This study is, in part, a response to arguments that claim higher education fails to prepare students with fundamental communication skills necessary for everyday life and indicative of "educated" persons. Though the validity of such arguments is contestable, they nonetheless reflect fundamental inadequacies in current educational theories and practices that have evolved over centuries of curricular, cultural, and socioeconomic change. Current theories and practices in higher education, specifically general education, reflect a misunderstanding of both the purpose of education in a democracy and the role of the liberal arts, specifically rhetoric, in accomplishing that purpose. The consequences of rhetorically-impoverished general education curricula are manifested not only in the declining literate and communicative practices of recent college graduates but also in the declining civic and democratic practices of a growing number of Americans. By tracing the histories of and relationships among education, rhetoric, and composition instruction, this thesis highlights the purpose of education and the role of writing instruction and rhetoric in accomplishing that purpose. This review demonstrates that the introductory composition course, when informed by epistemic rhetoric, provides curricular coherence in general education while clarifying and accomplishing the primary purpose of education: to facilitate the development of autonomous citizens capable of participating in the democratic practices of their communities. This outcome relies on rhetorical education, or rhetorical training in the language arts, which allows students to understand and articulate their identity as individuals in relation to the various communities to which they belong and with which they interact. The misconception of rhetoric and relegation of writing instruction calls for a university-wide reconceptualization of the purpose of education and the complementary roles of general education and writing instruction in accomplishing that purpose. This thesis invites novice and experienced composition instructors to explore further the relationships among education, democracy, language, and rhetoric to recognize the central role of composition instruction in enabling individual autonomy and sustaining a healthy democracy while improving literate and communicative practices.



College and Department

Humanities; English



Date Submitted


Document Type





rhetoric, higher education, general education, coherence, liberal arts, literacy, communication, democracy, positive freedom, negative freedom, citizenship, epistemic rhetoric, current-traditional rhetoric, subjective rhetoric, autonomy, civic engagement, civic education, technology, nostalgia, remediation, narrative, rhetorical instruction, rhetorical education, composition, first-year writing, language education, Isocrates, James Berlin, Kenneth Burke, James Ratcliff