When I was a lad, my elder relatives had a saying about children, “Children should be seen and not heard.” I took it that they wanted time for adult conversation, and it took a great deal of self-control for my siblings and me to remain silent. Today, it doesn’t seem difficult to keep children quiet. As I look around at children in our country, I see many in public places with their faces buried in electronic devices, lips sealed. Even in typical American classrooms, teachers speak, students remain silent, and often it seems like pulling teeth to get students to speak. At ECA, and other Classical Christian schools, efforts are being made to go against the trend of silent students! In fact, our classrooms are about as “vocal” as any you’ll find. When I visit our Elementary/Grammar classrooms, I hear students singing and chanting to commit to memory basic facts of each subject and Scripture. When I listen to our Junior High/Logic/Dialectic students, I hear a dialogue between them and our teachers; and these students are learning to think on their feet to discuss both sides of any argument in a respectful way. But it is in our High School/Rhetoric classes where significant improvements are being incorporated as we ramp up the opportunities for these students to be more vocal and to accept a greater role in leadership and facilitation of the learning process. Quintillian, author of Institutes of Oratory, suggests a working definition of rhetoric as “the good man speaking well.” While Jesus said, “No one is good except God alone…” (Mark 10:18), I think it is safe to say that Quintillian is making reference to a “virtuously prepared” person. We can agree that we desire to prepare students who not only speak well, but that their speech would come from a Godly influence. The Association of Classical and Christian Schools are encouraging their schools to do three things with high school students in order to improve preparation at the rhetoric level:
- Provide students with solid opportunities for student-led discussion. Our teachers have been receiving training to integrate this in their classrooms, especially in our history, literature, Bible, and rhetoric classes. In Grades 10-12, students should be encouraged to initiate respectful dialogue with each other, under the observation and supervision of a well-prepared teacher, to seek out God’s truth in these subjects.
- Encourage students to draw upon prior learning in discussion participation. Once student discussion is informed from Scripture and previous learning, students begin to converse intelligently about things that make a difference in today’s world, from a biblical perspective.
- Give students an opportunity to utilize solid techniques of persuasion during discussion. As students grow in their ability to understand and reason in truth, it is only logical that they would perfect their ability to become persuasive in truth, too.