to have and it starts with what they express and what they say.

So I’m thinking of a declamation style event at the end of the term that is similar to a TED Talk but it would be declamation TED, maybe something like Debate, Oratory, and Argument, DOA – an unfortunate acronym that is definitely an extension of my concerns about teaching this. For most people, the art of speech is dead on arrival – at the same time, they are up in arms about “communication skills” – whatever those are. People claim that these are the reason you get hired and fired and what builds a career and such. But if you asked them to name communication skills people would say all sorts of things that are really odd together: “Being able to write a proper email,” “Being able to look away from their phone for a minute,” “knowing how to engage in conversation,” “knowing how to give a presentation,” “understanding proper business etiquette,” Etc.

I hate to say it but there’s only one field historically that can handle all that and it’s rhetoric. Rhetoric is often thought of as oratory and persuasion, brilliant argument, etc. but more consistent through rhetorical history is the idea of appropriateness, or decorum. It’s mostly about attitudes and motives as Burke would say, and how we learn to respond situationally to what texts are presented to us.

It seems like looking back at the Roman educational system – the declamation and they way it was taught – was a method for dealing with a textual/oral culture that was somewhat overbearing and impossible to keep straight in your head. A lot of the panic about identity that comes out as racism now might be because of a loss of these abilities – complexity and confusion are good breeding grounds for finding scapegoats if you are not trained. This might be why the Roman declamation cases deal with torture, immigration, and people who are political or social minorities (women, slaves, children, children of slaves and citizens, foreign soldiers, poor people, etc). Still cooking on this but it’s coming together at least in my head.

So maybe all writing is writing. Maybe meaningfulness is what I am working on and writing is simply how you do it? Still not sure, but hoping that this post and the ones after it make me feel a bit better about the quality of what I’m making here at the midpoint of summer, whatever that is supposed to be for academic types.

The Irish Times Debate in New York

Irish Times clock on the new building at Towns...
Irish Times clock on the new building at Townsend Street, Dublin. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
This is our second time hosting the Irish Times debate champions in New York. We were very pleased that the NPDA and the Times chose us as the anchor point for the start of this tour.

The debate we had was quite good. The Irish debaters are more Irish Times format debaters and not BP/Worlds debaters, which made for an interesting BP/Worlds debate.

Since I was hosting the debaters at my house, there was plenty of time to discuss debate and the various issues surrounding it. The best part was the critiques of BP/Worlds format offered by the Irish debaters:

1. Worlds format has too fast a delivery to be meaningful.

2. Arguments that are automatically persuasive in Worlds format would never be persuasive, or hardly ever persuasive, outside of that particular audience.

3. The debate is too technical, and people make a large amount of arguments in each speech

This sounds familiar, doesn't it? Worlds is more like Policy debate than we realized.

I suppose any style of debate, modified for competition would lean toward these issues. As the audience becomes cut off from the general public, the audience demands more specialty from the speakers. Ironically, this marking is under the rubric of "more persuasive" argumentation.

How far down does the rabbit hole go?

Here is the public debate we had with the Irish, in Worlds format. I hope you enjoy it!

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Opportunity, to teach

This article is timed perfectly for me.

I've been thinking about how to re-create (recreate?) my public speaking class. Like a computer, public speaking gets slow, frustrating, and doesn't help you produce anything good unless you reformat it and do a clean install of the operating system from time to time.

This essay is really full of great ideas to teach it. The thing I thought of after reading it was how to craft an assignment centered around kairos. "Trolling," as discussed in the link, is a good idea, but what about campus issues? How was this taught in ancient times? I think a more homogeneous culture, like Athens, would have a lot more agreement on what constitutes opportunity wrapped in timing (timing wrapped in opportunity?) compared to our society.

If it can be engineered, how about an assignment that has them link up something happening in the news, or something controversial, to something they think is important. Crafting those links rhetorically takes a lot of skill and practice. Perhaps the public speaking class is the place to do that.

Explanation Addiction

Wow. It's nice to have access to blogger again. For some reason most of the past two weeks had me suspicious that my University had blocked blogger for some reason. I even sent an email to IT about it, but since it's summer and they only work from 3:00 to 3:15PM on Tuesdays instead of their normal semester schedule of 2:00PM to 3:ooPM Monday through Wednesday, I figured it was just sitting in some email inbox somewhere waiting to be deleted.

So I've been working away most days but since I have a deadline looming, there's no better time to blog. I don't understand why when I have to write, I don't really feel like it, and write in order to procrastinate.

But today I have excuses that are really good. I have a very sore shoulder and can't move around that easily without pain. So it's slowed the progression of the day. It's ok because once my shoulder recovers, tomorrow I'll make up everything that I didn't get done today. Yea, right. Anyway. . .

I've been enjoying teaching this summer as I decided to scrap my now 4 year old public speaking teaching "cow path" (as Burke might call it) and venture out into the fields without a guide. I handed out a syllabus that was almost one page and have been playing it by ear. Here's what I've picked up so far from this experiment:

1. Students give much better speeches if they are given an area of exploration from which to write the speech.

2. 4-5 pages of reading seems to get more participation than a whole chapter or article.

