Current-Traditional Rhetoric

current-traditional rhetoric
(JHU Sheridan Libraries/Gado/Getty Images)

Current-traditional rhetoric is a disparaging term for the textbook-based methods of composition instruction popular in the U.S. during the first two-thirds of the 20th century. Robert J. Connors (see below) has suggested that a more neutral term, composition-rhetoric, be used instead.

Sharon Crowley, professor of rhetoric and composition at Arizona State University, has observed that current-traditional rhetoric is "a direct descendant of the work of the British new rhetoricians. During the greater part of the 19th century, their texts constituted a fundamental part of rhetorical instruction in American colleges" (The Methodical Memory: Invention in Current-Traditional Rhetoric, 1990).

The expression current-traditional rhetoric was coined by Daniel Fogarty in Roots for a New Rhetoric (1959) and popularized by Richard Young in the late 1970s.

Examples and Observations

Kimberly Harrison: In The Principles of Rhetoric and Their Application (1878), the first and most popular of his six textbooks, [Adams Sherman] Hill emphasizes features that have come to be identified with current-traditional rhetoric: formal correctness, elegance of style, and the modes of discourse: description, narration, exposition, and argument. Persuasion, for Hill, becomes only a useful adjunct to argument, invention only a system of 'management' in a rhetoric devoted to arrangement and style.

Sharown Crowley: Current-traditional rhetoric is characterized by its emphasis on the formal features of the finished product of composing. The current-traditional essay employs a rigorous movement from general to specific. It displays a thesis sentence or paragraph, three or more paragraphs of supporting examples or data, and a paragraph each of introduction and conclusion.

Sharon Crowley: Despite the name given it by historians, current-traditional rhetoric is not a rhetoric at all. Current-traditional textbooks display no interest in suiting discourses to the occasions for which they are composed. Rather, they collapse every composing occasion into an ideal in which authors, readers, and messages are alike undistinguished. What matters in current-traditional rhetoric is form. Current-traditional pedagogy forces students to repeatedly display their use of institutionally sanctioned forms. Failure to master the sanctioned forms signals some sort of character flaw such as laziness or inattention. . . .
"Current-traditional textbooks nearly always began with consideration of the smallest units of discourse: words and sentences. This suggests that their authors, and the teachers for whom they wrote, were anxious to correct two features of students' discourse: usage and grammar.

Robert J. Connors: 'Current-traditional rhetoric' became the default term for the tradition of rhetoric that appeared specifically to inform the composition courses of the latter nineteenth century and the twentieth century up through the 1960s. . . . 'Current-traditional rhetoric' as a term seemed to indicate both the outmoded nature and the continuing power of older textbook-based writing pedagogies... 'Current-traditional rhetoric' became a convenient whipping boy, the term of choice after 1985 for describing whatever in nineteenth- and twentieth-century rhetorical or pedagogical history any given author found wanting. Got a contemporary problem? Blame it on current-traditional rhetoric... What we have reified as a unified 'current-traditional rhetoric' is in reality, not a unified or an unchanging reality.

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Your Citation
Nordquist, Richard. "Current-Traditional Rhetoric." ThoughtCo, Aug. 27, 2020, Nordquist, Richard. (2020, August 27). Current-Traditional Rhetoric. Retrieved from Nordquist, Richard. "Current-Traditional Rhetoric." ThoughtCo. (accessed March 22, 2023).