If all who are engaged in the profession of education were willing to state the facts instead of making greater promises than they can possibly fulfill, they would not be in such bad repute with the lay public. As it is, however, the teachers who do not scruple to vaunt their powers with utter disregard of the truth have created the impression that those who chose a life of careless indolence are better advised than those who devote themselves to serious study.

Isocrates, Against the Sophists

I went to a thesis defense yesterday. Kiriaki Asiatidou, a Greek woman from Athens who is both stunningly brilliant and stunningly beautiful, carefully laid out her development of a pedagogical strategy for teaching first year composition. I’ve had a few classes with her, starting with a Blake seminar nearly five years ago. She pointed out that Greece, past high school, rhetoric simply isn’t taught. There’s a fear of it most places. The fear that it just isn’t a serious subject at all. I write this because I want to remember her name (I’m terrible with names). She’s returning to Greece now, and most of the staff is going to miss her.

After hearing her defense, I really wish I had talked to her more while she was here. Our classroom strategies seem very close. Her thesis was built on Protagoras, Isocrates, and of course she had to give props to Cicero too. She called her approach a “New Sophistic Rhetoric.” I picked up a lot of ideas from her regarding using mediatory essays in the classroom. Another thing that I’m thinking of amplifying is the promotion of a more international point of view— forcing students to write about issues that do not relate directly to the United States or its interests— promoting the idea of international citizenship, rather than just awareness of our own spot of ground.

The intellectual value of the Sophists has fluctuated over time, and just the day before I had been thinking about the only word in common usage that has connections with “sophistry” that does not have a negative connotation: sophisticated. It got stuck in my head after listening to Firehose’s cover of “Sophisticated Bitch” by Public Enemy. I didn’t get around to looking into it into today. I had a feeling that the positive value of “sophistication” had to be a recent development. I was right. According to the OED:

  1. Mixed with some foreign substance; adulterated; not pure or genuine. [1607-1897]

    1. Altered from, deprived of, primitive simplicity or naturalness. Of a literary text: altered in the course of being copied or printed. [1603-1963]
    2. Of a person: free of naïvety, experienced, worldly-wise; subtle, discriminating, refined, cultured; aware of, versed in, the complexities of a subject or pursuit. Also transf. of a play, place, etc., that appeals to a sophisticated person. [1895-1971]
    3. Of equipment, techniques, theories, etc.: employing advanced or refined methods or concepts; highly developed or complicated. [1945-1979]
    1. Falsified in a greater or less degree; not plain, honest, or straightforward. [1672-1861]
    2. Of a printed book, containing alterations in content, binding, etc. which are intended to deceive. [1862-1952]
  2. Comb., as sophisticated-looking. [1925-]

Kiriaki is sophisticated in the finest sense of the word.