3. Addressing concepts, or realms of thought with formal speeches as tools (say, protists and microscopes) communicates to them concepts and ideas for effective speaking that I would not have been able to do with a traditional approach.

4. Students behave strangely when given no explanations. Often the way people who are smokers behave when they go cold turkey.

This June I gave a few lectures in Japan about debating and arguing. Most of these were about assumptions people who are uninitiated have about it. One of the things I referenced a ton was the fantastic Ranciere book The Ignorant Schoolmaster, using it as the exception that proves the rule when teaching debate. Often times it's just you and a student trying to come to a satisfying critical conclusion about the quality of a text.

In this book, Ranciere details the idea that explanation is self-serving, keeping students at a perpetual distance from learning, making them dependent on teachers for all information and thought. The argument goes that ignorance is the best point of departure for teaching because it focuses on verifying the thought instead of comparing it to what it's "supposed to be." Evaluation centers on thinking - the quality of thought that goes into a work by a student - instead of lining up something that might be the tracing of the instructor's explanation.

So after returning to the U.S. I tried to embrace this idea in Public Speaking with some pretty good results. I have the class broken into modules/themes: First on the role of language, second on propaganda, and the upcoming last week will be about intellectualism. The texts are speeches, book segments, academic articles, and whatever else I think might be good to look at. In the end, the speeches have been much better than any other class, except for the addiction part. You have to be careful not to give them what they want. And they try to trick you the way good recovering addicts should attempt to trick their caretakers.

Everyone's class discussion contributions end with a question, or questioning tone. This cannot be acknowledged. I try to rephrase people's contributions after they say them and ask them if this is what they meant. They wait for me to tell them whether this is correct or not. It takes some struggling to get them to realize I am just clarifying what they said.

It's tough to enter the conversation with your own opinions as an equal. This is not what they think it is - they think it is the "real answer." One's rhetoric has to be shaped to show that it is not the answer but perhaps a poorly thought out reaction to the text. The purpose of entering the conversation as an equal is to stimulate more contributions from the students, not to shape or extract particular responses from them. This is really hard to do, and I miss it nearly every day. More study of technique is required. Ranciere's schoolmaster had the benefit of being able to teach subjects that he knew nothing about or could not explain (teaching French to people with whom you have no common language is the first example in the book). How does the expert teacher rhetorically figure ignorance?

Is that figuration enough or does one really have to be ignorant?

This experience has made me want to teach an online class as I feel that the decentered nature of such a course might make these explorations more insightful.

Unintended Hiatus

Apologies for the blog silence, but I must admit that since arriving back in the U.S. I have been enjoying a life of nearly constant work.

In the mornings and afternoons I am writing and researching, and making great progress. After lunch, I do a little planning for teaching, both the summer course I am assigned now and the two speech courses I have planned for the fall.

In the evenings I try to read or listen to something that has nothing to do with my day. Well it is supposed to be different, but it has much to do with my work. Tonight I am listening to old recordings of Allan Watts' talks on Buddhism and spirituality.

I am trying something new with my public speaking classes mostly because I am dissatisfied with how they go. The best way to come up with new ideas is to go for spontaneity - but not a class on a whim. It means, at least for me, to go with the flow and be ready for speeches and student action that I might not be prepared for. To prepare for what you expect them to do is to not be prepared at all. So I have very loose speech assignments and very interesting but vague readings.

Tonight we had a look at Rashomon in order to understand audience perspective and how to structure arguments. I think it was a pretty good way of approaching argument models. Style will be interesting. I think we will listen to and watch some public intellectuals speak. Then we can move from that into reading some pieces on intellectualism and what that means. Do you see?

I find it a hard class to teach as most of the students are new not only to college but to the U.S. I wonder what they must think of me jumping around and filling the board with nonsense.

I hope you will forgive the hiatus, but there will be some good stuff coming. Allow me to just enjoy doing my work for now, and after I have fermented some ideas we can both enjoy that blogger buzz again.

It's finally here!

Yes my Flip camera arrived. Here is a test video of one of the little pets we share our lives with:

Not too bad at all as far as video quality goes. I expected a bit more grain to it. I think if I uploaded it to google video myself and then linked to it, it would look better.

The only thing that would improve the camera as a whole would be a USB extention cable, which I happen to have but I don't know where it is right now.

I hope to use this camera to make this blog a bit more A/V. Maybe some debate tournament reports or some interviews or something like that would be nice.

As far as the classroom goes, I'm cooking up some ideas. One of my experiments will be some before and after debate interviews. Could be good material for reflection and self-evaluation for students. Capture the initial reaction, and then use that as fuel for the more reflective reaction later on, after some time to digest the debate has passed.

The other, and much more obvious use, is near-instant video feedback on student speeches. The downside is the time investment this requires on the part of the instructor. However, linking inline video clips with a typed-up commentary sheet would be an amazing evaluation experience for the student as they can see right in front of them what you are talking about in your comments. Additionally, building a useful teaching video library wouldn't be as cumbersome and time consuming as it has been for me with DV tapes.