One educational theorist who has challenged accepted definitions of literacy and the role of ancient rhetoric in composition studies is C.H. Knoblauch with the help of Lil Brannon. His views are important because he challenges accepted beliefs in education and shows how new ideas can shape writing instruction. Not all theorists agree with his conclusions, but the questions he raises helps move composition studies towards a better understanding of how culture shapes writing instruction.
C.H. Knoblauch showed how different definitions of literacy represent not only skills but values. First of all, functional literacy reflects the value of economic advantage. Next, cultural literacy reflects the notion of timeless values and heritage. In addition, liberal argument of literacy speaks on behalf of the disadvantaged without attempting to change institutions. Finally, critical literacy reflects the pedagogy of Freire which argues that literacy is power. He also argues that these arguments show that no definition of literacy is adequate because each definition is a testament to political commitments.
C.H. Knoblauch also challenges artificial organizational elements of rhetoric such as in Cicero. This is based on his argument that historical rhetorical traditions have little value to the teaching of writing, He believes that the earliest tradition of Western rhetoric, including the classical perspective of Aristotle and Cicero, impacts our writing instruction today even if it is unconsciously. This is despite the fact that modern rhetoric no longer accepts either the views of mind, language, and world underlying ancient theory. In turn, teachers depend on outmoded ideas about discourse, knowledge, and communication to guide their teaching practices.
Further, Knoblauch and Brannon maintain that the modern and ancient traditions are fundamentally incompatible in their assumptions and concepts. To avoid this contradiction, writing teachers must make choices between the two traditions if their teaching is to be purposeful and consistent. In their perspective, the modern tradition is a better and richer basis for instruction.
C.H. Knoblauch challenges writing teachers to rethink the underlying assumptions of their pedagogies and consider ways they can make their belief systems more consistent. Teachers are always influenced by unstated assumptions and in order to become better teachers they need to become aware of these assumptions at all times. Practically, this means becoming aware of the history of writing instruction and how political belief systems shape our notions of what it means to be literate and function in the discourse practices of our modern world.