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Unformatted text preview: 434 C C C 6 1 : 3 / F E B R U A R Y 2 0 1 0 CCC 61:3 / FEBRUARY 2010 Joanna Wolfe Rhetorical Numbers: A Case for Quantitative Writing in the Composition Classroom Contemporary argument increasingly relies on quantitative information and reasoning, yet our profession neglects to view these means of persuasion as central to rhetorical arts. Such omission ironically serves to privilege quantitative arguments as above mere rhetoric. Changes are needed to our textbooks, writing assignments, and instructor development programs to broaden how both we and our students perceive rhetoric. P ick up a newspaper, visit your local schools website, or go shopping for a new home appliance, and you are likely to be confronted with quantitative argumentstexts that rely on numbers and data as their available means of persuasion. Such arguments affect our most personal and public lives as we Statistical thinking will one day be as necessary for efficient citizenship as the ability to read and write. H. G. Wells The world of the twenty-first century is a world awash in num- bers. . . . Unfortunately, despite years of study and life experience in an environment immersed in data, many educated adults remain functionally innumerate. Lynn Arthur Steen, The Case for Quantitative Literacy f434-000-Feb10-CCC.indd 434 12/27/09 12:02 PM 435 W O L F E / R H E T O R I C A L N U M B E R S find ourselves weighing the risks and probabilities of various medical treat- ments, investment options, and voting decisions. In most, if not all, of these texts, verbal and numerical means of persuasion are tightly integrated, and the neat lines academic culture often draws between writing and calculating are becoming increasingly blurred. As new technologies continue to increase the ease with which we can collect, compile, and compute large quantities of data, quantitative argument will come to play an even larger role in our daily lives as citizens, professionals, and individuals. Yet alongside the two epigraphs that begin this essay, I imagine most readers could effortlessly place a third: the aphorism variously attributed to Benjamin Disraeli and Mark Twain, There are three kinds of lies: lies, damn lies, and statistics. This witticism is often used as a reason for throwing up ones hands and rejecting quantitative argument outright. Its reasoning suggests that because statistics, which I show are a highly concise form of quantitative argu- ment, can be misused or misunderstood, we are justified in dismissing them. Of course, as any student of classical rhetoric knows, similar charges of relativism and moral bankruptcy have been levied against rhetoric itself. The sophists were decried for making the weaker argument appear the stronger by exploiting the ambiguities of language or employing logical fallaciesyet these complaints have not stopped us from adopting many of their techniques and embracing a rhetorical education. Just as ancient Athenians saw the need for embracing a rhetorical education....
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