Popular Rhetoric and Dominate Worldviews Unit

 Subject-Area Knowledge

This unit takes students through a postcolonial and class reading of the rhetoric that the World Council in Ayn Rand’s Anthem uses to impact ideologies and hierarchize society. Then, it asks students to apply knowledge of how rhetoric is weaponized to oppress people to question how the popular rhetoric of the United States impacts ideologies and the social structure. 

Contextual Lesson Planning

Before starting the unit, students need direct instruction on the definitions and uses of rhetorical devices. My students gained this knowledge through rhetorical terms presentations that they completed at the beginning of the school year and through assignments that asked them to identify rhetoric in a variety of texts they produced or consumed within other units. Prior to this unit, students completed a Rhetoric Challenge that asked them to rhetorically analyze 12 Angry Men. Because this unit also asks a primarily White, societally-privileged student population to perform a postcolonial and class analysis of Anthem and of the United States, I will scaffold the unit with Appleman’s (2015) Prisms of Possibilities lesson and with a cognitive dissonance activity that Gorski (2009) outlines.  

This unit assumes that students have contextual knowledge about cultural myths that the U.S. media popularizes. For instance, they should be familiar with sayings, such as “America is a melting pot” and “all men are created equal.” All of my students have grown up in the United States, so I am confident most of them come to the classroom with some knowledge about the cultural myths of the United States and the channels through which they are promoted. For additional support, I have arranged that this unit follows a unit on advertising analysis, wherein students analyze the rhetoric of different marketing materials that perpetuate cultural myths like meritocracy as a way to pretest students’ knowledge.

Dialogic Instruction- Cumulative Activities & Assessments

I designed this unit to disrupt the notion of the teacher expert (Friere, 1970) by organizing the learning activities that help students access the unit’s objectives into seasons training, performance, and projects (Wang, 2009), so that each performance task requires the students to aggregate and apply knowledge they produced during previous activities. In the unit’s training period, I use teacher-led dialogic preparation tools (Juzwike et al., 2013), such as writing prompts (see activity 1) and guided discussions (see activity 3, 4, and 5), to facilitate students’ acquisition of skills and background knowledge they will need to complete performance tasks throughout the rest of the unit. Learning activities six through twelve ask students to use skills and knowledge gained in activities one through four. For example, in the socratic discussion (activity 9) students to perform a comparison of the World Council’s rhetoric with the rhetoric of the United states by using their skill of conducting postcolonial and class readings of the word and their world that they acquired and exercised  (Friere, 1987)  in the questioning the sources activity (activity 1) and the unspoken rules sentence analysis (activity 5). I used Wiggins and McTighe’s (2005) WHERETO activity labeling tactic to verify students have opportunities to access the six facets of understanding (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) of a skill before moving from training to performance activities and the six facets of understanding of a topic (Wiggins and McTighe, 2005) before moving from performance activities to formative projects that assess their understandings. The learning seasons and the WHERETO design of the activities means students  directing their own learning throughout the unit. They are not dependents of  the teacher’s preformed ideas. The participatory nature of the lesson gives students a feeling of “control over the problems and questions confronting them” (Juzwik et al., 2013, p. 8), and it makes the classroom environment more supportive because students do not fear answering incorrectly (Juzwik et al., 2013). The unit is collaborative and cumulative (Juzwik et al., 2013) because students combine their knowledge into a product (like a list of questioning strategies) that they use to complete subsequent activities.

Critical Literacy

I worried about Ayn Rand’s Anthem as a  primary literary text for the Rhetorical Analysis unit because it affirms the idea that every person has the free will to escape oppression, so long as they seek to escape it. Anthem’s protagonist Prometheus spends the novella uncovering the tyranny and ignorance of what Rand terms a collective society, declaring “the sacred word [is] ego” (Rand, p. 61).With conservative political figures and commentators claiming that progressive policies to redistribute wealth and government services among U.S. citizens are “socialist,” I knew my lesson had to help students uncover (hooks, 2009) similarities in  how both the supposedly collective society in Anthem and the supposedly meritocratic society of the United States  use rhetoric to perpetuate cultural myths that establish a  strict social hierarchy. Just as the popular media of the United States creates and highlights stories that say any person who works hard enough can obtain  social mobility within this structure, the World Council in  Anthem creates and repeats stories that say the government places every man one the social “rung” of society that is most appropriate for their abilities and the advancement of all mankind.

Because my students often perform formalist analysis of texts, I designed this unit assuming students will need scaffolding to obtain the skill of critical textual analysis and scaffolding to transfer that skill to reading the world around them. Likewise, because the students are by-majority racially and socioeconomically privileged, I planned the learning activities anticipating students will experience cognitive dissonance when posed with tasks that make them question the validity of the United States’ cultural myths.  The unit is structured so that in each learning season (training, performance, and project) students practice acquiring skills and knowledge from the text and applying skills and knowledge to the text before they transfer what they learned to the world. For example, in lesson five, students analyze the falsely justified, segregating impact of the rhetoric of schools in Anthem use when they place students in occupations before they read and discuss an informational text about the falsely justified, segregating impact of the rhetoric schools in the United States use when they track students into certain courses. All of the lessons aim to get students to perform postcolonial and class readings of Anthem and of  their world. As students move through the unit, these readings become more integrated. For instance, at the beginning of the unit, students train into reading the word and their world by spending lessons reading only one of these “texts” (see lessons 1 through 4). Then, as students move into the performance season, they begin to use their skills of reading the word and the world to make comparisons between the two texts (see lessons 5 through 10). Each comparison lesson has a pre-test meant to make visible students’ ideologies about their world before they perform a critical analysis of its rhetoric. For instance, before students read about how U.S. schools track students in a way that perpetuates social inequities, I ask them if they think the U.S. has a Council of Vocations that places people in certain occupations to maintain a social hierarchy as in Anthem. After reading, students have the opportunity to consider if their learning changed and why. This pretest and reflection structure highlights the pervasiveness of the rhetoric of Whiteness in the United States.

Differentiation to Support Student Learning

Throughout the unit, students will practice analyzing literature and informational texts in a variety of modes (written, spoken, visual) rhetorically. The first lesson establishes that anything from toys, to books, to films can be “texts” by asking students to choose an item of  U.S. popular culture and question what that item teaches them about the definition of “normal.” In this activity, as well as in the article rhetorical analysis project, students have the opportunity to choose to interact with a text that interests them from a variety of options. Likewise, each lesson contains a differentiation plan where I note how classroom materials like worksheets, powerpoints, and texts can be modified to accommodate the students in my class who have 504 plans or IEPs that indicate larger tasks need to be segmented into manageable steps. Because this request is the most prevalent on students’ IEPs and 504 plans, I have also tried to build the lessons so that students focus on one task at a time before reflecting on the accumulation of the efforts. For instance, I present the Mini Persona Writing assessment throughout the course of lesson four so that students are not overwhelmed by the multi-step process and by the many options they have regarding which formats they will use to complete the assignment.  Students see the instructions of each task and complete a pre-writing activity of each task before receiving the instructions for the next task within the assignment. Many of my students also struggle with severe anxiety disorders that cause them  to resign from participating in large group discussions for which  they have not prepared and practiced. I have scaffolded graded discussions like the Socratic Seminar so that students are able to prepare notes for the discussion and are able to practice answering the discussion  questions in a small group format before completing the seminar. I recognize that I am teaching a student population who, by majority, identifies as White, cis-gender, able-bodied, and socioeconomically advantaged. Therefore, I have built many dissonance activities into the lesson to help make visible the ways in which Whiteness functions so that they can effectively read their world.