Journey into the land of…. high schoolers!

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This year, CRDM’s Rhetoric Society of America (RSA) Student Chapter is undertaking a variety of outreach projects to increase awareness of rhetoric in our community. As a part of this project, this week, Ashley R. Kelly and I  volunteered at a local high school, Broughton, to speak to International Baccalaureate (IB) program twelfth grade students in a Theory of Knowledge class. The class was just finishing up their semester, so now was the perfect time for us to come in to introduce another way of looking at knowledge (and perhaps to encourage them to think about studying rhetoric as they set off for college in the fall!). We taught two separate classes, one each day, and let me tell you – teaching high school is exhausting! Each class had 40 students, and we were outside in a portable, a fairly small space for that number of students. For both of us, this was our first experience in a U.S. high school, though overall, it wasn’t that much different from our experience in Canada.
We covered basic concepts of rhetoric (what is it? where does it come from? how do we talk about it?) before moving on to a topic that they had covered in the semester: science. They had covered concepts of knowledge in science, so by bringing in the perspective of rhetoric of science, we connected to some ideas they had covered but also challenged them to think about science in new ways. We talked about expert and inexpert audiences, adapting arguments based on the different audiences, and the importance of science for the general public and for themselves as individuals. We based a lot of the discussion on our research into nuclear energy in both a local setting (with the Duke-Progress merger) and on a global scale (with the accident at Fukushima last March and Germany’s reaction to the disaster). The students were bright, talkative, and engaged – and sure knew way more about nuclear energy than I did in high school!
All in all, filling a 100 minute class to engage 40 adolescents the whole time was a challenging experience. But we left encouraged that the students were so engaged, and their teacher indicated that afterword, they expressed interest in the work we are doing and the CRDM program – they thought it was all pretty cool. Taking on this outreach opportunity was a really great experience, and we can’t wait to hear what other CRDMers are doing for it, too!

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