Stillwater Christian School's Rhetoric Program
When many people hear the term rhetoric, they think of the hollow promises of politicians or the manipulations of the unscrupulous salesman. In fact, like others, you may naturally supply the modifier empty when you hear rhetoric mentioned, unconsciously assuming that anything unfortunate enough to be described as rhetoric must be missing any significance or value, something that may sound good, but has no meat. It is a shame that the term has lost its positive associations, because it has a rich history and serves an essential function in a complete education.
Classically understood, rhetoric is the art of speaking or writing effectively, and carries no connotations of manipulation. In classical western philosophy, Greek and Latin thinkers such as Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, and Seneca viewed rhetoric as a foundational subject of study and a fundamental set of skills. Manipulating an audience was a danger for these men, but was certainly not what rhetoric was all about. In fact, "making the worse appear the better cause" (fooling an audience with eloquence) was a criticism applied to orators who did not deserve the title.Beginning with early grade instruction at Stillwater Christian, the art of communication is stressed – by guiding young students in using the English language properly, by frequently presenting children with the opportunity to speak before their fellow students as well as adults, and by utilizing an extensive writing program that includes helpful tools for expression. It is in high school, however, that rhetorical skills are emphasized. All incoming freshmen are required to enroll in a speech and logic course, and this work broadens each year. Speech/rhetoric coursework is not an elective, as is the case in most high schools. Stillwater recognizes the importance of these skills and encourages students to practice and polish them as they mature.
The most comprehensive work in rhetoric is completed during the senior year. All students complete a minor thesis in the fall of this year, and work on a major thesis is initiated just after Christmas. By their senior year, Stillwater students are accustomed to developing thesis statements and writing term papers; however, the thesis work is extensive. The major thesis entails a minimum reading of 750 pages on the selected topic, and in addition to the completion of a written paper, all students must present and defend their work before a collection of peers and faculty members. What an incredible experience for young men and women! Typically thesis work is not required until the undergraduate or graduate level of schooling, and many who personally have gone through this experience recall having little support and guidance in the process. A great benefit of our program is that I am able to meet individually with all students during their thesis work. These conversations enable a level of mentoring and involvement that strengthens relationships with students. Stillwater understands that this exercise provides invaluable experience to any graduate - those who are entering university, the work force, the mission field - wherever the Lord leads them after graduation.