The Argument: Aristotle, in his Rhetoric argues that communication, or writing and rhetoric, concerns the character (ethos) of the speaker, the emotional state (pathos) of the listener, and the argument (logos) itself. In fact, the success of the writing enterprise depends on the emotional disposition of the audience. To Aristotle this is the topoi or topic written for an audience. To ignore the audience, removes the very heart of the writing piece. Format writing invites the writer to sacrifice ethos, pathos, and logos on the altar of convenience.

Another casualty of format writing is creativity. Creativity is discouraged—after all, the writer only has to implement certain neutral skills that are completely void of context, purpose, and audience. There is no encouragement to build on past strategies; no need to consider new audiences. One merely implements a form for each new literary challenge. One size fits all!

I have been a part of the home school movement for 22 years and I must tell you that creative thinking and problem solving is at the heart of our movement. We neglect its development, practice, and implementation at our own, and our world’s peril. I will explain this more later.

Secular educators avoid format writing for one very good reason: it does not work. In the short run young writers produce all sorts of stock outcomes. But to what end? The purpose of great writing is to influence an audience, to communicate content, to persuade an audience to embrace truth. If the writer knows no or very little content this will be reflected in his writing. This is the reason great writers are great readers—classical reading is at the heart of great writing. One reads the masters, discovers writing strategies, and pushes further.

As a result SAT graders (including myself) are warned to score format writing SAT I essays lower. Why? Because format writing is facile and predictable. It devoid of audience, content, and tone. In other words, it is inferior writing.

While orthodox educators would tolerate some format instruction at the grammar stage, to advance format writing into the dialectic and especially rhetoric stages is disastrous. At the heart of classical education is the notion that there are legitimate classics. Classics have timeless application, survive multiple readings, and concern world view issues. It is impossible to teach people how to write about classical literature unless the teacher himself has read and studied the classics! Format writing pragmatism purports to do exactly that.

To pretend to do so is the height of hypocrisy. It is what Plato called sophism. Sophism, an argument apparently correct in form but actually invalid, emphasizes form and function before content, purpose, and audience. Sophists teach anything for a price. Their teaching was practical instead of ethical and they emphasized rhetoric rather than virtue. Equally reprehensible, sophists were unwilling to pay the dues that serious rhetoric demanded—the discipline of study and of education. They were in a sense the marketing agents of their age. Their product was an inch thin and a mile long but it was appealing to the consumer. It was readily available at an exorbitant price, true, but the most unethical politician could hire a sophist to write a speech, or to write an essay on any subject to any audience. Neither really mattered. Since sophists believed one could communicate regardless of audience, or purpose, or content, it really did not matter. Sophists were mercenary pragmatists who wrote and spoke well but produced no lasting culture.

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