Rhetoric vs. STEM: Why the Study of Communication Skills Matters More Than Ever

March 5, 2023

Are we losing touch with the classic study of rhetoric in a world dominated by STEM education? Here’s some food for thought and a new perspective.

Photo by Clem Onojeghuo on Unsplash

Rhetoric: the art of effective or persuasive speaking or writing, especially the exploitation of figures of speech and other compositional techniques.

In ancient Rome, rhetoric was a mandatory subject in education and affected all areas of society.

The art of public speaking was revered and respected in society and was a core component of why the empire could thrive and define history in the ways we know and understand to this day.

However, in modern times, there’s a clear shift in the focus of education.

Universities and learning institutions lean away from teaching students how to articulate themselves through writing, speaking, and communicating and instead focus on the academic side of things, promoting science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) subjects.

While these subjects are essential and responsible for the modern world, has the backseating of the study of communication created a void in our society?

That’s what we’re looking at today as we explore the ins and outs of rhetoric and how returning our focus to this ancient art could save our modern world.

Let’s start at the beginning.

Rhetoric in Ancient Rome

In ancient Rome, rhetoric was considered a crucial subject for education.

 It was defined as the art of persuasion through effective communication, and its purpose was to enable people to speak convincingly in public.

This was essential for the way of life.

Imagine an empire the size of Rome today. By modern standards, managing and running a successful empire would be easy because communication would be instantaneous. You could send a message from the capital to the outer limits of the empire in an instant.

Back then, however, things were far different. Messages from the capital could take weeks, or even months, to reach their destination, if they made it there at all.

Therefore, communities needed to manage themselves on a much smaller, more independent scale. This invoked the need for citizens of locales to speak up about court proceedings, laws, and regulations in passing and how life was run in that area.

Hence, rhetoric and expression and clear communication of opinions and ideas were essential for the success of a community. 

With this in mind, the curriculum for rhetoric education in ancient Rome was rigorous and involved the study of grammar, logic, and rhetoric. 

Students were taught how to analyze and craft arguments, deliver speeches, and appeal to their audience’s emotions. Speaking well was considered a crucial skill for success in politics, law, and business, and those who mastered rhetoric were admired and respected in society.

Rhetoric and Politics Today

Fast forward to the present day, and the importance of rhetoric in politics and media is more apparent than ever. 

The ability to speak persuasively and communicate effectively has become a vital skill in modern society, and those who can do so are often successful in business, law, and politics. 

In the political sphere, politicians use rhetoric to sway public opinion and gain support for their policies. Effective rhetoric can help to create a sense of unity and inspire people to take action, while ineffective rhetoric can be divisive and damaging.

However, there’s an issue.

The common population is not taught rhetoric, nor are they really taught how to articulate and express ideas, either through writing or vocalization.

While it’s certainly easy to look at this topic through a conspiracy lens, it’s more a simple case of seeing how different the world could be if all students were taught to fully articulate, communicate, and express themselves instead of solely focusing on only succeeding in a STEM-based curriculum.

The Positive Change of Rhetoric Education in Schools

The study of rhetoric in schools can offer numerous benefits for students. 

For one, it can help students to become better communicators, which is a crucial skill in any field. Whether articulating presentations in lessons, brainstorming new ideas, or challenging arguments through discussions, the ability to express is essential to success.

And you only have to look to social media to see how poorly the common population of today communicates. 

Ideas are messy and unformulated, and many hold back due to a lack of confidence or the inability to communicate a point clearly.

This robs the world of fresh and innovative thinking that has a very real ability to positively change the world if used correctly.

Practicing rhetoric can also improve critical thinking skills.

Through bettered communication, students learn to analyze arguments and identify fallacies.

In turn, this allows students to become more self-aware as they learn to recognize their own biases and how they may influence their arguments.

As mentioned above, it’s clear that both rhetoric and STEM learning are important subjects. 

STEM subjects are essential for technological advancements and scientific discoveries, which are crucial for progress and innovation. 

However, communication skills are equally important, as they’re necessary for effective collaboration and problem-solving. 

In today’s globalized world, geopolitical context plays a vital role, and the ability to communicate effectively across cultures is essential.

Objections to Prioritizing Rhetoric Over STEM

Some may argue that prioritizing rhetoric over STEM is a mistake. STEM is necessary and solely responsible for the technology we have access to today and the progression we’re riding.

However, the idea is not to replace STEM with rhetoric but instead to find a balance. STEM and effective communication skills are equally important for success in any venture or pursuit. 

For example, effective communication is essential for team collaboration, funding pitches, and scientific communication.


As you can see, the study of communication skills, precisely rhetoric, is more important now than ever before. 

While STEM subjects are essential for progress and innovation, effective communication is equally important in achieving success in any field.

Rhetoric education can benefit students in numerous ways, from improving communication and critical thinking skills to increasing self-awareness and cultural competence. 

Prioritizing communication skills in education can have significant implications for society, leading to a more informed and engaged citizenry and a more collaborative and effective approach to social and environmental issues.

It’s no wonder more people than ever before are taking matters into their own hands and teaching themselves critical rhetoric skills that will enable them to thrive in today’s world.

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