An Education about Your Education: The Verbal Arts

An Education about Your Education: The Verbal Arts

Dear Upper School Parents,

Earlier this month, we continued what will be a two-year series of Upper School assemblies designed to help students understand their own educations here at Veritas. The Portrait of the Graduate is the content for these assemblies, as it captures the promises that we have made to you about our aims for your children. We are framing the assembly series as “an education about your education.”

Many of our students have not experienced anything other than a classical and Christian educational culture and are, therefore, not always aware of the ways in which their Veritas experience is intentionally different from what their peers experience at other schools. We plan to proceed through the points of the Portrait of a Graduate in no particular order, taking one per trimester. In our second trimester assembly, Mr. Andrew Smith, head of our Rhetoric Department, elaborated on this facet of our Portrait: We desire that our graduates communicate effectively in speech and writing.

Robyn Burlew, Dean of Academics


The Verbal Arts | Andrew Smith

What are words for? What do words do?

These opening questions help us to consider the crucial role words play in human experience – not just audibly, but even as the means of thought. In fact, some have even argued that it is language that makes us human.

As reported in the Washington Post, a recently released survey asked this intriguing question: What makes a great Google employee? One would expect that expertise in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) would top the list. Counter-intuitively, “the research (Project Oxygen) shocked everyone by concluding that, among the eight most important qualities of Google’s top employees, STEM expertise comes in dead last. The seven top characteristics of success at Google are all soft skills: being a good coach; communicating and listening well; possessing insights into others (including others different values and points of view); having empathy toward and being supportive of one’s colleagues; being a good critical thinker and problem solver; and being able to make connections across complex ideas.”

In short, this list points to emotionally intelligent verbal skills as some of the most important qualities for employees, even in the highly competitive tech industry.

So what are these verbal and listening skills, and are your students being trained to practice them?

Classical schools, by their very nature, cultivate the gifts of the verbal arts. By building skills in grammar, logic, and rhetoric across every discipline, throughout a student’s years at Veritas, graduates are able to read to understand, reason thoughtfully and well, persuade and express themselves compellingly, well-beyond their years of formal education. These are life-long skills, the kind that lead to a full life for self and others.

As adults, we know that without the ability to read and reason well for ourselves, we are at the mercy of those who seek to persuade – or even manipulate. And there are many who would do so. A sobering reality.

Mr. Andrew Smith

We must also acknowledge that in our digital world, the challenge facing our children is not an information gap, it is a discernment gap. Discernment requires us to think carefully, to ask thoughtful and questions, and to decide to listen to the wisest voices. The cultivation of these skills is precisely why schools like Veritas exist.

A third, and equally important realization is the impossibility of truly neutral human speech. The question isn’t neutrality of speech, but whether my words are pushing others toward truth, beauty, and goodness or away? Do I see the image of God in others, and do I choose to use my words for their flourishing?

The Portrait of the Graduate is a vision statement, a description of the trajectory we hope every Veritas student finds themselves on. The cultivation of the verbal arts, like every good gift from God, is for His glory and the good of others. Our students are called to faithful participation in the work of the kingdom, which includes compelling, true, good and beautiful words, words of life from Scripture, offered to a world that desperately needs words of salt and light.