November 22, 2016 by Jason Farley
The best learning is the kind that feels like something other than learning. As Thomas Manton wrote, “Delight prevents forgetfulness.” Though vaguely blurry-eyed for the first class of the day, when the Rhetoric II students were told the assignment they perked like mole rats in May.
“Prepare an impromptu ceremonial speech according to Aristotle’s definition in your reading. Answer this question, ‘Which comic book superhero is the best?’"
They took turns laying out their arguments at the lectern according to Aristotle’s speech blueprint and then answering objections. “It is obvious, is it not, that Batman is a better superhero than Superman . . .” began the first. It ended as a philosophical and theological debate on the relationship between talent, grace, nature, and work filled with laughter and references to the differences between the origin myths of the DC Comics universe and the Marvel Comics universe.
Instead of dancing angels and pinheads to practice arguing metaphysics, it was Spiderman and Martian Manhunter to practice parts of discourse, ethics, and teleology. And since that which is enjoyed is remembered, each laughing smile was evidence of Aristotle being learned and new rhetoricians being formed.
The laughter and the fun seals the lessons. These young men and women are gaining skills in public speaking, public debate, public listening, careful thought, and gaining a level of comfort in front of people that will pay dividends for years. If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, you are far more prepared for the bumper car ride of life than most. Comfort thinking and speaking in a crowd are important skills for keeping our integrity intact.
Rhetoric is a life skill and a skill that can give life. Beyond our own integrity’s protection, these young students are preparing to be a blessing to many. There are leaders of homes, churches, businesses, schools, cities, and even nations being formed here in this class. And the ability to clearly state and defend beliefs articulately and persuasively is a skill that can encourage the fearful, defend the innocent, protect the oppressed, return the prodigal, comfort the misused, and lift up the downcast.
To see the skills being learned and exercised with such engaged joy while discussing Batman and Superman is evidence of work that God has planned for each of these students to be of eternal significance in the lives of the people around them.