In this article, Crowley calls for the return of rhetorical awareness to reading and writing instruction and for modern writing teachers to engage in what Crowley calls “sophistry”—professional engagement with political, cultural, and social issues. Crowley reminds us that teachers of writing are also rhetoricians, full of opinions about ethics, politics, aesthetics, among other topics. As rhetoricians, we should adopt the Sophistic awareness that we teach in social, cultural, and political contexts and that have an ethical responsibility to teach about issues we deem most important and in need of study and deliberation.
I appreciate this call to action for it greatly bothers me that in a field trained with rhetoricians, we seem to have very few public intellectuals and in that during the last few years, many of us seem “intimidated” to teach about matters of such as war in fear of being labeled biased, liberal, and exclusionary. In terms of public intellectuals, why is it that as rhetoricians, we seem to avoid taking public stances in writing. Why do we limit our writing to scholarly articles? I once expressed a desire to write for an audience outside the academy, say publish in Harpers or The New Yorker, big aspirations I know. A colleague said I can do that but those publications might not count toward tenure. Is that true? Shouldn’t we be using our rhetorical talents and our scholarly wisdom to be educating those outside the academy? Why do we write only to each other? I understand we are trying to create knowledge, to shape our discipline, to further the rhetorical tradition. But I wonder if that it is the most useful way for rhetorical scholars to contribute to global affairs. I wonder how different our discipline might be received both inside and outside the academy if we begin to share our expertise for audiences outside the academy? Would we be blamed for Sophistry if we did? As Enos discovers about Gorgias, would we be denigrated for our political motives? Do contemporary rhetorical scholars tend to stay out of politics because of deeply embedded anxieties about being accused of being politically motivated stemming back from Plato’s accusations about “sophistry”??