The Rhetoric of NO – a textbook for all times?

With a few minor changes [in square brackets], these are the opening two paragraphs of a book I picked up at the local used book store, COAS:

“Today’s college [undergraduates bring] the world into the classroom with [them], like it or not. [They want] to read about [their] world, to think about ideas germane to it, and to communicate with it. The current demand for ‘relevance’ in education demonstrates young people’s concern for understanding contemporary issues and for responding to these issues. The Rhetoric of NO is our response to this concern.

“Bored by a daily pablum of advertisements, political gamesmanship, and innocuous ‘position’ essays disguised as controversy, the student begins to hunger for real argument, for responsible conviction. This collection speaks to that student by concentrating on a dominant characteristic of our contemporary dialogue—that of dissent. Each essay, with its own distinctive voice, is saying no in one way or another to the ‘unexamined lives’ of [people] and the blind assumptions of a fearful and violent age. Taken together, they deal with many of the unresolved controversies of our time” (The Rhetoric of NO, edited by Ray Fabrizio, Edith Karas, and Ruth Menmuir. Holt, Rinehart and Winston, Inc., 1970, p. v).

Fifty years. This could have been, was likely, or was very much like the ‘writing’ text many of us had during our first foray into higher education. I think I would have preferred UC’s English 1A and 1B using this text, or a text like it, rather than the texts that were in use at UCSB during my first academic misadventure.

Here are some representative voices sampled by the editors: Nietzsche, Twain, Hitler (recall that, at the time of publication, Nazism was temporally closer to the audience for this text than the text itself is to today; George Lincoln Rockwell, founder of the American Nazi Party, had been assassinated just three years prior to publication), Malcom X, George Wallace, Stokely Carmichael, Eldridge Cleaver, Plato, Thomas Jefferson, Clarence Darrow, Barry Goldwater, Thoreau, Tolstoy, Gandhi, Camus, Rachel Carson, James Baldwin, MLK, Jr., Hunter S. Thompson, Ferlinghetti, Lenny Bruce, Dick Gregory. And there are others less familiar.

Aside from the ‘dated’ nature of the voices represented, do you think the book and, if not its specific selections, its broad sampling of voices might still be relevant?

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