Under my tutelage in the years that followed, Dorothy and her younger brother, George, became keenly, even alarmingly, persuasive. “Well, whatever it was,” the woman said, “it certainly worked.” Sure it did. I’ve worked hard at making my kids good at arguing. Absolutely.
Why on earth would any parent want that? Because persuasion is powerful. Rhetoric originated in the lawsuits of ancient Greece, when citizens who weren’t good at persuading could lose their houses — or their lives. It was a staple of education until the early 1800s, teaching society’s elite how to debate, make public decisions, and reach consensus. It probably explains how the founding fathers managed to carve a nation out of 13 squabbling colonies.