AP Language and Composition

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AP Language and Composition
Department Language Arts
Teacher Jesse Stallings
Sessions 3

Course Description

If you need to get in contact with me, email or come by my room before school.

If you need to know what we did in class, check the blog: WinsomeScholar

The primary focus of this course will be the active study and evaluation of rhetorical devices in several canonical works: Immanuel Kant’sCritique of Practical Reason—Begin this as soon as possible; his discourse on ethics (particularly the categorical imperative) can seem daunting at first, but his point will be clear after a hundred pages or so. This is an excellent exercise for understanding proper logical arguments. In addition to Kant, we will deconstruct Plato’s The Republic and Crito with the goal of tracing the various rhetorical devices to an early source. For reference, our four textbooks will be George Kennedy's Classical Rhetoric and its Christian and Secular Tradition from Ancient to Modern Times, Thomas O. Sloane’s Encyclopedia of Rhetoric (Oxford University Press, 2001), Heinrich Lausberg’s Handbook of Literary Rhetoric: A Foundation for Literary Study (2nd ed. 1973), and Winifred Bryan Horner’s The Present State of Scholarship in Historical and Contemporary Rhetoric (University of Missouri Press, 1983).

For universities around the country, the Advanced Placement exam results have become one of the most important signs of an excellent student. Okay, okay, not really. Relax. There will be no Kant in my classroom. Anyone caught with Kant on his or her person will be sternly glared at—perhaps with some head-shaking and mumbling about the current state of high schoolers. In reality, this class is about arguments: good ones, bad ones, and why one is one and the other the other. (Many rhetorical sources explain that repetition not only makes a statement more memorable, but it gives it a good rhythm, a certain momentum. Did it work? Eh? More on this later.) Oh, and I swiped that fake book list from Wikipedia; more later (we have all year…) on why this was doubly terrible. We don’t even have a textbook.

We all argue. Whether we are arguing that London Calling is the greatest punk album ever or that the punk ethos has transformed life as we know it, equally influencing soccer moms and emo children, there are a few things we need to keep in mind. This class is about those few things.

Our journey begins with advertisements and periodical articles (three times fast…), because these are the two forms of argument with which we are (probably) most familiar. From there we will delve into more extended works (longer articles, essays, treatises, a book or two), then visual rhetoric. By then you will have a working vocabulary of rhetoric, a feel for the rhythm of persuasive speech and writing, and, perhaps most important, the ability to have an informed and intelligent conversation.

This course differs from other English classes in that we are concerned with the structure of argument (how an argument is presented, persuasiveness, etc.), instead of literary value. Take Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein as a quick example: Instead of discussing possible motivations for Viktor’s desire to create life, or the symbolism behind the Gothic weather, we delve into what Shelley could be arguing regarding possible repercussions of the Industrial Revolution. This used to be called rhetoric (rhetoric: n. \ˈre-tə-rik\ the art of writing or oration with the intent to persuade). It was deemed vital for centuries, but it has waned in popularity since the sixties. It makes sense: Why teach a student to argue? They might start questioning such time-honored traditions as the class bell, the teacher as absolute authority, the textbook as infallible answer to all questions. What would the world look like if people began to ask intelligent questions? I shudder at the thought.

If nothing else, by the end of this course you will never look at a commercial the same way again; I promise you will be better for it.

A Quick Note Regarding “School”:

School: (1) “place of instruction,” O.E. scol. from L. schola, from Gk. skhole “school, lecture, discussion,” also “leisure, spare time,” originally “a holding back, a keeping clear, [?!]” from skhein “to get” + -ole by analogy with bole "a throw," stole “outfit,” etc. The original notion is “leisure,” which passed to “otiose discussion,” then “place for such.”
First assignment: Look up “otiose” and think of a class that fits this description.

This, unfortunately, seems to be the state of affairs in most classrooms. But this is not how we do things at TSAS. I recognize that I do not hold all the knowledge in my classroom (see “holding back”). We are going through this learning process together. While I will lecture at times, the dominant mode of learning in my classroom is discussion. We are not only learning about how to analyze arguments and persuasions; we are learning how to put this knowledge into practice through discussion and debate.

The following are my expectations for myself in teaching this class:

  • As a teacher, I promise to never “hold” information as if it were something to pass out when you are ready. This is a good trick for teachers working from a textbook’s Teacher’s Edition, but as I said before, we have no textbook. Houghton Mifflin does not plan our activities (though we might be more organized if they did)—we do.
  • As a teacher, I understand that you (my students) will have insights and ideas that may be different from mine. This is a good thing.
  • As a teacher, I will give you access to all of the resources at my disposal. This includes my own learning, books, websites, cool articles, movies, music, answer keys, examples from previous years, and anything else I come across.
  • As a teacher, I will push you to work harder than you think possible. I do this to show you what you are capable of if given the chance and motivation.
  • As a teacher, I will not “hold back” when grading your written work or when discussing issues in class. To do so would be patronizing and not conducive to learning.

