APU Honors College Rhetoric Groups
If the idea of a lonely genius working in bleak isolation is a myth, if greatness is really catalyzed by the presence of others, we should take note. And perhaps we should try to do what the Inklings did. In our own creative endeavors. In invention and technology. In business. In research, community service, and out reach.
—Dr. Diana Glyer, Bandersnatch, page 161
In this passage, Dr. Diana Glyer encourages her readers to take a cue from the Inklings - a collaborative group of writers that included J. R. R. Tolkien and C. S. Lewis - and recognize that working with others inspires originality, challenges ideas, and ultimately strengthens all “creative endeavors.”
Glyer’s work looms large behind the way she and her colleagues have structured APU’s honors college program. This semester, I have the pleasure of teaching a Rhetoric Group class, which is one of six key components of the immersive honors-college experience. In addition to traditional lectures, students deliver speeches, attend events in the greater Los Angeles area, and collaborate on large-scale research projects.
Rhetoric Groups function as the collaborative fulcrum of these other parts. Inspired by Dr. Glyer’s work, Rhetoric Groups provide a collaborative space for students to engage one and another’s writing and ideas.
Unlike lectures or workshops, Rhetoric Group meetings function like large writing center appointments.
Instead of describing these dynamic meetings myself or using the description from the APU website, I will let the students tell you what exactly their groups are up to.
During one class session, I asked students to develop a mission statement for their groups; their insightful responses are below.
Group 1: The purpose of our Rhetoric Group is multifaceted. We want to seek to help each other develop ideas past the superficial. We seek to make one another clearer communicators. We refine and weed out distractions. By having others around us, we can better to bridge the gap between what we mean and what we say.
We are also a group of idea-makers. If one of us has a certain topic in mind, the rest of us jump in to offer fresh insights, potential evidence, and constructive criticism as necessary. We are not shy to give praise or critique. There have been several times when one of us enters with nothing more than a wisp of an idea, but leave with a concrete understanding. We are equipped to carry out the steps necessary to complete our creative process.
Rhetoric group challenges us to grow in expressing our personal views as well. It is one thing to come in with an idea that has never been heard before by anyone else on the planet. It is another to share it and take ownership for one’s idea. Once we vocalize our ideas to the group, it helps us to begin the process of investigating what we believe, why, and whether or not it is truly valid. In our Rhetoric Group, critique is not an attack on your character; instead, it is the step towards improving ourselves in the end.
Critique, ideas, praise, and refinement: this is what our Rhetoric Group strives to inspire.
Group 2: Our rhetoric group is a collaboration of thinkers who help mold each others’ ideas into articulate conversation with each other and with classical authors. Together, we work to focus our ideas and grow as writers and thinkers and friends who want to do their best work.
Our style of interaction allows us to give and receive feedback from a new perspective, where we each come as unique individuals interacting and wrestling with the same texts. This is a safe place to struggle with big ideas and not know exactly what the answer is, where we can seek truth together.
Since we are all vocal and free with our ideas, it sparks creative conversation and leads us towards ideas that we would never have come to by ourselves. When we strive, we strive together, and when we take criticism, we take it as a group. Our individual minds create an ever-changing discussion, moving from many ideas into a collective view on a subject. We find our flaw in continual conversation, but that flaw becomes our greatest strength when we focus down into one mind. Together, we are seeking to learn to take criticism and use it to better ourselves and work.
Group 3: Rhetoric groups act as a place to bounce creative ideas off one another, allowing us to pitch new ideas, while simultaneously offering specific criticism to improve current projects. Through this process, other members notice the nuances that the author may have overlooked, which is what evolves a good paper into a great one.
This process requires each of us to place ourselves both as an author and as a part of an audience, taking on multiple point of views to account for various perceptions of a piece. Since each member of a group shares similar projects, it is an effective way to gain a better understanding of a project, or assignment, because various members can contribute in unique ways through suggesting ideas or emphasizing points others may have not thought of before. We are able to respectfully listen to one another and new perspectives can be developed because each member is required to be a listener and a writer.
Collaboration and open-mindedness are essential aspects of rhetoric group, as individuals must be willing to share their works with one another, but also be willing to receive corrections. The effectiveness of the group is based on how willing the members are to share their works and ideas, being open to new methods and perspectives.