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High School:

Finally, You're Old Enough and Smart Enough

To Voice Opinions and Back Them Up! Woo Hoo!


Q. So grade school is the "grammar" stage, middle school is the "logic" stage, and high school and beyond is for "rhetoric." What exactly does that mean?


If you've made it into high school, you've been equipped with "grammar," which is knowledge and facts, and "logic," which gives you ways to reason clearly with knowledge and facts. Now, in high school, it's time for "rhetoric" - the art of applying those knowledge and facts personally in an effective way.


You could think of grammar as knowledge, logic as understanding, and rhetoric as creativity.


Once you make it to high school, you've probably gained enough of a knowledge base and experience with analysis to be able to take a stand on an issue and communicate it convincingly to others, or look at a model of an invention and give it a new twist that no one's ever thought of before.


Many school systems erroneously expect grade-school children to exhibit the rhetorical skills that they aren't ready for, wasting their time with "critical-thinking" activities when they don't have any facts or skills to critically think about. Naturally, they fail, or produce low-quality products, which would be unacceptable anywhere else but grade school.


In those same systems, unfortunately, there are many high school students who have not mastered the "grammar" - facts, principles, formulae, etc. -- of English, math, science and history sufficiently to be able to handle the "rhetoric" stage of their educations, and so they fall flat. No wonder they don't know the basics of their school subjects: they were never given a chance to learn them! At least, not in a thorough, systematic way that can give them success in high school and college.


There's NOTHING wrong with the kids. It's how the education system has messed up the content of what is taught and the order in which it is taught.


Your K-8 education is supposed to teach you the basic models of everything you study, what discoveries have been important in the past, and what are the standard operating procedures in each area, such as the rules of spelling for writing, or how you test a scientific experiment in a way that's valid.


In the middle school years, you should have been taught the causes and consequences of things so that, in high school, you will have insight into current events and be able to apply your original thoughts and ideas to those subjects.


Here's an example: a computer scientist learns the "grammar" of computer operating systems at first, comprehends the "logic" of the technology next, and then can write original programs that organize and present data in a unique and useful way, in the "rhetoric" stage.


Grammar, logic and rhetoric form the trivium - the heart of a good liberal arts education. In high school, if you have a quality curriculum and faculty, you'll have an opportunity to pursue the quadrivium as well - mathematics, music, astronomy and geometry. (The latter has to do with understanding space, and includes art and architecture.)


That will set you up to study the sciences, including natural sciences and philosophy, the moral sciences of history, politics and law, and the theological sciences, chiefly the study of religion, which, ironically, is considered the pinnacle of subjects to study under classical education thought lines, even though it has been driven out of the curriculum by today's public schools. That's a sad commentary in and of itself.


Homework: Read Classical Education: Towards the Revival of American Schooling, by Gene Edward Veith, Jr., and Andrew Kern, and if you wish your school district set up high school the way the classical high schools in the book do, be sure and share the book with the powers that be in your district.


By Susan Darst Williams Ages & Stages 145 2008


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