Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)



Document Type



Disease, Bread, Efficiency: Rhetorics of Victorian Education Reform arose from my observation that, historically speaking, Anglo-American schools have always been “in crisis.” I argue that the crisis of the “failing school” is a rhetorical problem rather than an economic problem as most scholarship suggests. Much like the cultural myth of “the One True Love,” education reform debates tend to position the school as an institution that can rescue the nation from all perceived social ills. Not only is this unrealistic, the patterns of language are inconsistent as ideas about the purpose of school are translated into policy. This causes further disjuncture between ideal notions of the public school and its reality. I treat a range of archival materials through a variety of theoretical frames including metaphor criticism and Kenneth Burke’s notion of the terministic screen, which illustrates that school failure is not an objective occurrence but a rhetorical construction designed to achieve predetermined social ends. This research uncovers three insoluble conditions of public schools in capitalistic societies: a tension between the need for collective education while privileging individualism, a gap between the expansive purposes envisioned by the general public and the narrow measures policy can enact, and a lack of attention to the circulation of institutional energy. I conclude that conversations about education reform can become more productive by respecting the insoluble conditions and searching for non-binary ways to think about schooling.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Weinstein, Sue