Tuesday, 16 March 2010

A degree in what?

An acquaintance of mine has a degree in 'rhetoric', a doctorate no less. I believe the art of effective communication is something everyone should have the opportunity to study. However my acquaintance assures me that 'rhetoric', as she knows it, is not even taught in Australian universities.
I have not checked this. I do not know whether she has either. I rather suspect it is taught somewhere, perhaps under a different heading. I know logic is taught as part of philosophy. It would seem likely that rhetoric is also taught there, if not in other places.
It should probably be taught in schools as a separate subject. Bits of it must be flung into other subjects although I also rather suspect that many teachers could not define 'rhetoric'.
Rhetoric is, along with a degree in philosophy, logic, history, English literature, French or Latin and ancient Greek, regarded as being 'useless'. People ask, "What are you going to do with it?" They then say that it would be much more 'useful' to do a degree in one of the sciences (but not pure mathematics please, only applied) or something like business, accounting or environmental protection and climate change.
I am a firm believer in people being able to study apparently "useless" things. The study of such things can end up being very useful, especially in helping us to understand ourselves. Oddly my acquaintance with the doctorate in rhetoric does not agree. For her rhetoric is a subject only for the elite, the very best of the best. Degrees in such 'useless' things as the poetry of Pablo Neruda, canoe construction and culture in Melanesia, irrigation systems in the Han dynasty and the tapestry weaving industry in France are of no interest to her. They are useless.
I am not so sure. I do not want to make a canoe but the study might help other people make canoes, I do not want to put in an irrigation system but it might help someone build a better one, I do not want to weave tapestry but many are beautiful and someone might want to recreate one. As for Neruda's poetry perhaps we need the silence of which he sometimes speaks.
I wonder if there is room for a degree in silence.


Adelaide Dupont said...

Rhetoric is probably taught under communications, media and journalism.

It is of course one of the eight founding liberal arts.

One of my favourite rhetorical websites is called Silva for the leaves of rhetoric.

And it comes in under public speaking and writing.

Some of the degrees I know are echo chambers. Silence would be welcome there!

catdownunder said...

I don't think it actually gets labelled "rhetoric" - and we have far too few students doing communications!

Holly said...

Actually - be scared - a degree in Rhetoric probably qualifies one to be a politician.....

Melinda Szymanik said...

Help! I could NEVER get a degree in silence :)

catdownunder said...

Holly is probably right Melinda but I think a degree in silence should be a pre-requisite for all politicians! That way we writers will be able to get on with the job!

Sheep Rustler said...

Popped in to see who YOU were! I thoroughly agree that degrees in totally useless subjects are essential for the foundation and maintenance of civilisation. I ought to know - I have one in History and one in Textile Art - oh, plus the one I had to get in Librarianship in order to get a job! (Actually this is one degree, one Grad Dip and one Diploma, not three actual degrees). Rhetoric - an interesting thought. My closest brush with it is the constant asking of rhetorical questions. I actually studied it a little in Philosophy.

catdownunder said...

I did my degrees to get jobs - and ended up being self-employed. Have always wanted to do one in Textiles but...when I 'retire' perhaps?