rhetorical pedagogy
Rhetorical Analysis
Rhetorical Exercises

From antiquity to the present day, rhetoric has always been closely associated with schooling. As a discipline within classical Greek and Roman curricula, in the medieval trivium, and within renaissance humanist education, rhetoric occupied a central place. Rhetorical pedagogy has not always been consistent, of course. However, certain basic assumptions and methods have persisted, particularly from the classical and renaissance periods when rhetorical education was most codified.

A primary assumption within rhetorical pedagogy has been the idea that speaking and writing ability is not merely a product of inborn talent, but that instruction in theory, coupled with practice, can complement native ability and lead one to excellence in speaking and writing (see Rhetorical Ability).

Next, rhetorical pedagogy is built upon the assumption that the careful observation and analysis of successful communication is required (See Rhetorical Analysis). Indeed, the many rhetorical handbooks began not as abstract prescriptions for how to speak or write, but as descriptive accounts of best practices. As the habits of successful speakers and writers have been observed over time, these strategies have been named and placed within a theoretical system and have thus become the "art" (or tekhne) of rhetoric

Rhetorical pedagogy has maintained this emphasis upon observing and analyzing best practices by remaining a profoundly literary endeavor. The speeches and writings of the best orators and authors have remained a principal focus for rhetorical instruction; rhetorical manuals do not substitute for, but become an aid to, rhetorical analysis of literary models. Literature was read both for its content, as part of producing what Quintilian described as the vir bonus peritus dicendi, "a good man who speaks well," and for its exemplary form and rhetorical techniques.

Rhetorical pedagogy relied upon a very close relationship between reading and writing, observing and composing. One rhetorician, Peter Ramus, accordingly divided rhetorical pedagogy into two overarching activities: analysis and genesis. The observation of successful speaking or writing ("analysis") precedes and improves one's own speaking or writing ("genesis").

Students were taught to listen and to read not merely for ideas, but for finding useful strategies and techniques (See details under Rhetorical Analysis). Such techniques could be adopted and adapted into their own speaking and writing through various kinds of imitation (See Imitation). Finally, specific rhetorical exercises have been assigned to students to train them to move from analysis, through imitation, to genesis—composing for themselves (see Rhetorical Exercises).

Sources: The classical and Renaissance sources for each aspect of rhetorical pedagogy can be found in Burton.


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Gideon O. Burton, Brigham Young University
Please cite "Silva Rhetoricae" (rhetoric.byu.edu)