Wednesday, February 18, 2009

"On the Uses of a Liberal Education" - Rhetorical Analysis

Mark Edmundson’s essay, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education,” was published in Harpers magazine, which has a wide audience.  This essay specifically targets those who have some relation with universities, whether it is students, students’ parents, or faculty.  Edmundson is trying to show how education has changed due to the leak of consumerism into universities.

In the essay, I did not find the thesis to be directly told.  I think Edmundson’s essay has more of an evolving thesis.  There is not one sentence you can pin point in his essay that would summarize the entire article.  Instead, he uses many arguments and examples.  At the end of each of his paragraphs you can generally find a sentence that would summarize his main point of the paragraph, which all work together to support the thesis of the entire essay.  One example of this is in paragraph eleven, when he is speaking about an attribute, which he believes to be very important, that he no longer sees in students.  The last sentence of this paragraph is “But there’s little fire, little passion to be found.”  This sentence is sufficient enough to stand on its own and I would understand the point he was trying to make.

Throughout “On the Uses of a Liberal education” I believe Edmundson was making an appeal to ethos, his credibility.  Edmundson tells us that he is a professor at the University of Virginia. This helps his appeal to ethos because the University of Virginia has a fairly well known reputation, more so in our area, to be one of the tougher schools.  Another appeal to ethos he uses is he references credible sources. At one point, he quotes a college financial officer saying “Colleges don’t have admissions offices anymore, they have marketing departments.”  The use of the quote from the financial officer helps the credibility of his argument that colleges no longer appeal to the education students could get at school but the updated commodities they could have.   I think his largest appeal to ethos is through his choice of words.  Often, I ran into comprehensive words that I had either never heard or were not familiar with, and I actually looked them up.  A few examples of these words would be arcana, perilous, and weltanschauung.

Even though some of Edmundson’s word choices are complex, he still manages to keep a conversational tone and stay relatable.  His conversational tone is represented through out the essay, especially when he uses rhetorical questions.  A good example of this is when he says, “Am I coming off like something of a crank here?   Maybe.” When he does things like this it adds to the conversational tone, but it also touches on his sarcasm and humor.  He uses his sarcasm to get his point across in an indirect direct fashion.  Sarcasm is especially evident when Edmundson states, “Clearly even the author of the Declaration of Independence endorses the turning of his university into a sports-and-fitness emporium.”  The ultimate relatable aspect to Edmundson’s essay is the beginning.  The opening of his essay is a description of one of his classes, on evaluation day.  This targets his readers because they are students who are currently doing this, or professors and faculty who have been through college and also know what its like on evaluation day.


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