Everyone knows how Aristotle defined rhetoric, but very few people believe actually him. Apparently, rhetoric is “the faculty of discovering in any particular case the available means of persuasion,” but classical educators are afraid to take Aristotle at his word. Every year, a great host of students at classical schools write theses wherein they fail to persuade their judges of their arguments, yet receive A’s on their work nonetheless. For many classical schools, rhetoric is not about persuasion, but about the formal structure of arguments, which is unfortunate.
Christians presently have a complicated relationship with the concept of hate. During the 70s, 80s, and 90s, the zeitgeist turned against hate and secularists chagrined hate as primitive and thuggish, but since the 2016 election, hate has become fashionable again and forgiveness is thought naïve and regressive. During the decades when hate was unpopular, many conservative Christians stood up for hate and pointed to the obvious: What of genocide? What of torture?
Student: Why did you count my Homer paper late?
Gibbs: Because it was due on Friday and you turned it in on Monday.
Student: But I wasn’t in class on Friday.
Gibbs: You weren’t in my class, which was the first class of the day, although you came to school later in the day.
Student: How do you know that?
Gibbs: I saw you around school.
Student: But I wasn’t at school during first period, which is when your class meets, and so I wasn’t present to turn in my paper.
Gibbs: Did you have a paper to turn in on Friday?
No one is more cautious about the value of words than professional writers. Having made a career of speaking for large and small crowds, and having written three books, a hundred film reviews, four hundred essays for this website— and having undertaken my fourteenth year of marriage— I would say I am skeptical of the idea that the best way for people to sort out their problems is to “just sit down and talk.”
Teacher: For history tests, I have my students make a cheat sheet that I allow them to use. It works great.
Gibbs: What’s on the cheat sheet?
Teacher: They’re allowed to put whatever information they like on the cheat sheet.
Gibbs: I would put passages of Scripture and quotes from Herodotus, Thucydides, and Horace on my cheat sheet.
Teacher: Well, those kind of quotes wouldn’t do you much good.
Gibbs: How come?
Teacher: Because I don’t ask about those things on history tests.
Parent: We’ve had a rough start to this school year.
Gibbs: Tell me more.
Parent: Well, Adrian was disappointed with the grade he received on his Virgil essay. He didn’t entirely understand your comments.
Gibbs: What kind of comments did he receive on it?
Parent: You said a lot of his observations were too obvious and that his essay was poorly arranged, poorly argued, and that it contained a lot of filler.
Gibbs: Are those comments so hard to understand?
As a classical educator, I often hear parents say, “I want my child to get the education I never received.” This is a fine and noble sentiment. When I was a child, I watched entirely too much television and now I want to give my children a love of books I never received. At the same time, I still watch entirely too much television now. Old habits die hard, but this is no excuse. Likewise, “I want my child to receive the education I never received” is a noble sentiment to have as a parent, it is also a bit unnecessary.
In 1984, Keva Rosenfeld took a documentary crew into Torrance High School in Los Angeles County and spent a year in the surfy, sunlit cultural trenches. Torrance was a model for the school depicted in Fast Times at Ridgemont High and the campus has been used for a half dozen teen flicks you’re better off not remembering. What Rosenfeld found was not terribly interesting at the time, and shortly after All American High was publicly shown, the reels were set aside and then lost for three decades.
For a job, I talk to teenagers all day. I read to them, lecture them, ask them questions, listen to them talk. I stare into their faces all day and gauge their interest in what I am saying based on their eyes, their mouths, and their posture. I rarely gauge their interest based on what they say, for teenagers like talking to each other, but do not much like talking to adults (I know, your teenager is different).
“At a school like this one, you hear quite a bit about the importance of having a servant’s heart. In fact, you hear enough about service that you might be quite tired of the subject by now and think that adults only speak to you of service because it means less work for themselves. After all, when teachers talk of service, they are usually asking students to do things which will make their own lives easier. “Service” usually means picking up trash on the quad, moving and setting up chairs for assemblies, and tidying the men’s room before leaving.