Otte & Mlynarczyk’s “Historical Overview” helped me to understand the historical context of BW as well as the major voices and issues within this field. I am glad that I read this article first so I could understand the field of BW within the historical, social, and political context of the U.S.
Shannon Carter’s The Way Literacy Lives connects what we have been learning about assessment, tracking, and placement to our own situation here and Texas and also in the United States. As I read through “The Way Literacy Tests,” I found myself relating to Carter’s stories because I also grew up in Texas during the 1980s-1990s – among the testing reform bonanza that continues on today. I do not recall ever going through a year of school without a TAAS or TAKS test. Our graduating class was the first class that had to pass their TAKS in order to graduate from high school. I can recall whole weeks of each year being devoted to TAKS preparation and the sad, apathetic look that would begin to spread across my teachers’ faces as they were forced to “teach” this material. Carter discusses that in low-income neighborhoods with poor test scores, many teachers (as told by their administrators) teach to the test rather than working to teach the material. I would argue that this is not uncommon in CCISD. If the stakes are so high, not only for students – but for faculty, as well – then teachers might do whatever they have to do in order to get their students to pass. What is sad is that valuable teaching and talent is being wasted on a curriculum that is having detrimental effects on our mass populations.
One of the many problems of standardized test curriculums is their emphasis on the ideal of an autonomous model of literacy – one that can be packaged and delivered to students. Carter discusses the concept of literacy as a social practice, one that “is always embedded in socially constructed epistemological principles” (2). Considering this, Carter argues that any type of knowledge and/or literacy you teach is connected to a particular worldview and, therefore, offers cultural and ideological knowledge to students (who can resist it, as Shor explains). Carter goes on to argue that because of this, standardized tests are unethical “because they privilege particular contexts, identities, and knowledge while marginalizing all others” (2). I found this conclusion to be very insightful and not something I had ever taken the time to consider before. Depending on your demographic variables, the standardized test that was created and written by those in power might not have (and probably will not have) anything you will be able to relate to. This is not real knowledge that is being tested – it is privileged knowledge. Standardized tests are also poor indicators of writing abilities in students because of their biased nature, time restraints, and empty audience. Regardless of this, the state of Texas and the United States Education System has continued its focus on testing, assessment, and tracking in order to categorize and group students. I found it interesting that it wasn’t until 1984 that Texas House Bill 72 mandated statewide curriculum and minimum-skills testing – I had assumed mandated curriculum, assessment, and testing had been part of the public education system for much longer. How much further do we have to go until they realize it is a bad idea?
Ira Shor’s “Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation” discusses the problem with BW and composition instruction in that they reproduce inequality. In all honesty, I found Shor’s article to be very depressing and disheartening – although I do appreciate his honesty.
One of the more interesting points that Shor brings up is that if the university insists on the “correct use” of English within an academic discourse community, we are working to shape students’ languages and, therefore, their identities. We are doing far more than providing writing instruction or critical reading tips; we are attempting to acclimate students to a society that is unequal. This becomes even more complex when we consider “the conservative restoration” that took place in the 1970s and 1980s as well as the culture wars that continue to rage on into the 21st century. Shor draws on Gramsci to make the connection between power struggles and questions of language and control, “because language protocols can help establish order and authority” (37). Shor’s discussion of the post-Civil War U.S. Education system reveals the truth of this connection – literacy + schooling = social order.
Shor goes one step further to explain freshman composition and basic writing (and the education system in general) as an enterprise. Shor states, “Mass education, then, structures failure into its outcomes and then transfers blame to the students (“blaming the victim”)” (34). He explains that it is through this failure that the system continues to work in its reproduction of inequality.
In reading about testing and remedial courses, I can’t help but think about the TSI students within our own institution – those students who did not pass the reading/writing portion of the college entrance exam (THEA or SAT?). These students are labeled TSI (Texas Success Initiative) liable and are enrolled in a remedial reading course and these students are also strongly advised to set up a once-weekly appointment with a consultant at the Writing Center to work on their writing. I had never thought too much about how these students view their TSI status until I was enrolled in this class. I had one student from one of the sections of composition I teach who was meeting me during office hours in the Writing Center. She had mentioned that she was supposed to go in once a week – and it was here that I realized that she was a TSI liable student – a remedial reader or writer. I have worked with her on her writing and it is not weak or broken or even bad – it is writing. I am coming to the realization, both in reading and experience, that these tests and assessments may not (and more often do not) accurately assess the writing ability (or knowledge) of an individual.
