Rhetorical Analysis on Chris Lehmann’s An Open Letter to Natalie Monroe

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Link to the letter: http://practicaltheory.org/serendipity/index.php?/archives/1291-An-Open-Letter-to-Natalie-Monroe.html

0411_virtueslide_standardIn response to Natalie Monroe’s blog posts, Chris Lehmann wrote a letter admonishing her for the inappropriate attitude expressed in those posts. In his letter, Lehmann makes the argument by stating that the teacher’s job is “not to teach English, but to teach children English” (Lehmann). He questions Monroe on what it means to be a teacher, as well as the teacher’s role in the school community. He says that the teacher’s job is to stand beside their students and encourage them to follow their dreams. The focus is not on the teacher or the subject matter, but is solely on the students. Monroe’s blog showed that her focus was in the wrong place. Lehmann makes the argument that the teaching profession is about the development of children in spite of the frustrations and challenges experienced by teachers.

Aside from considering the role of the teacher, Lehmann also explores the child vs. adult paradigm. In his letter, Lehmann addresses Monroe as one would address a child. In her blog, Monroe is behaving like a child (or like an angry teenager who feels misunderstood) when she wrote horrible things about her students for the whole world to look at. Because Monroe was behaving like a child, she must be treated like a child. Monroe certainly could decide to act like the adult she is and apologize for her actions, but seeing this as an act of weakness, she has decided to do the childish thing and plead for her rights instead.

The final argument that Lehmann makes is about the attitude a teacher must have in order to be successful. “You must approach the job with the humility to know what you are trying to do” (Lehmann). Lehmann’s point is that a teacher will only be successful if they are humble. There are many joys as well as disappointments in teaching. The teaching profession is the cause of great heartache when the students do not take advantage of their learning opportunities. Lehmann is telling Monroe that although frustrated by such students, a good teacher will have the humility to put aside their feelings and continue to see the good in the children. He encourages Monroe to correct the situation by being humble. He urges her to apologize to her students, the parents, and the public. Nothing would be more humbling than to issue this public apology but that is precisely what Lehmann sees as necessary.

Lehmann’s response to Monroe was powerful because of his effective use of trope and scheme. Throughout his letter, Lehmann uses anaphora to appeal to pathos. He begins paragraphs 6-8 with, “every child” to highlight that the focus of the teaching is about the child. This humanizes the students. In paragraphs 11-12, Lehmann criticizes Monroe by saying, “you were unkind” and “you were cruel”. This served as a direct attack on Monroe’s character and attitude towards her students. But for a better appeal towards Monroe’s pathos, Lehmann repeats the phrase “you never said you were sorry” in paragraphs 20 and 22. However, in between those paragraphs, Lehmann ranted about how much her words have hurt the feelings of her students. By stating “you never said you were sorry” before the rant introduced and prepared the reader for the Lehmann’s rebuke for Monroe not apologizing. Monroe had written “mean and cruel things”. By saying that Monroe never said she was sorry makes the reader feel that Monroe is pitiful for not apologizing after treating the children in such a terrible way. By repeating the phrase after the rant, Lehmann wants Monroe to understand that what she did was truly a terrible thing.

In addition to using anaphora to argue from pathos, Lehmann uses declarative sentences to appeal to logos. By using declarative sentences, Lehmann is establishing certain things as facts rather than things that need to be debated. In the second paragraph, Lehmann states that, “teaching is a tough career”. By stating this, Lehmann is agreeing with Monroe as well as telling the reader that teaching is not an easy job. Because Lehmann is a teacher himself, he knows that the job comes with plenty of frustration and stress. However, he follows that statement with the statement, “but when you teach, you work in the public trust” in the next paragraph. In that sentence, Lehmann is claiming that although the job is stressful, it comes with certain responsibilities. By making that statement a declarative sentence, Lehmann leaves no room for argument. The reader automatically assumes this to be a true statement regardless of previous opinions on the matter. It was important to establish this common ground with Monroe and the reader because that statement would drive the rest of his letter. If Monroe or the reader disagreed with the statement, the letter would lose its significance and effect. But because the statement is a declarative sentence, it establishes common ground for the argument to move forward.

Finally, Lehmann uses juxtapositions to call attention to Monroe’s actions as being childish. Lehmann talks about how children will behave like children. It is the adult’s responsibility to act mature and handle the situation in an adult manner. He claims that by writing cruel things about her students on her blog and not apologizing for that, she has, “abdicated [her] responsibility as the adult” (Lehmann). Essentially, Lehmann is saying that Monroe, in the attempt of acting like an adult, has behaved like a child.

Question for thought: Can one be an effective teacher if one is not humble?

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