Plato’s Psychagōgia in the Composition Classroom: Emotion and Empowerment

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Donelson, Megan Suzann
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Middle Tennessee State University
This dissertation argues that Plato’s idea of psychagōgia offers a philosophical founda-tion for recent research in rhetoric and composition studies regarding the role of emo-tions in the composition process and the benefits of a pedagogy that helps students be-come better aware of their emotions through the process of writing. Four distinct but related arguments are presented:
(i) Plato’s concept of psychagōgia offers a framework for composition teachers who believe that emotional self-awareness enables students to make more effective rhetorical moves as writers and, ideally, to take control of their development as individuals.
(ii) Composition instructors who believe emotion plays a significant role in the process of learning are better served by adopting a theory of emotion that accounts for psychological shifts that must occur as students learn to use writing as a cognitive tool and as an effective to for communication.
(iii) The treatment of emotions throughout the history of therapy (St. Paul, St. Augustine, Freud) and within contemporary psychotherapy is an excel-lent resource for teachers who seek to help students become more aware of the role of emotional processes in their thinking (metacognition).
(iv) Students who understand their own emotions develop a greater self-awareness, enabling them to move beyond inflexible ideologies and to consciously choose philosophical principles to guide their lives. The health of a democratic society depends on educational institutions and programs that nurture this type of self-awareness.
I link Plato and Socrates to the modern composition classroom, first, by providing a de-tailed examination of how the idea of psychagōgia is used in the Phaedrus. Because the idea appears in therapeutic discourses of early Christian fathers, I examine St. Paul, St. Augustine, and then jump to Freud, exploring the connections between pedagogy and psychotherapy and outlining verbal therapeutic techniques used by modern therapists that may be useful in a psychagogic pedagogy. The dissertation concludes with sug-gestions for future research into the potential of psychagōgia in the composition class-room.
Composition studies, Emotion, Empowerment, Plato, Psychagogia, Psychagogy