I am going to let this response be messy as an homage to Mina Shaughnessy who was cited in so many of our readings and in our syllabus. I started her essay, “Some New Approaches toward Teaching,” from our Teaching Developmental Writing, 2nd edition and found this: “Writing thus produces a distinctive circuitry in which the writer continually feeds back to himself (as writer and reader)” (p.3) and “the mess is the record of the remarkable interplay between the writer as creator and the writer as reader.” (p. 4). I am going to respond to our assigned readings with these ideas in my mind. It’s going to get messy because there is so much going on in the content and so much in my head.
I have a confession, an error in my thinking. When I enrolled in this class I was under the impression that basic writing (BW) theory was another way of saying fundamental writing theory. I had no concept whatsoever of BW as it is defined in these readings and in class. So, it has been an eye-opening experience and I find myself “situated on a frontier” (Otte & Mlynarczyk, 7), in a new place as I learn. Thinking about the first students of the 60’s and 70’s who necessitated the development of BW as its own “fairly new field of composition” (Otte & Mlynarczyk, 3), it occurs to me that they were at a frontier along with Mina Shaughnessy. Their frontier was the mysterious, insular world of the academy. Mina was able to look at these ‘extremely unprepared students’ (Otte & Mlynarczyk, 7) with the openness of a beginner and with an abiding acknowledgement of their worth. Given the prevailing negative attitudes towards BW students and teachers and how these attitudes were part of the ineluctable gravititational pull of the status quo, Shaughnessy’s approach was a very brave act. “(S)hifts of social perspective and responsibility” (Otte & Mlynarczyk, 8) brought to colleges a new social demographic of students. In our readings, the quotes and references to Mina Shaughnessy abound. She is, undoubtedly, a very important figure in the history of basic writing. What I find endearing and enduring about her is the very close and intimate feel you get from her writing as if you were situated right along with her at that “frontier.” The Otte and Mlynarczyk reading, the Shor reading and to a lesser degree the Carter reading have a much more distant, filtered feel with their plethora of citations and references.
One thing that pops to mind are the dividing lines in the educational processes that exist between primary, elementary, secondary and college and all the subsequent mini-dividing lines like remedial or gifted and talented, undergrad and graduate and all the different modalities of teachers – phys. Ed teachers and piano teachers and professors and Pre-K teachers and horseback riding instructors. I don’t get the sense there is much feeling of commonality or recognition that all teachers are brothers and sisters. I believe that when a teacher loses awareness that his/her discipline is but one part in a much greater universe, his/her teaching will suffer but more importantly or equally important the students will suffer when stuffed into this artificial construct. (However, as I got more into my readings I found out that Shaughnessy was very willing to step out of her English domain to observe other fields! (Otte & Mlynarczyk, 10)). While reading Shor’s “Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation,” I was introduced to the idea of a ‘cultural actions’ by Paulo Freire (32). Intrigued by ideas attributed to Freire by Shor, I went on a cursory google search of Freire which led me to the www.freireproject.org. I was hoping to find more on cultural actions. In the Freire Project site I found an Ira Shor page and on it I found something useful for my teaching philosophy, the idea of the 3rd idiom: an idiom that is “distinct from both the everyday language of students and the academic language of teachers” and that this idiom was “a critical language constructed as a synthesis of these different ways of thinking and talking in the lived world of the classroom” (The Freire Project) and a “power-mediated power hybrid discourse.” Now that’s messy! I love it and it reminds me of Samantha’s post on Rose when she is recounts the dynamic process and discussion she had with her freshman English students about literacy. This kind of interaction is a kind of bloom of ideas. Very cool.
