I worked for a standardized test company a few years back, and, of course, as this company sought to reform college entrance testing, one question that arose time and again was "How are we different than the rival tests?" In some ways there was little difference, for it had to conform to some of the same rules within the industry. One thought that crossed my mind time and again was "If we really want to push the boundaries of college entrance exams, what if we, instead of testing a student's ability read a passage and answer questions, tested a student's ability to read a passage and ask good questions?" What if a college entrance exam tested a student's ability to listen and ask good questions? Certainly, as we see in Scripture, our own experience, and our study of classical rhetoric, a person's intelligence is best proven by their ability to be in a dialogue with another person or text and ask good questions.
This has been proven in my own teaching experience and within my own studies. I know I'm reading a book well when I ask questions of it. I know I'm in a good conversation when I find myself having good questions to ask. I challenge myself and my students not to wax eloquent on a topic but to think well upon it, to look at what one knows and ask questions which can bring one into greater understanding. I decided this semester to test my 12th grade rhetoric students this way. Here is the midterm exam I gave them:
Many people study rhetoric and believe that it is solely about the art and science of becoming a good speaker, of speaking well. While this may be largely true, rhetoric is just as much about becoming a good listener, a good reader, a good questioner. These, as our readings have shown, build the credibility of a speaker. This test will be about your ability to read well and ask good questions of a text with which you should already be familiar. I will be basing your grade on how well you can read and ask intelligent, central, and worthy questions.
First, turn to page 47 in Readings in Classical Rhetoric. Read “Antidosis” by Isocrates. On a separate sheet of paper, write down questions according to the directions below. Once you’ve written your questions on a separate sheet of paper. Choose one grammar, one logic, and one rhetoric question to answer. Answer each in one paragraph (5-7 sentences). If you quote the book, be sure to cite the author and page numbers in parenthesis after the quote (Aristotle 59).
Write three “grammar” type questions, questions someone can answer from simply having read the text well.
- Example: What does the author say are the three ways rhetoric can be abused?
- Another example: What does the author state is the problem with rhetoric in his time?
Write three “logic” type questions, questions with a hypothetical and a requirement to defend the answer given?
- Example: If the author is correct that classical literature is necessary for a good education, why don’t more Christian schools teach the classics?
- Another example: If a pastor or priest reads this text, how should it change their understanding of their sermons or homily?
Write three “rhetoric” type questions, questions about more fully expressing one’s own position on the topic or application of the principles found in the text.
- Example: How does this change your understanding of why reputation is important during one’s high school years?
- Another example: What kind of changes in your life would you have to make in order to abide by the author’s advice to “pay proper attention to philosophy”?