Ralph Waldo Emerson Education Essay Rhetorical Analysis

Much as in his essay Nature, Emerson's essay on Education expresses his philosophy that the universe is composed of Nature and the Oversoul; these, in essence, are the teachers of man.  It is this unity of being that allows man to connect to knowledge.  All that is necessary, contends Emerson, is that man be awakened to this connection and have access to the divine energy from which he can attain true education.  In his essay Education, Emerson argues,

Whilst thus the world exists for the mind; whilst thus the man is ever invited inward into shining realms of knowledge and power by the shows of the world, which interpret to him the infinitude of his own consciousness--it becomes the office of a just education to awaken him to the knowledge of this fact.

In order to advance his argument that man take the universe "unto himself," Emerson employs figurative language, significantly metaphor and personification.  For example, in his admonishment of the current system of education, Emerson uses the metaphor of "a system of worn weeds," a system of old, worthless methods:

I call our system a system of worn weeds of your language and opinion.

Certainly, Emerson argues in favor of the creative intelligence, urging adults to be the companion of a child's thought..."the lover of his virtue," a metaphor which compares the adult to an admirer:

...this is the perpetual romance of new life [metaphor], the invasion of God [metaphor] into the old dead world [metaphor for old ways of thinking], when he sends into quiet houses [metaphor for old ways of thinking] a young soul with a thought which is not met, looking for something which is not there, but which ought to be there:  the thought is dim but it is sure, and he cast about restless for means and master to verify it; he makes wild attempts to explain himself and invoke the aid and consent of the bystanders.

In a simile to underscore his point that education should encompass all that Nature and the Divine can teach him, Emerson states, "Education should be as broad as man." 

In addition, Emerson employs personification in his discourse, referring to "Economy and Glee," among other examples such as this one:

Heaven often protects valuable souls charged with great secrets, great ideas, by long shutting them up with their own thoughts.

It is ominous when the law touches it with its finger.

Near the end of his essay, Emerson uses an extended metaphor of boys for the eager and open mind,

 This is the perpetual romance of new life, the invasion of God into the old dead world, when he sends into quiet houses a young soul with a thought which is not met, looking for something which is not there, but which ought to be there: the thought is dim but it is sure, and he casts about restless for means and masters to verify it; he makes wild attempts to explain himself and invoke the aid and consent of the by-standers.

For, concludes Emerson, "children should be treated as the high-born candidates of truth and virtue" since they are receptive to the wisdom that lies predominantly in Nature.

In the essay, “Education”, Ralph Waldo Emerson, a transcendentalist thinker, asserts that Education is damaged and he knows of a solution – the educators. He develops this claim by first introducing the paradox linking “Genius and Drill”, expressing his ideal method of teaching. Throughout the essay, Emerson tends to have a condemning tone against the educator but towards the end he changes it into a comforting one.

Emerson’s purpose is to present an alternative style of teaching in order to persuade educators to use the teaching method by using paradoxes, rhetorical questions, and shifts in tone. He establishes an informative and didactic tone for educators who value attention to detail. Emerson begins his essay by explaining why educators must respect the child in order to create an ideal educational system.

He states a paradox between genius and drill in which he backs up by giving insight to the educators about the natural abilities of the scholar. He does this in order to resemble how complex and developed these young students minds are and that they need room to develop their minds on their own. To address drill, Emerson uses short, straightforward sentences like, “Give a boy accurate perceptions. Make him call things by their right names.

Pardon him in no blunder” to dictate the reader in what they have to drill into the children’s minds (Emerson 103). The use of short sentences also serves to relate to the ethos of the reader by making the sentences “larger” than what they mean, earning Emerson his credibility and persuading the educators. He then uses longer sentences to describe how genius should be implemented.

The manipulation of sentence length assists in describing his method of educating the youth by providing declarative or descriptive sentences. Emerson illustrates his theory through an anecdote about how the natural way of learning is possible and actually more efficient than its traditional counterpart.

He does this by giving examples of how Charles Fellows completed his ambitions without the traditional education system. This paradigm provides a real life example providing ethos for his audience by giving a real example of his theory being implemented. Rhetorical questions induce an emotional appeal from educators. Emerson’s use of rhetorical questions attacks the educator in such a way that they question their original methods.

After describing the current systems militaristic ways, he asks the educators “What reformer will it nurse? What poet will it breed to sing to the human race?”(105). He condemns the current system and asks how it could possibly benefit students. Furthermore Emerson provides an analogy comparing the patience needed to teach a student and the “dint of obstinate sitting still” to arouse animals. He then goes on to ask the educators, “Can you not wait for him, as Nature and Providence do” to taunt the educators of their definitive ways of teaching(107).

All of these methods gear the audience toward a path of naturalistic standards. The shift in tone throughout the essay describes Emerson’s main argument. He transitions from asserting the defects in the system to bringing the educators together to repair the problem. In the beginning Emerson instructs the educator by using commanding verbs. For instance when he says to”Give a boy accurate perceptions. Teach him the difference between the similar and the same.

Make him call things by their right names” (103). The continual use of verbs to start sentences sets a didactic tone that undermines the educator. Emerson accentuates an educator’s capacity to inspire students to thrive in a natural learning environment. Through strong commanding sentences, rhetorical question, and empowering tone Emerson strives to persuades the educator in reforming the education system.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *