Rhetorical Review Of In Search Of A Modest Proposal

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The essay by Fred Stenson, ‘In Search of a Modest Proposal’ cricizes the current education system and how the curriculum is delivered to children.

Key words

Curriculum, Education system, displeasure, formula, inefficiency, deterioration, literary styles.

Rhetorical Review of “In Search Of A Modest Proposal

The essay by Fred Stenson, ‘In Search of a Modest Proposal’, borrows from Jonathan Swift’s work ‘A Modest Proposal’. On the side of the page, there is a box with writings reveals that the author of the article implies that the author may be a teacher by profession. As a consequence, the reader expects the experience of an essay with a sympathetic point of view as far as academia is concerned.

The reader expects to see the thesis statement in paragraph one. It is not provided but the author implies it when expressing his ‘gratitude’ to the education system (Stenson, 2004 p.14) – defending teachers who are perceived to be under attack also implies a thesis statement in the first paragraph. The author uses different literary styles including satire and irony which can only be seen when the reader gets to paragraph four. He uses irony to express his dismay at the way the current education system is deteriorating, especially the education curriculum. For example, he uses irony to reveal that the teacher agrees with him on the way they are teaching the curriculum saying that it is the only way how the test will be conducted on students.

It is also ironical that the teacher has some concerns regarding the curriculum, but only doing what she has been asked to do by the curriculum. Similarly, it is ironical that he is defending teachers but criticizing how they are delivering the curriculum at the same time by saying, “whenever teachers were attacked in my earshot, I rose to defend them” (p.14). This statement contradicts his sentiments when he mentions that “he confronted his daughter’s teacher (p.15). Anyway, it is impressing to realize that he can defend and confront at the same time.

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He also uses satire to express displeasure with how the curriculum is being taught in public schools (p.14). He pokes fun at the formula of writing essay when he drew the attention of the reader by following the formula himself: he highlights the flaws in the transitional words by writing them in italics, for example, nonetheless (p.15). He criticizes current education system and how it is failing children.

Stenson also uses humor to make a comparison of how his daughter is being taught in school versus how he was taught in school to write an essay: he was taught ‘great literary form’ of writing the essay, but his daughter is being taught a ‘formula’ to argue and persuade the reader as far as essay writing is concerned (p.15). However, it is an obvious absurdity and questionable nature of Stenson’s work that makes the reader want to get the real meaning and purpose of his literary work after giving it much thought a condition that creates suspense.

Alternatively, it is obvious as well to note that there is not a teacher anywhere that will accept a literary work without a purpose. Using this mindset, the reader can identify that Stenson wanted to expose the inefficiency of the curriculum and failure of the education system to live up to its purpose- emancipating the minds of the learners. He provides facts, for example, how the curriculum is taught and how the children are being taught to write essays. From that standpoint, Stenson derives his absurd proposal, logically, of mocking the current education system and the way the curriculum is delivered. For instance, he mentions that ‘a formula. I have to stick to, or I will flunk’ to satirize the inflexibility of the current curriculum (p.15). The deeper meaning of this statement is that bad as the process is, the teacher still has no option but to follow it.

Further, Senston employed humor and satire in transitioning and developing his essay, especially the second half of the essay. Through these two styles, he pokes fun both at the teacher, for example, by calling her pleasant and able-seeing woman and at himself as well. To himself, he is seen buttering his concerns about the way essay writing is being taught to his daughter (p.15). However, he also reveals that the teacher agrees with him on the way they are teaching the curriculum saying that it is the only way how the test will be conducted on students.

In conclusion, Stenson’s essay is a concern about the deteriorating education system and the poor delivery of the curriculum- education whose purpose is long forgotten by the curriculum development. For him to achieve his goal, he uses different literary styles like humor, satire, irony, repetition, and comparison with another written concern. He is sending a warning to the relevant bodies and agencies as well as individuals that the future of their children is compromised through the deteriorating education system and the poor delivery of the curriculum.


  1. Stenson, F. (2004). In Search Of A Modest Proposal

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