Rhetorical Analysis; “On the Uses of A Liberal Education” by Mark Edmundson

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The Controversial yet Intriguing Article

The controversial yet intriguing article “On the Uses of a Liberal Education” was done by one Mark Edmundson. Primarily, university students, parents who have children in collage, as well as different stakeholders in higher education are among the Edmundson`s audience in focus. Edmundson`s main agenda is to let his target audience recognize and appreciate the fact that consumerism is a culture that has been embraced by learners at the university level; a new tradition that has significantly changed the nature of the academic arena in present-day institutions.

An Open Form of Narration

Edmundson employs an open form of narration in his essay, as his audience cannot find a thesis statement at a glance. Instead, the themes and hence meaning in his arguments build as the reader gets deeper into his work. Nevertheless, the concluding sentences at the end of each paragraph are basic pointers of what exactly Edmundson means to convey. For instance, in the eleventh paragraph, Edmundson critically summarizes his point to make it clear to his audience. Indeed, it is apparent from this section of his essay that education is an evolving discipline, and that modern-day students are the contrast of what the previous generations looked like; “But there’s little fire, little passion for being found” (Edmundson 5). In essence, Edmundson uses a simple approach to convey his message, except that his audience needs to pay more attention to realize the drift of the storyline.

The Use of Ethos

In the article “On the Uses of a Liberal education,” the author significantly uses ethos to win the attention of his audience. Ethos is a rhetorical factor that enables the author to create an atmosphere of emotions, hence compromise the thinking of the audience to sail; together with him in a common understanding. Edmundson persists on the need for his audience to appreciate his level of exposure, sophistication and hence his credibility. For instance, the author tells his readers that he is a faculty member at the University of Virginia (Edmundson 12). Moreover, he is an accomplished professor. Consequently, Edmundson must be an informed individual, whose professional understanding is founded on evidence-based arguments; considering the high reputation of the institutional which he lectures. Edmundson also supports his arguments with certified references. For instance, when he says that in the present age colleges have marketing centers instead of administration blocks, he cites a stakeholder in the financial department at the college level (Edmundson 6). On the contrary, Edmundson uses an elaborate diction that needs a keen reader to derive meaning from what he says to get the exact drift of the essay; for instance, the words like weltanschauung and arcana. Typically, by using ethos, Edmundson achieves the ability to pass his message clearly to his audience.

The Use of Logos

Edmundson uses logos in his arguments. Logos is a rhetorical feature that outlines how meaning is created in the discussions of the author. Consequently, Edmundson has differentiates opinions from evidence-based facts in his article. It is apparent that the school environment has faced more compromise in the present age than in the last two decades and beyond. As such, Edmundson appreciates that the school environment has been evolving. Nevertheless, the challenges that higher education has undergone do not in any way favor intellectual progress according to Edmundson.

The Use of Pathos

Edmundson also uses pathos to convey his message. Pathos is a rhetorical feature that enables the author to appeal to both the diversity and the culture of his audience. It is critical that Edmundson uses pathos for him to relate to different people who happen to be critical in his audience. For instance, the beliefs, behavior, and traditions of learners, parents, policymakers in collages, and professors are different. Therefore, Edmundson has used ethos to remain relevant among the various social categories of his audience. Edmundson has differentiated his content into distinctive segments, such that everyone feels covered and individually addressed on what has gone wrong and what should be done to rectify the course of higher education. Therefore, pathos has been instrumentally employed by Edmundson in his “On the Uses of a Liberal education” to achieve the relevance for diversity.

Effective Communication Techniques

Despite the use of complex diction, the author effectively manages to communicate because of his ability to use short sentences which are easy to comprehend. The communication tone that cuts across the whole essay is an essential mechanism through which Edmundson passes his arguments across. The use of rhetorical questions is one such fundamental technique that enables the author to establish a two-way communication platform. For example, the humor and effectiveness that comes with a statement “Am I coming off like something of a crank here? Maybe” is critical in the conversational writing skills by Edmundson (Edmundson 5). On the contrary, Edmundson uses sarcasm to challenge his audience to relate what he says in theory to what exactly happens in practical life. For example, Edmundson argues “Clearly even the author of the Declaration of Independence endorses the turning of his university into a sports-and-fitness emporium” (Edmundson 21). Such information creates a common platform upon which the author and his audience can directly interact.

