The Fitting Words Classical Rhetoric course is designed for Christian high school students. The goal of the course is to develop a student’s rhetorical skills for both written and spoken communication so that they are equipped to engage the culture from a Christian worldview. As the foreword says:
“Therefore, a Christian who is serious about their faith and the implications thereof, will eventually come to see that one of the greatest disciplines we could mature in is our ability to speak the truth beautifully, and that means rhetoric. If we want to love our neighbor, engage in cultural critique, hear and understand God’s Word, persuade the lost to be found, convince the unfaithful to return, and have the tools to assess where we and others may be going verbally wrong—in short, if we want to be faithful and maturing Christians—then studying rhetoric is not an option; it is not an elective. It is a necessity” (pp. xv-xvi).
The course combines video lectures (on DVD and/or streaming) along with a student text and a student workbook. The teacher will use the separate answer key and administer tests from an exam packet.
The course is classical in methodology, although the content is strongly shaped by the course’s Christian perspective. Ancient resources such as Aristotle’s Rhetoric and Cicero’s Rhetorica ad Herennium are the foundation of much of the theory taught in the course.
The seven units of the course are titled:
- Foundations of Rhetoric
- Invention and Arrangement
- Understanding and Emotions: Ethos and Pathos
- Fitting words to the Topic: Special Lines of Argument
- General Lines of Argument
- Fitting Words to the Audience: Style and Ornament
- Memory and Delivery
Lessons incorporate models of great rhetoric that students read, analyze, and compare. These models come from a wide range of interesting material, including ancient works such as Plato’s Phaedrus, Cicero’s “First Oration Against Catiline,” numerous passages from the Bible, Patrick Henry’s “Give Me Liberty” speech, and Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have a Dream” speech. The complete texts of some speeches are included in an appendix in the student textbook, and excerpts are often included within the pertinent lessons.
Students begin each of the 30 lessons by watching a video lecture presented by James Nance. Next, they read lesson material from the hardcover student textbook. The video lecture expands upon the text material, but students need to use both components to learn the lesson content.
A briefer Application video segment for each lesson then teaches about one rhetorical figure (either a figure of speech or a figure of thought), explains commonplace book assignments, discusses the optional Thinking Deeper questions, and addresses workbook assignments.
Each student needs a commonplace book (a nicely bound book with blank, lined pages) in which they will write meaningful quotes or phrases, pertinent insights, and other memorable things they might come across. They are given specific assignments for this, but they should also add things on their own.
The student workbook has one or more exercises for each lesson. While a few exercises require only brief answers, most require lengthier written responses. For example, on page 11, one exercise reads: “Summarize the method of basing argument on probability. How does this method go astray, according to Socrates? [272-273]” Answers for the exercises are in the Fitting Words Answer Key.
Thinking Deeper questions at the end of each lesson in the student text are intended to be used for discussion. These will sometimes require outside reading from the Bible or other sources. While these questions relate to lesson material, they often go further into life application. You can see this clearly in the first two Thinking Deeper questions on page 166. The first question asks, “What is the connection between ceremonial oratory and the development of ethos?” The second question reads, “Jesus Christ was the most virtuous man who ever lived. Discuss Aristotle’s nine forms of virtue in relation to the Lord Jesus.” These questions are thought-provoking and worthwhile, but someone familiar with the lesson material needs to be available to discuss them with a student—a good reason to use the course in a group class that meets at least once a week.
As they work through the course, students will write and present five speeches. Some Application video segments add explanations regarding speeches students are to give and the use of the Speech Judging Sheets from the student workbook. Again, a group class setting is likely to work best as an audience for student speeches as well as giving students opportunities to hear how others fulfill the speech assignments.
Another optional component is included at the end of some lessons in the textbook: Developing Memory. These might direct students to tasks such as to memorize and recite one of Aesop’s fables (page 216), memorize and recite a quote from Aristotle’s Rhetoric 1.2 (which is written out there on page 258), or memorize the names and definitions of the figures of speech and thought (page 305).
Nine exams are included with the course. Pre-exam video segments help students review topics to be covered on each exam.
James Nance’s style of presentation in the video lectures is businesslike rather than entertaining. He is conveying the tools and skills students need to become excellent rhetoricians. While it is clear that he loves the subject, Nance comes across like a typical classroom teacher. However, a group class meeting where students can become involved with lively discussion of Thinking Deeper questions and other course content could make all the difference in student enjoyment of the course. While it is possible for a student to use the course for independent study with parents serving as both speech audience and course monitors, I think it clearly works best for a group meeting once a week or more. Whatever the setting, Fitting Words does an excellent job of taking rhetoric to a deeper and more practical level because it teaches the higher calling of rhetoric within the life of a Christian.