In order for learning to qualify as learning it must have a dynamic component. Standardized testing quells the dynamic and the result is static because there is no interplay, no movement. Worksheets and grammar correct-alls are static. Overly prescriptive curriculums such as CSCOPE (not that I know a great deal about this) create a static environment because in its multitudes of directives teachers lose autonomy and the ability to ‘follow their hunches.’ (Otte & Mlynarczyk 10). I would like to investigate how how top-down authority effects one’s ability to learn and think independently. No matter how excellent or thoughtfully prepared a curriculum is, it is still something inert. The only things that can bring curriculum to life are the mediums of teachers and students learning in an open collaborative environment.
Shor’s argument about how our society structures and hands out reward to the very few is extremely relevant for our current troubled economic situation at home and abroad. I worry about how population growth will play into all of this in years to come. Yikes! Back again to the idea of error. Otte and Mlynarczyk cite Shaughnessy again with the idea of the “demystification of error.” (p. 13) This concept is so simple and smacks of rightness but it not something you hear a lot about. As a very young student I made many errors in math and I believed that these errors were indicative of some kind of mental defect. I was impaired. Making this kind of uncomfortable judgment about oneself is still more comforting than dealing with the random, seemingly incomprehensible tangle of mathematical errors. I was just thankful to be brainy with words and sentences. Of course I made all sorts of errors with words and sentences too. And I still do. However, I have a natural affinity with words and that gives me confidence and resilience to carry on in spite of the errors. (Please note that my attitude toward myself within the academy setting varies according to the subject and these attitudes greatly influenced how I interpreted and responded to my errors.) In math I resigned myself to a caste system, a predetermined destiny in which I was at the bottom, not an untouchable but an unteachable. When anyone gets to the point that they think they are unteachable or without the ability to learn, it is a sad day for education because no one was around to point out that my errors were just part of a learning process and not indicative of my mental capacities or potential. Like Marlon Brandon in On the Waterfront, I could have been a contender! I digress. I told you it was going to get messy.
‘One explanation focuses on what the student has not internalized in the way of language patterns characteristic of written English [in other words, error], another on his unfamiliarity with the composing process and another on his attitude toward himself within an academic setting’ – here is Shaughnessy once again on error (Otte and Mlynarczyk, 123).
“Just who was the basic writer? What were the distinguishing features?” (Otte and Mlynarczyk, 19) ---these questions are still being asked in the section on the 1980’s. Carter’s book, The Way Literacy Lives, is an exploration of literacy. What is literacy and what are its distinguishing features? How you think of and define literacy will influence how you think of and define basic writing. Back to Basic Writing, I took a shine to the phrase, “a fragmented enterprise,” (38) which is a reference to the current state of Basic Writing. One thing is certain: there is a multiplicity of views in education, society and politics and that fragmentation goes on ad infinitum. Though it may not be readily apparent from my writing, my writing mess is helping me to grapple with the ideas and issues that are tied to BW. I know that it takes me a while to internalize a bulk of new information. I immerse myself in particulars and what I call “shiny objects” which are the things that I gravitate to in the readings. Shiny objects are interesting ideas or clever uses of language that call to me. They are not necessarily the main idea. Over time by some organic fashion, I am able to take a more panoramic view.
Readings for this week helped me to connect the dots. I knew the fact that there are a lot of controversies, arguments, unsolved issues, different perspectives, different influences in the filed of BW. However, having the necessary historical background helped me to understand the 'hows, whys, whens'. In addition to this, reading these kinds of works providing historical background about an issue in a specific order makes things easier for the reader, since it helps the reader to see the connections, details. Consider this as connecting the dots. To be able to understand the broader, it is very important to realize the small details. So, these three reading, Historical Overview by Otte and Mlynarczyk, Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation by Ira Shor, chapter 1 in The Way Literacy Lives by Shannon Carter, helped me to understand the origin of the BW, its development process, different discussions etc, and so far the mots important thing got my attention is the fact that students must be at the center of this filed without labeling, intimidating them like Rose expressed in his book.
