In discussing the "why" of Rhetoric, the same preliminary issues must be examined that are of concern in dialectic and other verbal/language skills. We are a civilization that has lost much by 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, as a skill that once mastered, equips students to not only respond to our culture, but to actively influence it.
As with the other skills of the Trivium (the Verbal Arts see Classical Liberal 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 all students of all ages even from day one.
Rhetoric is simply the art of persuasive expression. So, what is contained in the actual "skill" of rhetoric? Aristotle, puts forth this definition: "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). (see why 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 which focus on "whatever works to get your point across", the emphasis in traditional rhetoric is upon saying it correctly, skillfully, and appropriately. It seeks to cultivate the ability to use devices and metaphors; to not only say it, but to 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 both great rhetorical works, great rhetoricians and their methods. Once as sophomores, and twice as juniors and seniors students present formal rhetorical speeches (see Rhetoric Presentations) which average thirty minutes in length. After their presentation, they must defend their papers through the questions of peers, other students, members of the faculty and visitors. It is a rigorous and challenging process.
Rhetorical training at Westminster Academy focuses on persuading logically and passionately with integrity. The focus is on what pleases God through speaking and studying how to communicate to the soul in a way that brings dignity to the image of God found in humanity.