Penn State

Consortium forSocial Movements and Education
Research and Practice

Michael J. Steudeman

Michael J. Steudeman

Assistant Professor of Rhetoric
(814) 865-1135
Michael J. Steudeman

Professional Bio

Michael J. Steudeman studies the rhetoric of education policy across U.S. history, from the common school movement to present day teachers' strikes. His work traces how discourses of education policy emerged as a means of reframing, obfuscating, or evading more direct engagement with problems of economic inequality and racial injustice. His scholarship has appeared in journals including History of Education Quarterly, Quarterly Journal of Speech, Rhetoric Society Quarterly, Rhetoric & Public Affairs.

Research Interests

Rhetoric, Education Policy, Perceptions of Teachers, Teachers' Unions, Reconstruction Era, Black Education in the South, Civil Rights, Desegregation

Related Materials

Steudeman, Michael J. “Indeterminacy, Incipiency, and Attitudes: Materialist Oscillation in the 2012 Chicago Teachers’ Strike.” Quarterly Journal of Speech 101 (2015): 509-533. DOI: 10.1080/00335630.2015.1055786

Teachers unions face a unique set of double-binds when defending their interests as workers and as advocates for students. In this essay, I argue that materialist approaches beginning from a concern for labor position deny potential to those laborers—teachers among them—who occupy an indeterminate relationship to capitalism. To describe these workers’ potential for agency, this essay examines the oscillatory movement that occurs between the conceptions of labor position theorized by Ronald Walter Greene and Dana Cloud. In shifting between these positions, I argue, educators can cultivate an incipient potential that nimbly negotiates double-binds while exacerbating the contradictions of neoliberal reform. I advance this argument through an analysis of three oscillations in the Chicago teachers’ strike of 2012: between conceptions of labor as part of a general or restricted economy; between projects of demystifying and upholding meritocracy; and between competing spatial configurations of the school and society. During these oscillations, I assert, the Chicago Teachers Union's labor action and rhetoric maintained its coherence through the formation of an attitudinal unity experienced in the immanent coalescence of contradictory movements.

Our Research

Steudeman, Michael J. “Rethinking Rhetorical Education in Times of Demagoguery.” Rhetoric Society Quarterly 49 (2019): 297-314. DOI:

Historical efforts to thwart demagoguery through rhetorical pedagogy have inadvertently abetted further demagoguery. Highlighting three American episodes of pedagogic backfire, this essay interrogates how teachers of rhetoric have fueled resentments, upheld logics of exclusion, or presumed an exceptional immunity to demagogic cooptation. Theorizing demagoguery and democracy as reciprocal forces that operate through the same rhetorical and institutional structures, this essay advises an attitudinal reorientation toward teaching rhetoric that emphasizes spontaneity and vigilance in the face of demagoguery’s continual infiltration of discursive practices.

Over the past decade, a global surge of xenophobia, nationalism, and white supremacy has prompted educators to reconsider core assumptions about how they teach. For scholars in the interdisciplinary field of rhetoric, that reconsideration has entailed reckoning with the problem of demagoguery: discourse that privileges in-group identity, evades democratic complexity, and pursues out-group expulsion as a solution to public problems. In this digital collection for Intermezzo, rhetoricians in disciplinary fields of English and communication studies recount this reflective process and their initial efforts to rethink pedagogy for demagogic times.


Upending taken-for-granted assumptions about rhetorical education, contributors to this volume explore what it means to teach about demagoguery within a political culture that is already demagogic. Drawing upon Patricia Roberts-Miller’s 2017 book Demagoguery and Democracy as both a reflective touchstone and a classroom text, the contributors take up the vexing question of how to teach students practices of self-critique and a resistance to “us-versus-them” modes of argumentation. Part I of the collection models forms of pedagogical reflection, tracing two rhetoricians’ “lessons learned” over multiple semesters or years in the classroom. Turning to the practice of classroom teaching, Part II highlights practices for disrupting the common metaphors, interpretive practices, and epistemic assumptions that sustain demagogic discourse. Finally, Part III turns to digital contexts, offering pedagogical strategies for teaching students to navigate—and help to counteract—the forms of toxic argumentation and algorithmic propaganda that thrive on social media.


Taken together, the three sections of this collection offer teachers across the humanities models for reevaluating their own classroom practice. Alongside their essays, contributors also share example lesson plans, handouts, worksheets, and student work that other teachers can build upon and revise. Attuned to how their lessons might be received or misperceived under conditions of actually existing demagoguery, the contributors resist pinning down any single practice or prescription. Instead, they hope to provide readers with habits of reflection and tentative teaching strategies to adapt within their own classrooms. Through this work, contributors hope to help more teachers confront the demagogic tendencies of our political culture—and of our classrooms.

The nineteenth-century debate about the role of the US Bureau of Education was marked by negotiations between the civic republican language of antebellum common school advocacy and a social scientific language of educational professionalism. To advance this argument, this essay traces how members of Congress defined, criticized, and delimited the Bureau's institutional role between 1865 and 1872. First, avoiding calls for direct federal intervention, the Bureau's initial congressional advocates defined the Bureau as a vehicle for indirect influence on the states through the use of data and statistics. Second, after the Bureau's founding, its legislative critics used rhetoric to chastise and question both the Bureau's comprehensive vision and power. Finally, beginning with Commissioner John Eaton's tenure in 1870, the Bureau's functions were narrowed. Due to Eaton's reimagining of the Commissioner role, further congressional critique, and failed efforts to expand Bureau authority, the Bureau eventually became a government-sanctioned purveyor of social scientific expertise—one with little direct authority to intervene in education.