Historical Overview on field of Basic writing presents a whole, united picture for the readers about everything they want to know when it comes to Basic Writing. As far as I am concerned, from the very beginning of this work, the following events, discussions on BW expresses one very important thing: the most important problem in this field is effects of people from different areas such as politicians. When we consider how BW started to study as a field, we can see this negative effect. In 1970s, BW classes are required as a need for universities because of one of the new laws, open admission movement. Ask this question: whose idea was this open admission movement? Apparently, it was not decided by universities, or teachers. What I am trying to say is this: BW became a study of field as a result of a need. It is a very important field to help student who need help their writing, and reading skills. It can be said that it does not matter how this movement started, however the effect caused this movement to start will cause damage to this field. While this article presents BW's process as a field, the broad discussion in this field, as reader you can also see the economical, political, discriminant effect on this field. These effect coming from the 'up stairs' caused teachers not to do a lot of things to help basic writers. However, what a lot of researchers,basic writing instructors have done to develop this filed, and help these students in a better way is amazing, when we consider their conditions. Especially, as the frontier name in the filed of BW, what Shaguhnessy did to improve BW classrooms amazed me. BW instructors followed her studies, and a lot of different researches written in this field made me realize a common problem talked about every teacher in this filed: ignoring students' different cultural background, economical situations, family problems, and other kinds of external problems affecting their success as students in standardized tests. Plus, these kinds of tests based upon multiple choice questions. So, how can teachers, educators, universities, and students get reliable results by testing students' writing abilities without making them write. Asking multiple choice questions to asses their writing abilities causes us to ignore the writing process, and this one of the very important issues in BW, since after Shaguhnessy, all the researches, practices, curriculums started to focus on writing process, and they reveal the fact that in addition to writing process, thinking is equally important. At the basic of these discussion, more important thing we should consider is students, since they are the ones defining BW as a field.
After this general background information about the history of BW, the second work of Shor presents a more detailed conversation on the effects of economy and politics in the field of BW. Like the first work, Shor also starts his discussion by presenting a brief background about BW. What differentiates this work from the the first when we think of the fact that both of them talks about the history of BW., is this: Shor chooses to talk about more on the effect of economics and politics on the errors of basic writers. As it is mentioned in the first article, upper class who controls economy and politics believes the fact that these students labeled as 'underprepared' lower the standard of universities. As far as I am concerned, besides every other problem basic writer instructors have faced, this one is the major issue,since they (upper class)decide everything; their requests are orders for everybody, and they do not think these students are appropriate elements for good universities. Basically, class differences, economical differences were one of the major problems that BW instructors dealt with, since they knew the fact that these stidenets can write.
The first chapter in The Way Literacy Lives narrows down this historical conversation on BW. This tome, readers learn what happened in Texas to basic writers. The geography is narrowed, however the problem was the same: what upper class think, and want? what are the economical conditions? how is the politics? These three elements, upper class, economy, and politics, affected BW's process in Texas. Standardized tests are the major problem for the students in Texas. Even teachers know the fact that these students can write, however politicians in Texas think that they have to get the required scores in these tests to be considered as successful. Basically, a lot of students could not get a decent education because of the misjudgments of politicians.
As far as I am concerned, these three article reveals specific issues important in the field of BW:
-basic writers (students) are at the center of this field
-it is not their fault that they cannot write; they cannot write well enough according to the specific requirements, because of their cultural, economical, and language differences (these are all external effects, not internal effects)
-what students need define the curriculum in a BW classroom, so this definition can be variable from classroom to classroom, from students to students.
-labeling these students as 'under-prepared', 'under-educated', or 'not enough'causes them to loose their confidence, however they their confidence to learn how to write
-writing is not only about the product, process matters to, since the progress in these students' writing can be seen clear;y in their writing processes.
-in addition to process, thinking is equally important to, which is why they need to be able to improve their reading skills in a BW class.
-believe it or not, these students can write.
Debbie Evans says:
While reading Shor’s Errors and Economics and Otte & Mlynarczyk’s “Historical Overview” I was struck by how close the correlation is between education and economics. Call me a devil’s advocate, but I do not agree with the premise that the aim of education is a uniform result. I am reminded of George Schuyler’s Black No More in which the stratification of society by race is interrupted resulting in economic and social upheaval. In Schuyler’s satire, he demonstrates both the truths of societal hierarchies and their necessity. This can be likened to the open access reforms for college education. I believe that the policies of college inclusiveness have resulted in the need for remediation at the college level.
