Ideology and Education

A Lesson Plan for Rhetorical Analysis

by Amy Baily and Evan Smith

In his 1988 article, “Rhetoric and Ideology in the English Class,” James Berlin considers the ways that society’s changing ideologies have informed composition pedagogy. In response, this lesson plan offers a series of exercises designed to help illuminate the underlying ideas that structure educational experiences. Ultimately, we hope that these four steps encourage writers to attend to the ways all cultural products are shaped by ideology, in order to strengthen rhetorical analysis and critical and analytical writing.    

This is a lesson in critical analysis that uses images, texts, and infographics to demonstrate how to deepen understanding of the reciprocative nature of beliefs and the systems which produce them and are a product of them. This exercise was inspired by Rasheed Hinds’ presentation and lesson plan based on Berlin’s article. 

This lesson primarily addresses three core standards for an English 2100 course: (1) compose with an awareness of how intersectional identity, social conventions, and rhetorical situations shape writing, (2) read and analyze texts critically, and (3) identify and engage with credible sources and multiple perspectives in your writing. It offers a framework beyond logos/pathos/ethos/kairos from which to elaborate rhetorical analysis and consider the broader sociocultural networks that inform discourse. Based on our reading of Ken Hyland’s 2007 article, “Genre Pedagogy: Language, Literacy and L2 Writing Instruction,” we also recognize an opportunity to talk about genre with students (specifically, that of the infographic). 

This is a low- to mid-stakes introductory lesson that invites writers to play with ideas based on images and language, providing multiple levels of engagement from which to metabolize these concepts. The lesson moves from text-centered definition, through class discussion, individual brainstorming, group brainstorming, collaborative writing, and finally, personal reflection. By the end, developing analytical writers will be able to identify concrete details in a variety of texts and articulate how those details reflect and reinscribe cultural values and the larger ideology in which they circulate. 

We start by providing definitions of both ‘ideology’ and ‘ideals.’ Next, we ask writers to brainstorm examples of each in an effort to establish some common language and themes that might be applied in the following exercises. In the second step we further emphasize the difference between ideals and ideologies.

After the class discussion, writers move into groups to apply these ideas to a series of images/infographics. The charts alongside the images reflect a new part of the cognitive process: participants are given a third column which asks them to fill in the indicated belief, value, or ideal that corresponds with the evidence from the image. The addition of this step provides scaffolding to aid students in understanding the complicated reciprocal nature of ideological development. In line with this, we also acknowledge that the order of operations from evidence to ideal might happen multi-directionally, or nearly simultaneously. From there, writers can then consider ideologies that may evolve from the ideal, or dictate the ideal. In some instances, the same thing might happen with ideology. This is an indication of how ingrained and overlapping these constructions are. 

Ideology and Education: A Lesson Plan for Rhetorical Analysis 

A: Two Definitions to Discuss as a Class

ideal: n. a standard of perfection; a principle to be aimed at

ideology: n. a system of ideas and ideals, especially one which forms the basis of economic or political theory and policy  

Try putting these definitions into your own words. How do they seem to relate to one another? Can you think of some ideologies you are familiar with? What ideals do they seem to be made up of? 

B: Your Ideology/Ideals

  1. Like identities, often our ideologies are complicated and have lots of parts. Religions, politics, and even hobbies (fishing, Formula 1 racing, make-up artistry, gaming, doom-scrolling) may shape ideologies by influencing our ideals and values; so can our families, friends, and geography. 

Let’s look at some parts of our ideologies by answering a few questions.  What do you value? What are your ideals? In your notebook, write down a couple of answers, and, if you want, add any reasoning you associate with those values or ideals. You will not be required to share this, so just say what you think.

For example: 

I think medicines that keep people alive should always be affordable. 

Where does this value come from/what is the reasoning behind it? 

For example: 

My family, a debate in high school, my religion, a TikTok reel

In what ways do your values connect to an ideology? In what ways are they products of that ideology?

For example: 

My belief in affordable life-saving medicines comes from my belief that government owes citizens safety. It’s pretty socialist.  

  1. Which actions of yours can be linked to your values and ideals? Answer in your notebook again. 

For example: 

Whenever possible, I vote for legislators who support making healthcare affordable.  

We can often find evidence or reasons to support our ideology, but ideological positions may exist independently of evidence. For instance, there’s no evidence that can convince me that life-saving care should not be affordable. 

  1. Ask yourself, “What evidence or reasoning could convince me to change this ideal?” If no evidence could change your mind, odds are you have found a nice, solid piece of ideology. 

C: Ideology in Action, Small Group Work

We can see ideology in action all around us. With your groupmates, discuss in what ways ideology has shaped the content of the following images, and complete the charts for each.  Evidence and values may appear to us almost simultaneously, but in this table we will list them separately for clarity. However, you and your group may spot the value even before you identify the proof of it: the order of operations from evidence to ideal might happen multi-directionally, or nearly simultaneously. 

  • Study the image.  Ask yourself what its content shows about the culture it comes from and/or the image’s creator.  
  •  On the left, identify an element of the text that is linked to a belief or value. 
  • In the middle column, articulate what belief or value is held by the culture (or individual) is demonstrated by that element.
  • In the right-hand column, try to identify at least one ideology to which that value or belief belongs. If you don’t know a name for the ideology, just try to describe it in your own words. 


evidence value/belief/ideal shown Ideologies involved
leather It’s okay to kill and wear animals Anthropocentrism
Seriously, there are like 15 buttons Boots, once on, should really stay on — and it’s okay to take five minutes buttoning your boots Aesthetic pleasure is at least as important, if not more important than, efficiency in dress
Shape and angle of foot area doesn’t really match shape and angle of most feet It’s okay to not be super comfortable when you walk and maybe even to not walk much Patriarchy/misogyny(But also… my own gender bias – what if this is not a woman’s shoe?)
The high heel, tight ankle, and pointy toe don’t seem to be there for protection or warmth, but they will emphasize and reshape the wearer’s figure Clothes are for reshaping and emphasizing, as well as for protection and warmth Functionality/survivalClass analysis – labor vs. luxury?
Frivolity of aesthetics


value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved


value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved


value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved
value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved
value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved

D: Ideology in Action, Independent Work (Start in class, and finish at home)

 The following visual guides are taken from the r/coolguides subreddit. They are each designed to educate the reader, and at the same time, they may reveal quite a bit about the ideals and values that went into making them. 

  1. Choose one of the guides from the following pages and complete the chart for it.
value/belief/ideal shown evidence ideologies involved
  1. What values inform the design and content? Write a healthy paragraph explicating the values, beliefs and  ideology of the designer/creator, citing evidence from the image to support your claims.  
  1. Finally, consider what was interesting/difficult/illuminating about arriving at your responses throughout this exercise. Where did you have to stop and think about your answer, and what might that indicate to you about the connections between personal values and larger ideological frameworks? Write a healthy paragraph reflecting on what it was like to think about these issues.