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The Nature and Place of Rhetoric

In our analytical age, we tend to think of every art or science as a subject, indiscriminately equating them all with each other and too often failing to notice that some are more important than others.

All the art suffer from this habit of mind, but none more than the art of rhetoric. Rhetoric is described by Socrates in Plato’s Phaedrus as the art of leading the soul with words. This is a much deeper and more responsible definition than the mere art of persuasion.

Because it is the art of leading the soul, the one who studies rhetoric is bound to respect the soul he is leading. And because it is the art of leading the soul, it is the most pedagogically important “subject” a school can teach.

Of course, it isn’t really a “subject” at all. If the tree of knowledge extends itself with branches, then rhetoric is the trunk of the tree. Every branch depends on the trunk for its well-being. If you learn rhetoric well, you will be able to do every other science (subject) well. If you learn rhetoric poorly, all of your other classes will suffer. Even teaching is an application of rhetoric.

Rhetoric subsumes into itself the other language arts as well. Grammar and logic, listening and reading and writing, all are united into one broad art when they meet in rhetoric.

The only thing more essential than rhetoric is attentiveness.

Does your curriculum give rhetoric its rightful place?

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