I understand that earlier education can be both a doorway to opportunity and a wall of exclusion. Smaller class size with devoted and effective teachers in well-appointed classrooms with supportive family members is education’s utopian promise; however, society could not function with everyone looking for jobs suitable for the college educated. Shor discusses this phenomenon in his “Another Crisis Era: The 1960s and After” discussion of cooling out periods in which artificial barriers were erected as a means to control access to college. Shannon Carter further describes the circuitous nature of testing as driving curriculum, resulting in continued perceptions of exclusion or the necessity for remediation.
The three readings tell a sad story of good intentions and bad outcomes. I never before thought of basic writing instruction as a political act but see now that it is.
Mike Brown Reading Response #3
Otte & Mlynarczyk’s chapter on the historical overview concerning the evolution or devolution of basic writing was very enlightening to me. The discussion of a specific incident, that being the decision made in the 1960s by the chancellors at City University of New York to allow to all those students who were demanding entrance to the school, assuring all high school graduates entrance to the University, is when I believe the decline of writing skills began. This policy was known as "open admissions". Remedial education was offered to make up for those students who were lacking the skills necessary for college level classes. Later in the chapter, the 1970s are discussed. I think the resurgence of writing began during this decade. This resurgence was brought about by various professors such as Kenneth Bruffee who according to Otte & Mlynarczyk "was doing groundbreaking work on peer tutoring and collaborative learning" (p. 9) and Richard Larson who was developing "new pedagogies and programs" (p. 9). These program advancements were crucial to meet the needs of the influx of the many students who were entering college. The problem with the open enrollment was the oversized classrooms. As a result of the ever burgeoning enrollments, a solution was made by the administration to reduce the enrollments. According to Otte & Mlynarczyk, "The need to curtail enrollments (and so expenses) was achieved not by entrance exams but by the charging of tuition" (p. 16). This led to the mass firings of some of the faculty, specifically those professors who had been recently hired. In the 1980s, the process movement thrived. There was many essays and other types of writings written detailing the problems that teachers and writers alike were facing including Mike Rose's "Rigid Rules, Inflexible Plans, and the Stifling of Language: A Cognitive Analysis of Writer's Block", Joseph Trimmer's "Basic Skills, Basic Writing, Basic Research", and other papers. These writings all had the common theme of the many obstacles facing students in the context of basic writing. In the 1990s, Mike Rose's Lives on the Boundary was published. This book brings to light the labels being placed on some students, the problems in education as a whole, and methods to fix the problems. This book is was definitely an eye-opener for me in that the writer illustrates very poignant firsthand accounts of people he has encountered. Rose's educational doctrines that guide his pedagogy are: literacy is social, the academy is a community, and pedagogy is strategic. I found these principles to be very enlightening. This chapter discussing the historical overview of basic writing brought many interesting facts I had never heard of either prior to or during my college career. There is a wealth of information concerning the history, processes, and even legal issues of basic writing that I gleaned while reading the chapter. While reading chapter 1 of The Way Literacy Lives, I began to relive the nightmares of the TAKS testing my older daughter experienced during her first nine years of schooling. The methods her teachers used were exactly what Ms. Carter discusses in the chapter. Teaching to the test is basically an unwritten motto the teachers in CCISD adhere to. I have pulled out the hairs on my head attempting to decipher various homework assignments assigned to my daughter. To make a long story short, she is currently attending John Paul II High School, where the emphasis is on learning, and not on specific tasking for future test taking. My wife is a CCISD elementary school teacher, so I do have a little insight on the impact in the classroom that the TAKS (or STAAR) testing has on the teachers ability to teach. I am currently instructing ten 1301 writing labs and 2 online 1301 writing labs at Del Mar. Through the first week or so, it is interesting (and a little sad) reading the writing assignments. There is a very wide range of writing skills being displayed by students who are anywhere from 16 to 60 years of age. Granted, some of the students may not have been educated in Texas schools. I believe that the House Bill 72 was created with good intentions. However, this bill ultimately led to the creation of the education system that is used today: Teaching to the Test.
