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A defence of classical rhetoric in Scotland's Curriculum for Excellence

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  • Lb1603 Secondary Education. High Schools
  • Lb2361 Curriculum
  • Pa Classical Philology
  • Communication
  • Economics
  • Education
  • Literature
  • Philosophy
  • Political Science


This study warns that Scottish education is in danger of losing a valuable and venerable element of the school curriculum: the Classics. In order to demonstrate what Scottish education stands to lose, this study defends one particular element of the Classics, rhetoric, understood as the practice of effective speaking and effective writing for the purpose of persuasion. Scotland’s Curriculum for Excellence (CfE), first conceived in 2002 and implemented in 2010, is still a fledgling curricular initiative and schools are currently in an adjustment phase while existing syllabus content and pedagogical approaches are reviewed in order to better reflect the aims and purposes of the new curriculum. With increased focus on teacher autonomy, flexibility, personalisation and choice (Scottish Government 2008), now is an ideal time, I claim, to reveal and defend the contribution of rhetoric to this curriculum. This study promotes the learning and teaching of rhetoric in Scottish secondary schools, citing its potential to enrich not just the Classics but many areas of the curriculum, and makes particular claims for its contribution to cultivating critical and responsible citizens. Set against a broader backdrop of political and philosophical influences on curriculum reform and educational policy, this research examines the origins, aims and purposes of CfE and suggests that, although clearly influenced by supranational expectations regarding employability, economic growth and adequately equipping the future workforce, the curriculum appears to uphold the value of the Arts and Humanities and places education for citizenship at its core. These moves imply progress, at least in Scotland, towards ameliorating the ‘crisis in the Humanities’ and making room for increased focus on cross-curricular skills and abilities which are considered important for responsible citizenship: literacy, speaking and listening, argumentation and debate. The retention of Classical languages in Scotland’s new curriculum offers renewed hope, at least at the policy level, for the revitalisation of Classics teaching in Scottish schools. Yet despite their inclusion in the curriculum, they have received no promotion and there are no teacher training places available in Classical languages in Scotland so, at a practical level, the future of the subjects remains in crisis. By focussing on the educational merit of just one feature of the Classics, this study aims to highlight the value of rhetoric in CfE and in so doing raise the profile and improve the image of Classical language education. I argue that the Classical rhetorical framework, developed as a method for citizens to represent themselves effectively in public, has much to offer the development of literacy, critical literacy and critical thinking. These skills are shown to be linked to citizenship education and particular attention is paid to what is meant by ‘responsible citizenship’ in CfE. The argument is made that popular interpretations of the policy imply personally responsible or participatory conceptions of citizenship, but I promote a maximal interpretation in the form of ‘justice-oriented’ citizenship (Westheimer and Kahne 2004: 242). I defend that it is this conception of citizenship which is optimal for Scottish democracy both to appeal to the Scottish democratic intellect (Davie 1961) and to advance the values of wisdom, justice, compassion and integrity, the values inscribed on the mace in the Scottish Parliament (Gillies 2006). Despite ambiguity in CfE regarding the form of democracy envisaged for the 21st century, I argue that the study of rhetoric cultivates knowledge and skills which are particularly pertinent and beneficial to deliberative democracy and that in such a conception of democracy, rhetoric complements critical argumentation as a method of deliberation between citizens. I claim that it does so by facilitating narrative imagination, engaging the emotions and by providing a communicative bridge between diversely positioned deliberators. After highlighting and defending the value of rhetoric in CfE, the study concludes with the consideration of how rhetoric might best be positioned in the curriculum and advances a number of possible pedagogical models for its delivery, the most practical of which is offered by a cross-curricular approach but the most desirable of which is conferred by Classical languages.

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