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Classical Rhetoric with Aristotle: Traditional Principles of Speaking and Writing Review by Anne Weiland877-862-1097
4105 Bishop Lane
Louisville, KY 40218
Classical education is enjoying a growing popularity among educators, including homeschoolers. We all learned quickly about the Trivium; made up of the grammar, logic and rhetoric stages. Got it; thank you very much. Now what curriculum am I supposed to use? Which books, which workbooks? Martin Cothran captures our modern spirit perfectly in the Introduction to his course, Classical Rhetoric with Aristotle, saying, "The modern mind is fascinated by technique. We would as soon study the mechanics of a thing as to know the nature of the thing whose mechanism we are studying." In Cothran's course then, we can anticipate a study of principles, not a list of "how-to's." The course is not an easy fix so that we task-oriented parents can check Rhetoric off our lists. It is, however, a companion that will bring our students face to face with Aristotle, if we and our students are willing to make the effort.
Rhetoric is the final stage of the Trivium and is the study of the rules of persuasion, both written and spoken. A classical student has learned the mechanics of language (grammar stage), the logical structure of language (logic stage), and is now ready to employ these skills in communicating his ideas to others. Classical Rhetoric with Aristotle is a companion, a study guide, for Aristotle's Rhetoric. To complete the course, a student will need three texts: Aristotle's Rhetoric (the Modern Library 1954 version is recommended), How to Read a Book, by Mortimer Adler and Charles Van Doren, and Figures of Speech: 60 Ways to Turn a Phrase, by Arthur Quinn (optional). Classical Rhetoric is a one year course in the form of a consumable workbook. There is also a Teacher Key. The course is divided in two, a division which follows Aristotle; the first half covers the Speaker, and the second covers the Audience. It is a study of the nature of man: his intellect, will and emotions. Cothran tells us, "Only with a knowledge of these truths about ourselves, Aristotle would say, can we pretend to be able to communicate." In addition, the course provides review exercises, tied in with Rhetoric, for both Latin and Logic.
Classical Rhetoric is recommended for use by 10th-12th grade students. As I see this course, the ideal student would have taken Latin and Logic (though Cothran is careful to say these are not required), be a competent writer and an accomplished reader. Aristotle's writing is dense; a student will find himself reading and re-reading. This program is designed to be used independently, but most students will need or at least benefit from regular interaction with a parent over the course material. Cothran offers suggestions about how to grade the assignments. Reading and discussing the student's work with him will help with understanding. Better yet, why not work through the material with your student?
Although not an introductory writing course, Classical Rhetoric will sharpen a student's writing skills for the purpose of persuasion. It will help a student to understand Aristotle, not by handing him a simplified version, but by asking the kinds of questions which will cause him to think deeply about the material. A student who has had even a moderately classical education will recognize the authors of the reading selections and quotes: Homer, Shakespeare, the Bible and others. I appreciate that the course is clearly laid out with a suggested schedule and reproducible assignment sheets. Each lesson proceeds in an understandable fashion with simple instructions for each day's work.
I have one reservation about this course and a suggested substitution. My only reservation about this course is that it is not easy. Reading Aristotle is not for the faint of heart, even with a companion such as Martin Cothran has provided. I would not attempt this course with a student who is struggling with writing paragraphs, or one who hasn't already tackled some more difficult reading. I would suggest that this course be used with a mature student, maybe closer to 12th grade than 10th. Also, while some exceptional students might be able to finish this course entirely on their own, I suspect that most students will need regular encouragement and feedback. If I could change one thing in Classical Rhetoric, it would be to substitute Susan Wise Bauer's The Well-Educated Mind for the recommended reading, How to Read a Book. I have read both of these, and Bauer's, while covering much of the same terrain, is just more engaging reading.
With those qualms aside, I do recommend Classical Rhetoric. It is a unique curriculum well-suited to address the final stage of the Trivium. As I said, this program, because of the nature of the topic, is not easy. I hope that does not discourage anyone from making the effort. In fact, some study of Rhetoric is essential for a classical education, and this course will certainly fill that need.