The first step in Classical education is grammar, in which students learn the fundamentals of language and how to use them; then comes logic, which teaches students the art of clear and consistent thinking; and finally, rhetoric is the discipline of using grammar and logic skills to make convincing arguments in an engaging and winsome manner.
James Stobaugh turns to this final discipline in Skills for Rhetoric, a writing course to be completed by middle school students ready to enter high school who've had thorough instruction in grammar and logic. Stobaugh equates rhetoric with Christian apologetics, so that this text has a highly practical aim: the author wants to train students to intelligently defend their faith.
How Does This Work?
As with the logic-level course Skills for Literary Analysis, Skills for Rhetoric is comprised of a single student book and a loose-leaf teacher guide. Students will need no other materials to complete the course. Unlike Stobaugh's high school literature programs, this one isn't entirely student-directed, though they can complete most of the work on their own.
There are 34 chapters to be completed one per week during one school year. Each chapter includes four lessons with reading and writing assignments for Monday-Thursday, and a writing assignment or exam due Friday. Students are warned at the outset of each chapter what will be due Friday, and are given learning objectives for the week.
Students are also to keep a prayer journal, writing in it at least three days per week. This is intended to help students chronicle their spiritual journal, as well as to foster creativity and thought. Teachers can include this journal in the final grade for the course, but Stobaugh suggests that, due to the personal nature of the journal, grades be awarded for completion, not content.
For the first 21 chapters, students learn how to write various types of essays (descriptive, persuasive, summary, etc.); in chapters 22-34, they compose a research paper. Emphasis is placed on clarity of thought and clarity of expression, and students are being trained to work through material intellectually in order to analyze it according to Christian principles.
Every lesson will take about one hour to complete, including the exam or assignment due Friday. This is not for the faint of heart, or for those still struggling to master grammar and composition. Stobaugh moves at a rapid yet thorough pace, and there isn't a lot of teacher support to help instructors or students who may be in need of rescue.
The teacher guide includes answer keys, Daily Concept Builders, and weekly essay questions and tests; there is instructional material included, though it isn't exhaustive. Fortunately, the text in the student book is quite comprehensive, and there should be few if any sticking points that can't be overcome.
Skills for Rhetoric is a Christ-centered program designed specifically to raise up young people able to express the truths of their faith clearly, without rancor, and for the defense and commendation of Christian belief. Many secular texts are referenced and studied, but only to highlight examples of good rhetorical writing for students to imitate.
Our Honest Opinion
For a one-volume writing course that is easy to implement yet challenging and rigorous, Skills for Rhetoric is hard to beat. There are more comprehensive courses available, but none that are as succinct or practical. Because there's a clear trajectory for the course, Stobaugh doesn't have to waste time on peripheral matters, making this a svelte volume and muscular program.
Students will need to come into this with their ducks in a row. Not that they need to be masters of rhetoric, but they do need to be able to write sensible compositions with a minimum of grammatical and mechanical errors, and to think clearly about a range of topics and issues.Skills for Literary Analysis is good prep for the latter; Writing with Skill is good prep for the former.
There are more and more Classical-style writing courses on the market, but surprisingly few of them deal directly with rhetoric (or if they do, it's much later in the student's education). Stobaugh doesn't necessarily excel at every discipline he undertakes to teach, but writing and literature seem to be his forte, and this course sets a high standard for rhetoric instruction.
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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