Rhetoric no longer being taught in schools, a writer must learn the argumentative and expository techniques on his own
I agree more or less with everything else you said, but on this I have to disagree.
Many public middle schools and/or high schools offer classes covering composition and speech and speech is a requirement for graduation in many of them. After all, many universities like to see a roundedness to an incoming student's education and a speech class helps with that.
Completely anecdotal: If the public schools *I* grew up with in a state that consistently ranks in the lowest tiers on education has them, then I'm prone to saying that chances are high most other US states are at least on par with mine in this respect. I could be wrong, but based on the tinge of research I did to check this assumption, I'm not far off base if I am.
For some reason this statement of yours, jgweed, really put me on edge...but I think I know why: One of my argumentative pet peeves is the "The Good Old Days Were So Much Better" argument which everyone just seems to glaze over as true when in reality it is worth questioning in every context in which it comes up.
Now, this isn't exactly the statement you've made, but the way it's worded strongly suggests that it is what you meant.
Regardless, while it's true that many people only take from a composition class the bare necessities of constructing a sentence (even if it is only on a subconscious level they walk away with this), it's just not true that rhetoric is no longer being taught in schools...Even if there is no speech class, there are English and English literature classes (in the US, anyway, I don't mean to generalize to more than that), both of which are partially, if not primarily designed to expose the student to good writing and to encourage mimicry of it until the student can develop on his or her own. There's a reason there is so much analyzation in literature classes, and it's not simply so that the student can define an allegory.
Once a student is exposed, he or she has a choice: pursue this writing thing further and really get to know it, or just leave it at a base knowledge. Most people in all subjects opt for option 2, and choosing to further understand rhetoric and argumentation is not a terribly popular thing...to do so involves more than simply analyzing the writing itself, one has to look at the psychology behind the writing, and so the sociology, at the very least. So in reality, rhetoric and argumentation are interdisciplinary...to understand one is to understand parts of the other.
Sorry to derail the thread there for nothing but my own personal pet peeves...
While we're giving writing advice: The best thing I've ever done for my writing is re-writing the same paper at least five times. It's annoying, but especially if one has someone willing to look over each draft, one's writing *will* improve. Things about writing become clearer when you're dealing with the same material.