CA Blog

Posts Tagged "Rhetoric"

Part II: Ten Things I Love About Mock Trials

May 12, 2015
By Dr. Faith Acker

Ten Things I Love about Mock Trials: Part II

Faith Acker

 

In my last post, I discussed five traditional benefits of mock trials. They are a wonderful pedagogical tool, provide great practice for real-world situations, and help students learn to think and to express themselves more clearly. These are all good academic defenses of mock trials, but the mock trial structure also has some less traditional benefits.

6.  Objections! The trial process is filled with rules and structure, as well as opportunities to challenge others who do not follow this structure. Learning how to challenge or contradict other people respectfully is one of life’s most important lessons. If practiced in secondary school, it will help these students in college (especially if they enroll in secular colleges), their careers, and even their relationships. While I don’t advocate shouting “Objection!” at a classmate, employer, or spouse, I do encourage my students to raise questions—and talk through the answers—not only in the mock trial process, but in all our English classes.

 

7.  Pathos reigns supreme. Trial arguments require not only logos (clear logic) and ethos (appeals to standards), but pathos. The most persuasive opening statement in the world still must survive the emotional appeal of a bereaved witness pleading for the other side. Trials, of necessity, include all forms of rhetorical appeal, students must learn to identify (and respond appropriately to) whatever rhetoric the world offers them.

8.  We study opposing views. Learning to understand differing schools of thought is an important part of the classical education, and both mock trial and debate allow students to anticipate and analyze differing opinions. My ninth graders are currently working on a mock trial of Creon (from Antigone), and at least two of them are annoyed that I’ve put them on the “wrong” side. Defending both sides of a given position is at the heart of the classical (Socratic) methodology, and it will also help us—as Christians—practice respect and discernment.

9.  Trial preparations are frustrating. Life is full of unexpected complications, such as the closing statement that mysteriously deletes itself the night before a trial, the witness who does not remember key details, or the irksome lawyer who makes repeated objections. Learning to deal with frustrations with grace is an important part of life; it is an especially crucial part of Christianity. We are called upon to live our faith not only in the blessed times, but also during the trials, and the annoyances and panics that plague long and complicated projects (such as mock trials) offer safe opportunities to practice appropriate responses.

10.  Trial preparations enable grace. Life is full of unexpected complications, and these also allow others to show us grace. Many of my students are (like me) fiercely independent and self-motivated. As Christians, we are expected to live in community, and in addition to serving others, we also sometimes need to allow others to serve us. During our Lancelot trial, one of my most independent students (who has many great skills, but is not the most accomplished typist) was driven by necessity to ask for last-minute typing assistance from a classmate. For her (and for me), learning to accept help with grace and gratitude is an important spiritual lesson.

As a teacher, mock trials require extensive (and sometimes exhausting) preparations and planning, but their benefits are tremendous. They are challenging and exciting in the moment, and some of these benefits will (I pray!)  last these students for decades.

Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary fiction)

November 20, 2014
By Faith Acker
  • Why we study The Odyssey (and not contemporary teen fiction)

 

 

As I write this post, my ninth-grade English students are reading about the homecoming of weary Odysseus, whose hostility towards the son of Poseidon (the Greek god of the sea) has caused numerous complications and frustrations to delay our unhappy hero.

 

Our journey through the book is not without its own delays and frustrations.

 

“Why is Odysseus so mean to the Cyclops?” one student asked.

“I didn’t understand anything that happened on page 326,” another student journaled.

“Why does he have to sneak around in disguise?” my students demanded on several differing occasions.

 

 

Reading The Odyssey is, for many students, an odyssey in its own right. We read it for the better part of a school quarter, and it is one of the most detailed and dense books on the Cornerstone curriculum. Some students struggle with the line breaks and the elaborate poetical language; others are frustrated by the lack of proper nouns. A large percentage of them would prefer to read Divergent and The Hunger Games, with whose main characters they identify more strongly.

 

However, The Odyssey has one significant benefit: it provides a safe arena in which students can evaluate and critique the actions of other human beings.

 

In many first-person present-tense teen novels of today, the stream-of-consciousness monologues of the protagonist-narrators leave readers little room for literary interpretation. Towards the end of The Hunger Games, protagonist and narrator Katniss says,

 

“I can’t get caught out here. . . . Not only will I face death, it’s sure to be a long and painful one. . . . The thought of [my sister] having to watch . . . keeps me doggedly inching my way towards the hideout” (223).

 

  • Collins’ readers can have no doubts about Katniss’ motivations; she wants to protect her sister from any harm or suffering. Her explanation isn’t wrong, but it means that discussions of the book focus predominantly on facts and personal reactions. Readers are not encouraged to discuss and analyze Katniss’ motivations, because the author has already revealed the answers.

 

In contrast, consider The Odyssey:

 

“They sent their ravishing voices out across the air

and the heart inside me throbbed to listen longer.

I signaled the crew with frowns to set me free--

they flung themselves at the oars and rowed on harder . . .

