Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Obama Makes Rhetoric Cool for School

Newspaper article The Evening Standard (London, England)

Obama Makes Rhetoric Cool for School

Article excerpt

Byline: NICK COHEN

TO UNDERSTAND why this week's government proposals to teach children to speak properly matter, think back to the US election.

Early on, one journalist came up with an original way of explaining why Barack Obama would beat Hillary Clinton. Read this speech on the web, he said. I did and registered a competent effort that, I thought, would never inspire anyone. Now click this link and watch Obama deliver it, the journalist continued. I clicked and saw Obama using every rhetorical device to sway the audience.

If people talk of "rhetoric" these days, they mean it as an insult. "That's just rhetoric," they say, implying that the speaker is a snake-oil salesman.

The view that oratory is phoney is a thoroughly modern one which has led to schools from the 1960s onwards abandoning the teaching of debating and public speaking. Virtually every other generation in history would have found their dismissal of the ability to convert your listeners absurd.

"Rhetoric is the art of ruling the minds of men," said Plato, and Obama proved him right. Obama's victory renewed interest in rhetoric worldwide, and I am glad that in Britain the poorest children will benefit by being taught formal English. …

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