Latin, Logic, and Rhetoric?
Many of the courses offered at Westminster Academy are the same as the requirements of other rigorous college-preparatory programs, though we strive to teach all subjects relationally through Socratic dialogue. There are three requirements that are distinct to classical education: Latin, logic, and rhetoric.
Westminster starts Latin with 2nd grade students. Beginning in 2015, students will transition to a modern foreign language in 7th and 8th grade and then continue with Latin in grades 9-12.
By studying Latin, students are engaging not only the language, but the people, events, and culture which formed the foundations of Western Civilization. Though the Roman Empire fell to the barbarians in the 5th century, one might say that the barbarians fell to Latin. They adopted the language and much of the culture of the Romans. As the Empire broke apart and there was no longer a centralized power, dialects of Latin began to differ more widely in the far-flung reaches of the Empire. In time these dialects became Spanish, Portuguese, French, Italian, and Romanian. The invasion of England by the French in 1066 brought Latin-based language to the British Isles, so that though English is not derived from Latin, today 60 percent of English vocabulary is derived from Latin.
Studying Latin, therefore, greatly bolsters students’ ability to develop their English vocabularies and facilitates learning a Romance language (those languages based in “Roman”). Moreover, students truly learn the structures of English grammar as they learn the corresponding Latin forms. Because Latin is an inflected language, studying it requires high attention to detail, the ability to hold large amounts of material in the brain’s working memory, and the logical skills to determine what is needed and why in any given grammatical situation. Students at even a beginning level in Latin are creating logic pathways in the brain which can be used later as they reason through arguments. These are merely the perks, the side effects of learning Latin. The true goal of studying any language should be to use it. As Latin is no longer a spoken language, the goal of the Latin program at WA is to enjoy reading Latin and to learn the great truths contained therein.
We therefore use a reading approach to Latin, learning new vocabulary by analogy, pictures, and context, and introducing new grammatical constructions as needed to understand a passage. In this approach, students not only retain the information better, they are better equipped to learn unfamiliar words and grammar in the future. In order to gain confidence in their language skills, students are asked to use as many modalities as possible, so they listen to, speak, write, and act out Latin. It is very exciting to visit a 4th grade classroom and hear that it is conducted solely in Latin, by both the teacher and students!
Historically, logic was called the “art of arts,” it being the foundational skill of so many of the other arts. Rhetoric was logic beautified; arithmetic was the logic of calculation; geometry was the logic of numerical relationship.
Today, many are mistaken in the idea that logic is mathematical by nature, as traditionally this hasn’t been the case. Logic has its first and foremost grounding in language. It is the skill of correct thinking and conceptual development. It is the thinking through of similarities, comparisons, and differences in order to induce the correct general conclusions. Logic is seen as the “foundational art” because it is developed at the beginning of educational training and is active throughout the student’s education. In our curriculum at Westminster Academy, though the formal study begins in the 8th grade, sound reasoning skills are actively and intentionally taught beginning in kindergarten.
Formal rhetoric classes are required in the 10th, 11th, and 12th Grades.
We are a civilization that has lost much in the way of communication. Not that there is any lack of intent to communicate – we are in the age of information! But we lack the ability to discern and apply appropriate and effective expression. For this very reason, we must not only recover the meaning of the word rhetoric, but we must also restore its rightful place as a powerful and useful skill for efficient and effective communication. In particular, rhetoric is a skill that once mastered, equips students not only to respond to our culture but also to actively influence it. As with the other skills of the Trivium (the verbal arts), rhetoric is a tool. While rhetoric is taught at Westminster Academy as a formal subject to the more advanced student, the habits of rhetoric are developed for students of all ages beginning in kindergarten.
Rhetoric is simply the art of persuasive expression, or as Aristotle wrote, “It is the ability to discern in any situation the available means of persuasion.” In fact, Aristotle says that you must not divorce your speaking (rhetoric) from your thinking (logic).
The result is substantive and persuasive expression. It is coming up with a good, sound argument and choosing the right form for your message. Unlike the goal of modern speech classes that focus on whatever works to get your point across, the emphasis in traditional rhetoric is on saying it correctly, skillfully, and appropriately. It seeks to cultivate the ability to use devices and metaphors, not only to say it, but to also say it with beauty and with clarity. Once learned, it serves students across all disciplines both in the written word and orally.
Westminster Academy’s formal instruction in rhetoric includes substantial study of great rhetorical works, great rhetoricians, and their methods. Once as sophomores and twice as juniors and seniors, students present a formal rhetorical speech that can be up to 30 minutes in length and is often memorized in its entirety. After their presentations, students must defend their papers through the questions of peers, members of the faculty, and visitors. It is a rigorous and challenging process, yet alumni often refer to their senior rhetoric speeches with pride as the richest and most satisfying experience of their time at Westminster.
Another fine example of how rhetoric can benefit your student.