Wednesday, March 16, 2011

It's all Greek to me! But it doesn't have to be -- Ethos, Pathos and Logos

High School sophomores throughout the U.S. know that being in tenth grade means another year of Shakespeare and another chance to crack his code.

More often than not students come to my class expecting to listen to a recording while they follow along (like they did freshman year), grabbing tidbits of information here and there; oftentimes, missing the big picture altogether. Well, first of all, we don't sit. We act.  Second of all, we revolve all our discussions around the appeals to ethos, pathos and logos, the corner stones of persuasive rhetoric. What I always find most enjoyable is watching the light bulbs go off and the simple fact that teaching them how to examine author's purpose (by looking closely at ethos, pathos and logos) allows students to see why Shakespeare is writing Julius Caesar while forcing them to look at themselves and their own use of the different appeals in day-to-day life.

Examining Antony's monologues, Cassius' asides and the plebians' flippancy makes students see Shakespeare as a real person who is trying to desperately affect social change safely, a bit beyond arm's reach of the Crown. Yes, Antony is criticizing the commoners for flip-flopping their allegiance from Pompey, to Caesar, to Brutus and then back to Caesar again; but more importantly, my students are able to figure out Shakespeare is criticizing his audience for doing the very same thing Antony was enraged by in the play, being a lemming. Then, naturally, reflection begins and they apply the lessons to their own worlds.

It's vital to teach ethos, pathos and logos alongside Julius Caesar because it demystifies the past and the present.  Students see metaphor in action and consider, sometimes for the first time, the power of rhetoric not only in Caesar, but in conversations with Moms, Dads and even their best friends.  While it's pretty goofy, I used the video, Persuasive Appeals Ethos Logos Pathos that somewhat oversimplifies ethos, pathos and logos but manages to put them on a level nearly anyone can understand. So have fun and remember that the most important lesson we have to teach to our students is that they have a mind of their own and to find it, they have to be critical thinkers and critical consumers.  

Putting a modern day spin on Julius
When teaching any subject, I think it's important to make modern-day connections, which is precisely why I'm planning on incorporating "Tribal Ties, Long Qaddafi’s Strength, May Be His Undoing"
into my lessons at the end of Julius Caesar. I'll ask students to read the article in pairs and discuss the connections to Caesar. 

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