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What Are the Liberal Arts and How Do We Teach Them? (4) – Rhetoric

Rhetoric is “the art of a good man speaking well.”

Rhetoric forms the final part of the trivium of grammar, logic, rhetoric. Behind this progression was the understanding that one cannot teach a person how to think or communicate without material—students need something to think about before they can learn how to think. The grammar stage provides the raw material of facts, while in the logic stage students learn how to judge and evaluate. Only after learning facts and knowing how to think through them do students have anything worth saying. To put it another way, rhetoric relates to self-expression; the grammar and logic stages help students to develop a self-worth expressing.

Like grammar and logic, rhetoric is both a specialized subject and an approach in its own right.

Students take a couple of years of rhetoric at Charis. The ultimate goal of these classes is to train students to speak and write well. To that end they read selections from famous works to learn how to communicate clearly, persuasively, and winsomely. They also write and perform a number speeches and papers, culminating in their senior thesis.

Rhetoric is also brought into other classes, namely literature and history. What good is it to know facts about something and be able to think through their implications, but be unable to communicate those thoughts? Our students regularly write papers and speak in front of their peers. This trains them to get used to and comfortable with public communication so that they will be ready to speak and write confidently and winsomely whenever the need or opportunity arises.