Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Wednesday with Words (Revived): Office of Assertion

Over the summer, I missed Wednesday with Words.  I was afraid that upon Cindy's retirement from blogging that would be the end; however, the torch has passed on to Ladydusk.  So now I can be challenged to read something more intellectual and continue to learn from what others are reading. They started a few weeks ago but I haven't had much to add.

Today I'd like to share insights from the book given out during the Classical Conversation Practicum this year: The Office of Assertion by Scott F. Crider.  This little book is meant as a primer for college students on how to write a college level essay.  Most of what he discusses I somehow picked up along the way (except the grammar lessons).  How nice it would have been to have it presented to me in a neat little package.  However, I think I would have been too prideful in college to actually have received it as the gift that it is.

The books' purpose is to provide a concise overview of invention, organization and style (grammar and syntax) along with thoughts about revision for college students.  Honestly, it would be a great text to use in an Introduction to Composition connected to a Humanities course.  Here are a few ways I could see using it before college:

1.  As a launching pad to help improve your own writing.  He has helped me to realize some of my own gaps and given me enough information to begin filling in the gap.

2.  With younger students it is a resource for mom. It provides a vision of what you are working towards with your child (good writing is good thinking - even if they don't become English or history majors).  His section on grammar is particularly helpful as he connects grammar with style in a brief but understandable way.  I can see using some of his points as I talk with my mid elementary aged student about why we are learning sentence structures and design.

With high school students:

3. It can be the next step in paper revision because he numbers the sections for easy reference.  When your child was younger you might have written symbols for misspellings or paragraph breaks.  Here, you could write section numbers, so that the student can reference the book and you all can discuss how to improve their work.

4.  It also could provide prompts for more advanced copia work, playing with words and forms.  He often explains and provides quick examples of four types of X.  You could have a student develop each of the four types around a similar argument.  This would also help them to see that some types of arguments lend themselves to different approaches.  Some of this is probably covered in good high school composition curricula - but if not you can easily introduce it.

5.  This book could also be used to provide vocabulary for students to better analyze arguments they read.  Crider does this a few times in the book because through analysis you can better understand how the work was constructed - so that you can then try and copy that approach.

Okay, so this is not supposed to be about my words, but the authors.  Here are some of my favorite quotes: 

Your essay is like a map of a territory: the smaller the map, the smaller the territory that can adequately represented by it. A map of the earth is not a map of America; a map of America is not a map of your state; a map of your state is not a map of your city; a map of your city is not a map of your university.  If one wanted to find a classroom on your campus a map of the state would be useless because it would lack the focus needed.  As with maps, so with essays. The writer must ascertain what is possible with respect to the circumstances, in this case the circumstance of scale (he is talking about short answer prompts and 2 to 3 page essays). 
In rhetoric, problems are resources.  
Even so, one vividly drawn example will be more persuasive than a catalog of less vivid ones.
 Major yet unclear terms weaken most students writing. 
To explicate a text, you must analyze part of the text and synthesize its parts with each other. 

Analysis dives down into a part of the text; synthesis swims across the whole of it. 

He is not a fan of the 5 paragraph essay and begins the discussion of arrangement explaining its faults.

Its most powerful limitation is this: it supplies one shape to all arguments, regardless of their nature. 

From there he introduces the classical oration as an initial alternative but tries to emphasizes that, over time, the argument you are making should shape the organization of your paper.

Clarity is not at all dull; indeed, little is as intellectually thrilling as lucid design. 

He also takes on the thesaurus and encourages pupils not to reach for it and pull out a word.  He encourages the study of Latin, reading widely and listening to professors on the subject to help you hone your word choice and diction.  He says that if you must use a thesaurus make sure you have a dictionary handy so that you are choosing the right word.

I honestly can't even begin to quote from the grammar section.  It is to the point but so helpful in showing why we need to know the 4 types of sentences, how to use conjunctions effectively, etc.

They chose quite the book to pass out this year!

See what others are reading this week at Ladydusk.


  1. Beth! This is great. I'm glad you joined in! I like that he is so scrupulous to suggest a small topic, completely studied discussed with clarity. This is on my bookshelf to read sometime.

    1. Missy, not Beth. So sorry 'bout that!