Rhetoric is "the faculty of discovering in any particular case all of the available means of persuasion."
Although it is believed that actions speak louder than words, it is often that words are what call us to action in the first place. Time and again before tackling a big task or embarking on a great journey, we refer to letters of inspiration or passages of Scripture that touch a deeper part of ourselves resulting in a stronger resolve to do something great or revolutionary. It is the belief in the power of words and the motivation behind them that is the basis for the curriculum unit, Persuasively Speaking: Teaching Persuasive Writing through Great American Speeches.
Persuasive writing is a staple of Language Arts classrooms. With the inception of the CMT and the CAPT test, we are not only encouraged but almost required to have some element of persuasive writing within our curriculum. This curriculum unit will be a tool to help students develop their own persuasive voice by listening, reading and analyzing great speeches and writings that can be said to have changed the perspective of America. College professors often tell high school teachers that students come into English 101 lacking some basic skills, one being the ability to take a stance and write persuasively. They often stand in the middle and give the pros and cons of both sides of an issue, never really letting the reader know where
stand. The ability to persuade really is natural to young people. How often do teenagers ask parents and teachers for something that elicits a "no" but through carefully thought out arguments, that young person can get the "yes" he or she was looking for. They hold skills to do this in formal writing and may not even be aware of it.
Rhetoric is thought to have begun with the Sophists during the fifth century B.C. and become legendary under Plato, Aristotle and Socrates. By definition from those same philosophers, rhetoric is defined as a "system with the built-in assumption that one first finds knowledge and then puts it into words"
. This process is clearly something teachers of English employ in their classrooms; we hope that students find knowledge or information and then write about it in their own words. The Aristotelian model has been the greatest influence on rhetoric and sets up standards and procedures for argument development, in the hopes of avoiding fallacies and inaccuracies in either writing or speaking.