When lockdown started last year I decided to take online classes as a way to keep my mind off current events. I tried random classes that interested me, Archaeology & Egyptology, The Science of Happiness, Screenwriting, Amherst Writers and Artists, and others. I saved Rhetoric for last, worried it was like those Russian novels I'm forever moving to the bottom of my To Be Read pile, and something I was in no mood to tackle. It was work, and I'm kind of proud of myself for sticking with it. It's a worthy and worthwhile topic and class.
I took it through HarvardX and edX classes. If you like to learn (or just want useful escapism), I recommend checking out edX. The selection is large and they have both free and certified versions of their classes, so don't let cost sway you. None of the classes I've taken were easy, but they were all worth my time and effort, including Rhetoric.
Rhetoric includes both written essays and public speaking. It's a way to consider right/wrong, guilt/innocence, knowing/ignorance. It's about clear communication. One of the things the class tackles is how to get solid facts through legitimate sources (something all of these classes were strict about, no Wikipedia, no whacky Uncle's Facebook posts). We studied political speeches and documents as we learned a variety of rhetorical devices. To me Rhetoric is kind of like the Geometry of words.
Reading early versions of the Declaration of Independence as it went through edits and changes was an incredible learning experience. As a writer I know that magic happens in the edits, yet a part of me imagined that Thomas Jefferson sat down and penned this miracle of a manuscript in its famous perfection as we now know it. That is not how it happened, and history has the edits. I loved it, it was a group effort, and thank goodness for editors.
As for speeches, we analyzed Martin Luther King's I Have a Dream speech, Presidential speeches, political speeches, and watched how they all have bits and pieces of other historical catch phrases and quotes in them (from biblical to mythology to a candidate who ran twenty years ago). It's a beautiful thing and reminded me so much of Austin Kleon's Steal Like an Artist book and spirit. We all use what we've learned to create new things.
Now would probably be a good time to head back to Toastmasters to practice my newfound skills, but I have a few novels to finish writing first.