By Victoria Cobb
I’m a lobbyist. My husband is a lawyer. We tell people you could buy tickets to our arguments because they are so entertaining. But on a serious note, the art and skill of persuasion play a critical role in the success (or failure) not only of our marriage but of our careers.
In my job, I use persuasion to advocate for the unborn, marriage as God designed it, and religious liberty in the Virginia General Assembly and occasionally, at a national level. My husband served as the Deputy Secretary of Health for our Commonwealth. In that role, his job was to utilize persuasion to align approximately 13,000 employees with the agenda of the governor.
Both of us learned the importance of words early on. We worked hard to achieve precision in writing and eloquence in delivery. My husband had a professor who deducted points if he used the same adjective twice in a ten-plus-page paper. I enrolled in Toastmasters, a public speaking club, to overcome stage fright. My angst over public speaking was so bad that I once spilled a cup of water on a state senator sitting next to me because my hands were shaking so violently after getting up to speak.
Given this background, one might think we chose our children’s classical Christian school because it focuses all aspects of its curricula on rhetoric. Of course, we were thrilled to know our children would memorize speeches and writings from so many greats throughout history. We were also excited about how much weight the educational philosophy puts on learning the logical thinking required to formulate persuasive arguments.
However, the emphasis on rhetoric wasn’t our reason for sending our children to a classical Christian school. Instead, we selected it because the school is steeped in a biblical worldview. While rhetoric is important, we knew that having the right worldview was vital. Recently, I’ve come to understand the unique value of an education in the verbal arts coupled with a biblical worldview.
What Happens When Children are Not Trained to Communicate a Biblical Worldview?
I saw the alternative to my children’s education and the true value of what they are learning. It all started in an Aveda hair salon. Having a captive audience in her chair, my hairdresser shared her outrage about the walkout her child’s Catholic private school had planned in response to the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. She is married to a hunter who doesn’t just have a gun, he has lots of guns and a pack of hunting dogs too. I suspect they don’t support any restrictions on the Second Amendment.
She shared her disappointment that this school would take up a position on a political debate that deeply divides our country and forces her child to comply. That night, I looked online and discovered that many public schools would be staging a walkout. While arguments could be made that schools were merely standing with the victims, much of the nationwide walkouts were directly coordinated with organizers of the liberal Women’s March and was intended to be anti-gun. Any participation would be interpreted in that light.
That same week, I heard more about what parents in Fairfax County, Virginia, were experiencing when battling newly proposed changes to its Family Life Education curriculum. In this locality, and many others, plans are coming into fruition to redefine one’s sex as being arbitrarily assigned at birth rather than determined by biology.
Watching these things, I silently patted myself on the back for selecting a school that did not use my children as pawns in a battle to spread a political agenda. But this simultaneously prompted questions.
How could entire schools be co-opted into the gun battle? Regardless of where one stands on guns, most parents don’t want their children forced into cultural and political debates. Where were the kids that didn’t want to participate? Where were the kids in Fairfax public schools who discern that their biology textbooks teach them that sex is determined long before birth but their sex-ed class teaches sex is merely a social construct? Why weren’t they speaking up?
The Importance of Critical Thinking
The answer came to me one night at a parent forum for my child’s school. Listening to a lecture on the importance of the verbal arts, I realized my children had gained so much more than simply avoiding being thrust into a political battle at their school. The classical Christian education had equipped our children to recognize the logical fallacies used to promote various political agendas. Based on the education they have received, our children can determine for themselves when they are being propagandized.
Rhetoric and persuasion are powerful and can be easily used for misdirection and manipulation. Adults have more power to move an entire generation with false rhetoric than in previous times in our history because many schools have abandoned their focus on truth. Without a focus on truth, understanding logic and rhetoric is impossible. At the same time our society was moving into the post-truth era, curricula began to abandon logic and the art of rhetoric. Once the truth is lost, and critical thinking is largely untaught, then using children as pawns in political games isn’t nearly as difficult.
I am thankful that when my children’s school gives attention to the power of words, they are doing it to teach the students how to “always be prepared to give a reason for the hope we have” (1 Peter 3:15). They understand words are the tools we use to understand and digest God’s Word, to reject the deceptions of the enemy, and to bring others to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. As the teacher at my children’s school said in his presentation at that parent forum, ”Everything you hold dear was communicated to you through words.” In a post-Christian society, an important component of biblical worldview education must include training children to think critically about the messages they hear and communicate effectively the reasons for their belief in God’s Word.
As president of The Family Foundation of Virginia, Victoria Cobb is responsible for the leadership and direction of the Commonwealth’s largest, oldest, and most influential pro-family organization. Victoria serves as the organization’s spokesperson and is regularly in demand as a speaker and commentator on family issues in the media. She currently sits on the Board of Governors of the John Jay Institute and is a Board of Governors Member of the Council for National Policy. Victoria has a bachelor’s degree from the University of Richmond with majors in Political Science and Leadership Studies.