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.