We will discuss your expectations of one another on the first day of class.

Section One: Lost in Translation (but with a better ending)

We will begin with a discussion of the three basic rhetorical modes of argument. In order to gain a solid understanding of these, we will be consuming three types of arguments: commercials, print advertisements, and a few articles. After a week or so, I will ask you to begin bringing in an article per week that you have analyzed for argument, credibility, and appeal. The following is the format for these. After a few analyses you may improve on this structure as you see fit, but I want to know that you understand the process before you get creative on me.

They do not need to be typed, but each must contain the following:

  1. Your name and date at the top. (This is logistical; I cannot give you credit if I do not know it is yours.)
  2. MLA citation of the work. (Google “OWL at Purdue” for a refresher.)
  3. Author, name of article/work, and name of periodical (if you pulled it from a magazine or journal) in the first paragraph.
  4. Short (single sentence) explanation of what the author’s argument is, and how he or she uses the three appeals to make the argument.
  5. One paragraph (with examples) elaborating on how the author uses these appeals.
  6. One paragraph explaining why the article is or is not persuasive.

This may seem like a lot to do, but once you start writing them it becomes second nature. We will discuss these articles in class, so pick articles that argue a point (this is important; many newspaper articles merely report on a topic, so check the Opinion or Editorial pages for arguments) and come prepared to discuss. If you have trouble finding something to bring to class, or if you forget about it until the last minute, check out the blog at winsomescholar.com. I have set up an RSS feed for articles that I think are worth reading. Snag one, make sure it's argumentative, write an analysis, and enjoy class knowing you came prepared. It’s a good thing.

The other days will be devoted to pursuing whatever topic we deem fit for class-wide interest. Lively discussions have sprung up in the past over the impact of the media on society, the “green” movement, the presidential elections, philosophies, and many social problems. Please come to me if you have an idea for a project or discussion. I will be supplementing these discussions with lectures over classical rhetoric and various analytical techniques.

The Rest of the Year

Will be updated as the class progresses


This could also be called “The Fine Print,” but it is important, so I’m keeping it readable. No Charlie and the Chocolate Factory surprise clauses here.

The Blog

Anything within this syllabus is subject to change or amendment. Any alteration will be given to you in writing (either on the blog, the wiki, or in hard copy) with plenty of advanced warning.


See Plagiarism

Class Materials

This course is taught as if it were a college seminar, but we have more than two grades (this is a good thing; I promise). As a college course, there will be topics discussed that you may be uncomfortable with, or language in the readings that you may not approve of. That being said, I ask that each of you use an open mind. The pieces we read are chosen for a reason, and some of the language may be crude. If we don’t think crude language is appropriate for a piece, we will discuss it. Everything is important. That being said, if you have a serious objection to anything being presented please do not hesitate to let me know. I will try to make the necessary changes to the assignment, or provide an alternative work for the class to read. The change will be subtle, and no one will be the wiser. If you prefer not to come to me in person (though I would appreciate that), just email me: JStallings@tsas.org. No worries.

Grades, etc.

As the number and type of assignments I give you is heavily reliant on your progress, this is at best a guess. ou may check your progress as often as you like on an online gradebook as soon as I set it up. If something doesn’t look right, I prefer grade questions via email (rather than in class) because it takes a minute to look up your file, and I only have 70 per day with you guys!

Papers and projects are most important, because they encompass everything we will cover. If you can’t do the following, you can’t write a decent paper. Article analyses are next important, as they are a more relaxed version of the essay and are a bit more structured. Vocabulary after that, because you’ll have a hard time making yourself understood if you use the words incorrectly. AP multiple choice prep comes last, not because it is least important, but because it is the most basic form of assessment. We are not striving to become solid test-takers (though I can teach you that if you ask); we’re striving beyond basic knowledge to a working understanding. Thus, multiple choice is last.

Late Work Policy

See Late Work Policy.

Return Policy

All unopened merchandise may be returned within 30 days of purchase with original receipt for a full refund. Broken, damaged, or otherwise altered merchandise will not be refunded. The purchase of software, books, music, clothing, or bread is considered final and products may not be returned.


For a full list of vocabulary, see Category:AP Language Vocabulary.