Raymond Morris is our Faculty Highlight for December 2016. He was interviewed by Mea Hall.
MH: Question #1: Why do you teach?
RM: Ever since I was a kid, I wanted to teach. I held mock classrooms, and my imaginary students and I would hash it out over the important issues of the day, such as a recent episode of “The Beverly Hillbillies” or a library book I’d be reading. London’s White Fang comes to mind—I don’t what it was about dog books, I couldn’t get enough of them.
MH: Yeah, what is it about dog books?!
RM: Of course, as time passed I lost that dream in favor of a career in business and accounting. Over the next twenty-five years, as an employee of eight different companies, I worked my way up from an entry-level accountant to controller.
RM: After twelve years in these various capacities, my excitement for the business world, with its questionable ethics and its market volatility, diminished over the final thirteen years I remained in it. In 2000 I enrolled in Palomar, completed the transfer courses necessary to enroll at CSUSM, and here I completed my Master’s degree in 2007 and began teaching GEW.
MH: Like so many GEW instructors, you’re a fellow Cougar! Did teaching give you what you were looking for?
RM: What I discovered in the classroom was a sense of my truer self, freed from the shackles of a world, where trust remains antithetical in the face of competition. By contrast, in the teaching world, from my experience, an element of trust accorded to us instructors remains the operative motive for my decision to continue teaching after nearly ten years. For me, entering a classroom, no matter how tired I am, or how many papers I graded the night before, I always feel energized. And the ideas my students voice, over their concerns of the state of the world, gives me hope for our collective future, a hope I thought I had lost long ago.
MH: I think that many of us feel the same way about teaching college. It isn't something that we fell into accidentally when other things didn't work out, but it's something that we feel passionately about, even when—or maybe especially when—it takes us awhile to make our way to teaching. You mentioned working in the business world. Did you learn anything in that line of work that relates to the way you teach?
RM: Of course. I learned so much, and I apply it daily. Any experience and my reaction to it—whether good, bad, or indifferent—is always a valuable learning opportunity.
MH: I always tell me students to be as specific as possible. Can you give me a specific example?
RM: One of my first duties as a Corporate V.P. at what used to be San Diego County's largest healthcare consultant back in the 1980s and 90s, was to develop a company-wide employee handbook. I quickly discovered that policies, once mapped out and instituted, are inadvertently beset with escape routes that allow savvy employees to detour around those policies to their benefit. Realizing that this is a common reaction amongst certain employees, I also realized that my persistence in modifying these policies, for the purpose of closing off these escape routes, became an important part of my job. So, while understanding that many professional adults well into their thirties do not acclimate well to new rules and work tirelessly to break them, I have learned in my experiences as a college instructor that students often do the same. As a result, I have spent an inordinate amount of effort developing rules for the classroom designed to enrich students' learning, while communicating to them the consequences of not following these rules.
MH: And how does that effort pay off in your classroom?
RM: For some students, this method of policy policing appears draconian, but if they don't know what to expect, how can they pursue what they are expected to do? Successful employment in a corporate environment, which many of our students will be doggedly pursuing in the near future, can only be achieved, if the policies hammered out in employee agreements are understood and abided by. It is my opinion, that college is fertile ground to seed and encourage this mindset. Accordingly, as I have learned in my twenty-five years as a corporate cog, rules are a state of mind, where the right attitudes engender not necessarily a willingness to follow them blindly, but a rationalization for why they should be followed. Once this rationalization takes place we all become willing participants to our own successes.
MH: Aha! I notice in your writing, Ray, a really admirable balance between pathos, ethos, and logos. I suppose that's to be expected of someone who learned to communicate using the voice of a "corporate cog," to use your words! Do you call your students' attention to the way that rhetorical appeals are used constantly in the world around them, not just in the academic setting?
RM: At any chance I can get, persuasion through various rhetorical appeals is emphasized. For example, in our first assignment, we look at advertising for its various emotional appeals, which I refer to as underlying motives, assuming that these appeals are far from obvious and their motives are often manipulative. By the time we begin studying our novel (Fight Club in the past, The Absolutely True Diary of A Part-time Indian currently), and its themes and the author's values, students begin to assess how the repetition of themes in the novel reveal an authorial set of values, which again are far from obvious, similar to underlying motives used in advertising, but different because authorial values can be assessed only through the logic of what the various themes reveal.
MH: That sounds like it would be really enlightening for many students. How do you finish out the class?
RM: With our final research essay, I emphasize the logic scholarly sources provide in the verification for their credible arguments, and attempt to emphasize how their methods of persuasion should be emulated, such as offering multiple sources, with likewise credibility, to verify a single point.
MH: So you encourage students to synthesize information from a variety of sources.
RM: Students are challenged to avoid shoveling over evidence in large blocks of information from one source to verify a particular point. Instead they learn to maintain a critical stance when assessing evidence, choosing only the most relevant information and applicable material that works not to fill a minimum page count, but to offer the most dynamic form of persuasion for the argument they attempt to sustain.
MH: Students learn to analyze other authors’ use of persuasion even as they are practicing crafting their own.
RM: As a result of our emphasis on persuasion, the root motivation of rhetoric, students are exposed to both the manipulative and the influential. In that way, they can begin to make headway through various forms of communication, assessing what is mere propagandistic blathering against the verification of evidence, tested by precedent and informed by logic.
MH: I imagine that your students leave your class feeling like they’ve learned an abundance of useful information but also equipped with practice interpreting the messages all around us. What a great foundation for the rest of their college education!