Rhetoric: It’s “Classical” Because It Works

“Back to the basics” works if you chose the right basics. (We could debate that.)

The Writing Revolution,” an article in The Atlantic, argues that attention to basic rhetorical principles — as opposed to expressing your feelings or writing in order to become a better person— helps disadvantaged high school students to succeed.

And so the school’s principal, Deirdre DeAngelis, began a detailed investigation into why, ultimately, New Dorp’s students were failing. By 2008, she and her faculty had come to a singular answer: bad writing. Students’ inability to translate thoughts into coherent, well-argued sentences, paragraphs, and essays was severely impeding intellectual growth in many subjects. Consistently, one of the largest differences between failing and successful students was that only the latter could express their thoughts on the page. If nothing else, DeAngelis and her teachers decided, beginning in the fall of 2009, New Dorp students would learn to write well.

2 Comments

  1. Modred says:

    Dad worked for the Richmond Times Dispatch as an engraver for 30 years. When I was a teenager he taught me to lead with my major point and write “inverted pyramid” style. In art, he taught me that darkness brings out the light. Later, in college, I learned that there were fancy names for those things, like rhetoric and chiaroscuro. Call it what you want – consistent fundamentals can get you a long, long way.

  2. I know this makes me antiquated, but learning how to diagram sentences taught me (1) how to think and (2) how to write.