We’ve been saying it for years. The College at Southeastern (C@SE) offers a rigorous education unrivalled by most colleges. But now Stanley Wells has said it also, in a recent article in The Times Literary Supplement entitled, “Apple Clause,” (March 16, 2012, p. 12). In the article, Wells reviews several recent books on rhetoric and (albeit unintentionally) gives three cheers for the type of education offered by C@SE.
Wells reviews Sam Leith’s new book, You Talkin’ to Me? Rhetoric from Aristotle to Obama (Profile, 2011), which bemoans the loss of classical education in general and of rhetoric in particular. “For hundreds of years,” Leith remarks, “rhetoric was at the centre of Western education, but it has now all but vanished as a subject of study-divvied up like post-war Berlin between linguistics, psychology and literary criticism. Even in universities it is seen as a quaint and rather prissy minority interest.” As Leith sees it, rhetoric was cast by the wayside in the middle of the nineteenth century as a by-product of the Classics being abandoned as the foundation for undergraduate core curriculum.
Leith argues that this loss has paid negative dividends for our public discourse, as our politicians will struggle in their ability to lead the country the way Churchill did for Great Britian and the way Lincoln did for the USA. Regarding Churchill, for example, Leith writes, “He spent hour after hour working on drafts of his speeches – indeed, he devoted fully six weeks to preparing his first major speech in the Commons.” Regarding Lincoln, he notes that the former President adapted the techniques of classical rhetoric to the vernacular of the American masses.
I think Leith is right, and am grateful to Wells for making us aware of You Talkin’ to Me? For those of our readers who are interested in why rhetoric (properly conceived) is an indispensable tool for life in this world, I offer Dorothy Sayer’s “The Lost Tools of Learning.” In this essay, Sayers argues that the great defect in 20th century education was that teachers conveyed information without teaching students the art of thinking and learning.
In Sayers’ opinion (and I agree), the Medieval “Trivium” (grammar, dialectic, and rhetoric) fosters in students the arts of thinking and learning. “The whole of the Trivium,” Sayers writes, “was, in fact, intended to teach the pupil the proper use of the tools of learning, before he began to apply them to ‘subjects’ at all. First, he learned a language; not just how to order a meal in a foreign language, but the structure of a language, and hence of language itself-what it was, how it was put together, and how it worked. Secondly, he learned how to use language; how to define his terms and make accurate statements; how to construct an argument and how to detect fallacies in argument. Dialectic, that is to say, embraced Logic and Disputation. Thirdly, he learned to express himself in language-how to say what he had to say elegantly and persuasively.”
For this reason, C@SE incorporates all three aspects of the Trivium into its core curriculum, and does so by (1) requiring a foreign language for all students, (2) making “critical thinking and communication” a core competency which should be fostered in every classroom, (3) marking out several writing-intensive courses in which the student must demonstrate critical thinking through writing, and (4) facilitating a Writing Center, which helps our students develop in logic, disputation, and rhetoric. Further, C@SE offers a Humanities major, in which students take courses devoted to logic and rhetoric.
All of that to say two things: (1) the world that God created has language woven deeply into its fabric. We want to use language well to God’s glory, (2) if you are looking for a college that will help you, or somebody you love, to develop in those skills, C@SE is the place to enroll.