Progymnasmata – Preliminary Exercises for the Development of Rhetorical Skill

This year, I have had the privilege of teaching 7th-9th grade composition.  I consider it a privilege for three reasons.  First, teaching is not a task into which I enter lightly.  James 3:1 reminds all of us as Christian educators, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.”  Second, I have an exceptional group of students, and I say that not because this is a blogpost for our school.  Finally, I have the opportunity to make use of a curriculum that is over 1600 years old.  This curriculum follows the classical trajectory of preparation for rhetoric the art of a good man speaking well – as the capstone of educational expression.  In the classical world, that preparation for rhetoric was known as progymnasmata: which simply means preceding exercises.  These exercises are a structured leading of students through templates for writing and speaking that are essential for orderly communication.  They are phenomenally well assembled, and I have only begun this year to see how they are designed to give students the building blocks that they need to formulate their thoughts in a winsome and coherent fashion for the rest of their lives.  

It has been a joy to be able to see my students growing in both their ability to write and in their own enjoyment of using these templates – which serve as the ancient paths to truly superb written and verbal communication.  Composition is certainly one of the subjects in which we need more study of the ancient methods rather than increased innovation.  Consequently, it bears repeating that the best path forward in education is undoubtedly backward.