This is the final post from a series of articles that aims to explain the three stages of classical education, also known as the trivium. Most of the information used in these articles originates from ‘The Well-Educated Mind’ by Susan Wise Bauer. Part one of this Series is can be found here and part two here.
The final stage of classical education is that of Rhetoric. In this stage, you progress from just learning about the subject matter in private to being able to discuss and debate the subject with others. Being able to construct your own researched and well thought out arguments for a particular view. Based on the knowledge learned from the previous two stages of the Trivium.
The reason Rhetoric acts as the final stage, is that via good productive debate with others, you can expand your own learning in ways you might not otherwise been able to. Sometimes in order to grow and learn, you need to be willing to engage with someone who will challenge your ideas and theories. Doing so allows you to test if your own arguments are watertight, and perhaps even alter them after having heard a view on the subject from an alternative perspective.
Overall, the best way to practice this is often debate. Though I would recommend debates with a close friend who would not take it personally if you are debating on something that they may disagree with. It is good to look for the sort of people who are able to separate your ideas, from you as a person. And likewise in any debate you should aim to do the same, focus on the subject matter and never fall to the lows of resorting to personal, ad hominem attacks.
It takes time and practice to work on how to structure and word arguments in debates, or in writing. How to put forward your views and ideas in a way that others will understand takes a great deal of practice. As such, if you are debating a friend or pitching an idea at a meeting, do not be disheartened or take it personally if you are not the victor of that debate. Doing so will prevent you from learning from that experience and being able to evaluate what parts of your idea did and did not work This prevents you from refining your ideas, potentially changing some of them, and being able to grow your ideas and debating skill though experience.
Though, as a word of caution. It is very much needed to save this stage of learning until last, even if debating can be very entertaining and very rewarding. A lot of damage can be done by debating and putting out ideas before you have a decent grasp of the subject area which you are debating in. Joining debates at this stage will likely reinforce bad debating habits, as you won’t have enough of a backing to understand your opponents arguments enough to reasonably disagree with them, by pointing out holes in their arguments. Instead you run the risk of being more likely to fall into “dirty” debating tactics, which do not help anyone, least of all yourself.
Another important part of joining debates, is to work hard on keeping an open mind. As doing so is the only way you can learn from debates, even if you disagree with someone it is wise to try and work out their own logic and why they think in the way they do. They might believe something different to you because of their own personal history, which may give them a different perspective or because of many other reasons which are not simply due to them being stupid and wrong.
By keeping an open and accepting mind, it allows you to separate the debate of ideas from someones character. And that will allow your debates to be productive and enjoyable for both parties, and unlike the majority of bad faith debates so commonly seen in this day and age.
Rhetoric will always be a highly important part of learning, and very enjoyable one if you debate and engage in ideas in good faith. It allows you to show off your mastery and understanding of a certain topic, all the while growing your own knowledge and growing ever more.
I hope that this series on the stages of classical learning will help you as you engage with new topics and subjects. While they might be age old principles, they still very much apply today. The only way of course that you can know if they will aid you, is to try them out and see what happens.