The Changing Nature of University Education

One of the fundamental arguments the author makes is that university education is no longer as meaningful as it used to be. Instead, higher education has become a subject of compromise, whereby students are entertained by not only the collages but also by their professors. In essence, students no longer go to college to get the highly revered knowledge that makes one a different person by the time of graduation (Edmundson 15). In modern-day classes, the author says, students are often careful not to make any mistakes, even during question-answer session. Because nobody wishes to appear like he or she does not know certain concepts in class, they end up defending ignorance and hence making education lose its essential meaning. Indeed, it is true when the author asserts that modern-day colleges seek to gain attention from students and that educators always endeavor to create a platform that makes them entertaining to the learners. Instead of promoting and advancing real issues in academic curriculum, universities have become a destination where brands for sports and clubs seek advertisement platforms for increased profit margins in the marketplace. Most colleges have shaped their mission and vision statements to appeal to new learners who would join the respective institutions in the future. In fact, instead of critiquing and improving the teaching curriculum, the agenda that has gained more attention is the aspect of aesthetics, such that every college wants to have the best administration building, swimming pool, and gym within the neighborhood (Edmundson 7). In essence, Edmundson maintains that academic priorities have been put upside down in modern-day intuitions of higher learning.

The Role of Parents and Students

To the most part, the standards of college education have been lowered because of the compromising relationship between parents and the stakeholders who have the responsibility of making suitable and progressive policies for the intuitions. Indeed, parents have always challenged universities to adopt the measure, rules, and curriculums that would make it expressly easier for all students to pass their examinations. Consequently, students enjoy an environment that does not challenge them to think, reason, or embrace critical thinking to excel in their assignments (Edmundson 18). Nevertheless, Edmundson does not leave out the critical role learners should play in their education. Because he appreciates that times have changed and the environment at school is no longer favorable for deliberate intellectual development, students have to take control of their academic environment. For instance, instead of embracing modern fashion, partying, and avoiding intensive studies, students should indeed go back to the times of preceding generations and find meaning in education. Therefore, Edmundson remains a relevant voice to all categories of his audience; the educators, parents, and the learners.

The Need for Accountability

Therefore, “On the Uses of a Liberal Education” is an article that lays the platform for Edmundson to make observations of how education has changed over time. Nevertheless, some of the statements he makes are not only provocative but controversial. For instance, he maintains that when he goes to give is lectures; he does so in a manner that would reward him genuine commendation when the term comes to an end. In essence, students have to evaluate their educators once the course is successfully completed. In this regard, Edmundson asserts the need for accountability among the teaching staff. Every professor who has the obligation to give a lecture to his or her learners must always appreciate the importance of competence, reliability, and reason. However, Edmundson is bitter that the reports his students make of him are not what he expects of them. For instance, he is expectant that his student comment on how the course has impacted their lives and changed the way they view the world around them. As such, an understandable comment that he is humorous or a jovial professor does not make him happy. Furthermore, he finds disgust in the teaching staff that has lowered the standards of education in universities. Typically, students should join the university to acquire education unconditionally, whether the learning environment and the learning material would be students friendly or otherwise. Nonetheless, institutions in the present age have chosen to remain subject to students’ wishes, hence interfering with the otherwise meaningful curriculum that learners should be subject to.

The Need for a Diverse Environment

On the one hand, Edmundson is right to argue that the framework through which education is being dispensed in colleges should be changed. On the other, Edmundson is not expressly correct when he outlines the exact challenges afflicting modern day education in institutions of higher learning. In essence, students need a diverse environment to make their learning memorable. Furthermore, the nature teaching different professors embrace is critical, to make school a place of enrichment socially and emotionally. However, if all educators become charismatic, strictly focused on the academic material, and unconcerned about the world around them, then their students would become like robots who cannot adapt to the globalized and rapidly evolving world.

Work Cited

Edmundson, Mark. “Harper’s Magazine; On the Uses of A Liberal Education.” Hazen pamphlets ;

2015: PP. 1–32.

August 21, 2023




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