Diocesan News

Aquinas speech students focus on Aquinas-style logic

DAVID CITY (SNR) – Students who take speech classes or compete on the forensics team at Aquinas High School in David City are getting extra training in logic and critical thinking with a little help from the school’s patron saint, under the direction of speech teacher Matt Grady.

"Helping kids to construct logical arguments is at the heart of what we try to accomplish with our students in the areas of writing, speaking, and presenting God’s Truths," he said.

Mr. Grady, who has been the speech teacher and forensic coach for the last six years, added, "I believe this is especially important because the kids will ultimately have to present themselves and the counter-cultural aspects of Catholicism to a world that is fallen and a society that is ever growing in moral decay."

On the forensics team, which the coaches hope will number up to 40 teens by the time the season starts in November, students compete in nine different events, ranging from informative and persuasive speaking, to duet acting, humorous and serious prose, and poetry.

 "Critical thinking skills are essential to all events," Mr. Grady said.

With the help of his assistant coach (and wife), Marisa, Mr. Grady makes sure that each student’s chosen piece is socially relevant, has literary merit and serves as an opportunity to reflect Christian Truth.

The Gradys both attended Franciscan University of Steubenville, where two of their instructors in particular - Dr. Monica Anderson and Professor Shawn Dougherty - who focused on the intrinsic goodness that can be sought and located in the theatre.  It’s a topic that fascinated Mr. Grady as a theatre student.

There has long been a debate in theatre regarding whether Christians should present only the sublime – that which is pure and holy – or if humans require comparisons between the beautiful and the grotesque in order to understand what is truly good.

 "Great theater has the ability and the responsibility to be a signpost to God," stated Mr. Grady. "Presenting or portraying evils for the purpose of teaching the faithful to avoid them is not glorifying evil."

He acknowledged that it can be difficult for parents to accept their children portraying the negatives of our fallen world – especially parents who are as involved as Aquinas parents are. But he makes it clear to parents and students alike that the goal for the Aquinas forensics team is for each performance to demonstrate that there is a God and that He loves us no matter what we may have done.

Mr. and Mrs. Grady rely heavily on the teachings of the saints to make this clear and relevant to the students, especially the school’s patron, Saint Thomas Aquinas.

"I teach the kids a modified version of St. Thomas’s ‘Thesis vs. Antithesis’ argument style," Mr. Grady said. "One of our fundamental teachings in the speech program is to follow St. Thomas’s example in the use of logos vs. pathos or ethos in building effective and long lasting arguments."

The couple also calls on many other saints for support throughout the season.

"Our season begins with a team Mass, and each meet begins and ends by asking for the intercession of Saint John Chrysostom, patron of public speakers, and Saint Genesius, patron of actors," Mr. Grady said.

When it comes to the competition itself, the Gradys strive to prepare their students to "go into battle" prepared to glorify Christ, whether they win or lose.

"We only ever set the goal of doing our best," Mr. Grady said. "While it may not ever be easy to accept defeat, we have to remember that it was Christ broken for us that gave us redemption…. The kids know that if they take sixth place in round of six competitors, it’s only a small cross to bear on the journey to greater talents and treasures."

The Gradys are conscious of the example they are setting for the students and the real purpose of their role.

"Our goal as coaches is to help those in our care get to heaven. We pray for our kids every night, and we pray with our kids daily," he said.

The Aquinas forensics team begins practice in November, and their first meet of eight season competitions is slated for January. Of course, there is always hope of at least a handful of students progressing on to districts and state as well.

In the meantime, Mr. Grady is offering the same education in critical thinking skills for students who signed up for speech class.

"There just isn’t a day that I don’t have the best job on the planet," he said.

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