Contesting Cultural Rhetorics

Public Discourse and Education, 1890-1900
Margaret J. Marshall
Examines American discourse on education and what it reveals about our values as a society.


Who should be educated in the United States, by whom, for what purposes, using what methods or materials? What of the past should we pass on to the future, and how? In this groundbreaking, original study Margaret Marshall argues that it is crucial to pay attention to how we speak about education in order to evaluate the various positions and choose appropriate actions. She proposes that to think clearly about the present and future it is beneficial to examine a moment of the American past: the rhetoric of education in the 1890s.

The study brings together four influential and popular texts from public debate on education in the late nineteenth century: Joseph Mayer Rice's articles in Forum, a well-respected magazine; Matthew Arnold's introduction to a government report; W. E. B. Du Bois's "A Negro Schoolmaster in the New South"; and Jane Addams's "A Function of the Social Settlement." Neither a history of education nor a typical literary analysis of the texts in question, the book considers the rhetorical stance of authors, the constitution of audience and subject, and the use of references and narratives as devices of authority.

Marshall's analysis employs contemporary theory from Bakhtin and Foucault to reveal the embedded ideologies in the discourse of education and provide a means of examining how "education" functions in American culture—as a site of contest between various cultural ideals, values, and the constitution of individual and nation. The book will appeal to readers interested in the history of education and nineteenth-century popular culture, as well as those involved in current debates on education and public policy.

Margaret Marshall is Assistant Professor of English, University of Pittsburgh.

Praise / Awards

  • " . . . original and enormously provocative. . . . a "poetics of culture," beautifully written, opening all sorts of new perspectives on the discourse and the meanings of education and schools."
    —Maxine Greene, Teachers College, Columbia University
  • "Margaret J. Marshall has written a difficult but important book to remind us once again of the value of close rhetorical analysis of public presentations of research, especially educational research, as they appear in the popular media. . . . Marshall offers a meticulous reading of four very different historical texts in education, texts that hold a central place in turn-of-the-century debates over the role and function of education in American society. . . . "
    Teachers College Record

Product Details

  • 6 x 9.
  • 272pp.
  • 5 photographs.
Available for sale worldwide

  • Hardcover
  • 1995
  • Available
  • 978-0-472-10536-6

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  • $89.95 U.S.