But once we’d left the Sirens fading in our wake,

once we could hear the song no more, their urgent call--

my steadfast crew was quick to remove the wax I’d used

to seal their ears and loosed the bonds that lashed me” (277).

 

Like Katniss, Odysseus is in great peril and great agony. Although his statements, like those of Katniss, are in the first person, my students were quick to query:

 

“Why does he want to listen?”

“Why do only the sailors seal their ears?”

“Why is he so desperate to get free?”

 

Both The Odyssey and The Hunger Games can be used to answer important and meaningful questions, and many of the same questions can be applied to both. For instance:

 

How does this book present a hero, or a savior?

What is the source of the protagonist’s strength?

What does this book teach about friendship, loyalty, or truth?

 

When the discussions have faded, however, uncertainty about The Odyssey remains. We could discuss and debate The Odyssey for an entire year, or read it once every year, and at the end of that year, there would be more to discover and debate. For a few, the same could be true of the newest teen novel; for thousands, this has already been true of The Odyssey.

 

Citations:

Collins, Suzanne. The Hunger Games. New York: Scholastic, 2009 (2008).

Homer. The Odyssey. transl. Robert Fagles. New York: Penguin, 1997 (1996).

Why "Waste Time" in School

November 20, 2014
By Dane Bundy

Why “Waste Time” in School

 

Two years ago I walked outside and stumbled upon a striking image. There, sprawled on the ground (no doubt a fire hazard), were a number of my students eagerly “wasting time” in conversation.

As I approached them, I noticed they were exchanging words with unusual vibrancy. They had books in their hands (philosophical books) by authors like Anselm and Lewis. They were dialoguing about the Trinity!

What have I done right, I thought. How can I patent it?

But, that’s the catch, I hadn’t really done anything. This “waste of time” was all their doing!

I only provided the opportunity. We cut “productive” time out of their busy school day to make room for “unproductive” time, or leisure. Or as James V. Schall puts it: “wasting time.”

As odd as it sounds, history, Scripture, and experience offer compelling reasons for why we should “waste time” in school.

 

Leisure in History

 

Leisure and learning have a rich history as close friends. The word “school” actually comes from the Greek word schole, which means “leisure.” Josef Pieper argues that the great Western thinkers saw leisure as the basis for culture.

The Greek and Roman thinkers drew stark distinctions between work and leisure. A slave who had to work could not afford time for leisure. The liberal arts (or the free arts) provided individuals with the tools and essential knowledge to live a life of learning and deep contemplation.

We can define leisure as time spent on things that are ends to themselves, such as friendship, conversation, and contemplation.

   

Leisure in Scripture

 

God has a word to say on this topic as well. God instituted the Sabbath for man on the seventh day after his own rest and leisure. As outlined for the Jews, the Sabbath was a day specifically marked for time away from work or productivity. It was “wasted time” in rest: the rejuvenation of the mind and body.  It was “wasted time” in leisure: prayer, contemplation, celebration, and worship.

To the modern Christian “wasted time” with God may take the form of Bible reading, meditation, Christian fellowship, and corporate worship. “Be still and know that I am God,” writes the Psalmist. What a much needed exhortation to stop, be silent, and consider the deep things of God!

 

Leisure and Experience

 

In leisure, a strange phenomenon takes place: learning can feel more like joy than work.  Leisure can spark a desire to learn for its own sake.

But, ironically, places of learning are often more characterized by work than leisure and by busyness than contemplation. Administrators, parents, teachers, and students all are busy.

Please don’t hear me say busyness or hard work is bad (God ordained the Jews six days of it). I’m also not saying leisure is easy. Contemplation demands sustained focus.

But what if our students are too busy and too overworked to stop and focus and contemplate? Would you not agree something is awry?

 

Leisure at Cornerstone

 

At Cornerstone, we have sought a number of ways to match leisure once again with learning.

Within the classroom, we discuss and debate ideas, and the students journal on a regular basis. I even designated a corner of my room (furnished with our theatre props) for leisure called Socrates’ Circle. We have it all planned out. When my students think an idea deserves debate or discussion, they shoot up their hands to give the signal. If the timing is right, I return the signal, we cry out “Socrates!”, and rush to the corner!

Parallel to the classroom, we’ve established the Contemplatorium. As the name implies, it is extended time for students and teachers to read, contemplate, and discuss. The students are assigned mentors (CA teachers) who match them with texts to interest and challenge them. There are no grades or exams for this time, and no competition or demand to produce anything. Most of the time it’s marked by silence, unless broken with the exchange of ideas.

 

As I write this post, my students are sprawled across the room. One is lying on the carpet in Socrates’ Circle and another sitting in the rocking chair. If all goes well, much time will be “wasted.”

 

Search by Keyword(s):
(separate multiples with a comma)

Recent Posts

9/29/17 - By Dr. Faith Acker
4/18/17 - By Lynette Fowler, Pre-K Director
2/15/17 - By Lynette Fowler, Pre-Kindergarten Director
7/13/16 - By Lynette Fowler
6/24/16 - By Chelsea Carrier

Archives

Tag Cloud