Rhetorical Analysis of “Dear Students”

Rhetorical Analysis of “Dear Students”

Does College Help or Hurt Our Chances for Success? Stop. Please. Stop. You have changed. I am at a loss for words. I thought that you – you wonderful university – would forever be the all-important, unchanging, institution of learning that would make me amount to something. Wait, what was that? You have not changed? Oh, that’s right. You haven’t changed, and therein lies the problem – according to Gideon Burton. “Dear Students: Don’t Let College Unplug Your Future” talks about how the Internet is becoming an essential tool for our lives, and that colleges and universities are not adapting in sync with the web.

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Using repetitive and colloquial diction, real-life examples, and a sarcastic voice, Burton effectively convinces college students that the internet is essential for a successful life, and to not be afraid – if anything, to be motivated – to use the internet to help them progress in life. Burton makes great use of repetitive diction to persuade his audience. Through his article, Burton makes the reader feel as though the reader is being spoken to directly by using the word “you”. Though a seemingly ordinary word, its use emits a great deal of emotional power at the reader.

The article begins with Burton stating that he cares about students and that he is willing to go against code for them – implying that college professors normally try to keep students ignorant (Burton 88). With this introduction, “you” and “your” becomes a personal and meaningful word in the rest of the article, in both positive and negative ways. In the first four pages, “you” is used 101 times. This makes the reader feel that Burton is talking to them individually and that they are gaining more knowledge than their peers.

This is manipulating students to think that Burton actually cares for them and believes that they are capable of achieving their goals and becoming their true selves. “You can shape and share your identity in a thousand different ways, testing what you like, feeding your own passions, carving your own way,” (89). Maybe he doesn’t care, but his diction exhibits that he does, and this makes the reader feel that he/she can do what Burton believes he/she can do. This brings about a sense of responsibility within students to make-up for what college is not teaching them. What you do online will last and accumulate; much of what you do in college will disappear – unless, of course, you do for yourself what college will try to keep you from focusing on,” (90). These carry such force because Burton is saying that it is up to the student to produce a life for themselves and that school is trying to prohibit them from that. Burton uses some colloquial diction later in his article, as well. He talks about why students wait to present themselves to the world, and why they think that they can do that only once they are either seniors or already graduated (91-92).

His diction shines through when he says, “ROFL! ” (92). It literally glares up at the reader from the page. It means “rolling on the floor laughing”. This is used in instant messaging and status updates, thus, it appeals to those that have used “ROFL” in their communications online – much of the young generation. And if the reader does not know what ROFL means, it is still effective because Burton uses it at the end of a paragraph with an exclamation point! It must be important, so the reader feels the need to research the term.

Now to address the use of the term: Burton uses ROFL perfectly. He shows that it is ridiculous to think that students cannot present themselves to the world until late in their college years. What this does is make students realize they can present themselves anytime they feel like it, but that they should not wait to do it. His diction also created an image of a professor rolling on the floor laughing, then getting up and yelling to his class that it is simple. “Get online and get on the map! ” (92). Another tool that Burton uses is realistic examples.

He tells the story of a CEO claiming that he had a degree from a certain university, when, in reality he did not. The company didn’t care. They said, “It’s what he can do that matters, not where he graduated…” (90). This example motivates the audience: it shows them that they don’t need a degree to make money at what they are good at. It motivates them by the fact that the story is about a CEO; CEOs are successful, wealthy, and happy. So this shows that a degree is not necessary to make money in life, but making yourself known online, and being great at what you do, is.

It is a logical example. A second example is included in his section titled “Reality Check #5: when College Gets to 2. 0, They’ll Be Late For 3. 0” (93-94). He illustrates in this example the length of time it takes for colleges to change and add classes that would assist students in new media. He makes it clear that universities think that new media – blogging, social networking, and online feedback – is a good thing. However, it makes the audience feel that universities and colleges don’t really care about students and their success in the real world.

Burton gives a dialogue between a professor and department chair of a university. Candace, the professor, suggests to the department chair that they need to be studying social media. The department chair agrees and tells Candace to get the curriculum committee a proposal so that a class could be created. The department chair says that it will probably be a full year, though, before the class could even be created. Then Candace says that she could at least blog about social media, and the department chair wonders why Candace is blogging instead of doing the manuscript for her scholarship.

The department chair goes on to say that Candace’s students are not her peers. The dialogue ends with these two sentences: “What about the provost telling us our students should come first? ” “He has tenure, Candace. That’s when you can say those sorts of things. ” Burton calls this example “chilling” (94). Students pay all that money to go to a world class university where the teachers and faculty do not even care about them. Burton brings bitter feelings to the audience about their school. He goes into enough detail to sound as though he really heard this dialogue take place.

This furthers Burton’s purpose by evoking frustration in college students. Students might then be moved to learn more about social media by themselves and become involved online, and/or push for a class to be implemented as quickly as possible. The last rhetorical tool Burton uses is his sarcasm. “Got a burning question? Let’s put that on self-reflective ice until it’s good and dead,” (94). This is sarcastic because normally we are encouraged, especially by our university, to pursue and explore that burning question or idea that we have.

His sarcasm is an emotional appeal that incites students to irritation against the manner in which college is organized. Burton has been building tension in his article, and here he has continued it, and it is almost becoming too much. If he were to continue, his audience might become rash in their opinions and become angry at people, and not the way college is run. He does not want them to be angry at people, but rather to realize the flaws of college and to change what they can in their own lives concerning new media. Thus, later in his rticle he uses sarcasm to essentially subdue the audience and release some tension. At the end of “Reality Check #5” (95), he uses sarcasm to make the audience lighten up so that they will have some fun and laughter. “And that is how Web2. 0 dies in college when college administrators think they are bringing it to life…The just can’t help themselves. They, too, are victims of the system. They can’t help but kill the things that would bring your education to life. Oh, the humanities,” (95). He wants his reader to be happy while being persuaded; also, his writing is more persuasive because he is being entertaining.

When Burton says, “But they deserve our pity, really,” (95), he is calling the audience to action, in a way. He implies that we can help change the learning system because the professors cannot. In conclusion, Gideon Burton effectively convinces college students that the Internet is imperative for their lives, and that college is not keeping up with the developing World Wide Web, by using diction, examples, and sarcasm. So, now that students are convinced, what will happen? What will most likely happen is students will become more active online – blogging, wiki-ing, facebooking, tweeting, online bookmarking, etc.

They will realize the importance of new media, and will put more effort into making a life for themselves and less trust that college will do that for them. Who knows, this might cause a change in education of new media at universities: universities and colleges might recognize more the importance of online feedback and networking, and put more emphasis on them. Works Cited Burton, Gideon. “Dear Students: Don’t Let College Unplug Your Future. ” Perspectives On New Media. Utah: BYUAP, 2011. Print.


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