Let’s talk history! The first reading will tie in later with Shor’s as they focus on the emphases on education causing more students to enter higher education during the ‘60s and ‘70s. So, when did basic writing become area of itself? This is an interesting question, because basic writers need to become aware of themselves before they will ever see that they need to improve. Being aware of yourself and then seeing a need to improve will motivate you to do better. After WWII, tuition was cheap and accessible for all (most), and the nation still had a lot of racial tension, so the “opened the floodgates,” per say, and let anybody in. Arguably, this may have been the start of the cycle described in Rose—in other words, our nation has never gotten over racism, ageism, sexism, or any of the –isms. Our nation still sees those as different as inferior, and those entering universities for the first time in mass (African Americans) would soon become representative of all other races entering U.S. schools. These same “other races” are the ones that continue to typically be considered “basic writers.” The problem seems more political, sociological, and psychological, if you ask me. This overall change on how education was viewed led to the belief that college is necessary for all members of society; it isn’t. We need skills/crafts men/women, still. We need trade schools, still.
Open admissions was “real change shaped by racial egalitarianism as well as fiscal exigency” (6). This makes me think of our school and how we portray ourselves as really diverse and promote our status as a Hispanic Serving Institution in order to look good and get more money from donors while never really doing anything for the international students from different cultures. Teaching “basic writers” at the time was a “frontier.” I disagree. “Basic writers” have always existed, and teachers have always had to deal with how to teach to them. All that I see there is to blame, then, is the growth of the public schools and of class sizes. The only way teaching to basic writing was a “frontier” at the time was because no one had put a name on it yet or come up with “right” ways to teach to such students. This is one of my pet peeves about the educational field: The Lingo. Technical jargo. Everything we get caught up in while forgetting what we’re even supposed to be doing.
Shaughnessy describes her way of teaching as thinking her way through things (assumedly using logic and critical thinking, analyzing and interpreting, using prior knowledge to determine context, etc) to find patterns (connect what she knew to new material, see how one discipline connects to another) and possibilities (seeing how doing one thing could be applied to another area and creating new ways to represent, explain, or teach ideas). She seemed concerned about this, but her style of teaching sounds like Bloom's Taxonomy.Shaughnessy also encouraged autonomy, apparently. See this video ( Lyons (no relation) says that she encouraged teachers to become learners. Good for her, but teachers are already supposed to be learners.
Andrea Lunsford began making a connection between basic writing and cognitive development, which just makes me think of how many children are labeled “ADD” and put onto drugs these days. Our society is so intent on doing things “right” and having everyone meet the same expectations that we’re drugging children and insisting they will never be “normal.” No one likes being labeled with a bad connotation. I think of all of the autistic children and those with autism who say they don’t want to be seen as dumb or incapable or behind in school but as different in a good way.
Jay Gould says that the definition of a basic writer “like the concept of ‘general intelligence,’ was shaped and reified with recourse to ‘political and social pigeonholds’” (22) In other words, Gould said the definition was too narrow and limited. Basic writing usually doesn’t having anything to do with intelligence—one can be a wiz in math and not write well. Ira Shor was controversial and said that basic writers were being defined by a structured system that would always see “students with socioeconomic disadvantages and cultural differences” who taught by were “underpaid, overworked, and inadequately prepared teachers” (33). Just more proof that the cycle to blame is more one of racism and disliking those different from us than actually addressing how to help students learn to read, write, and think better.
In conclusion, there is not one issue that determines whether someone is a basic writer or not. We can’t say “he can’t use commas correctly” and place him into a remedial class. We can’t say “he hasn’t improved in a year, so let’s give up on him.” We can’t say “this is the way I’ve always taught, and if he’s not responding, it’s his own fault.”
Test. I hate tests! But how can we measure a student’s success and progress? We need to start by getting our definitions straight, I think. The beginning quote by Bush says “Testing is the cornerstone of reform” (1). In my mind, “reform” means change and progress, though, so using the same form of testing doesn’t seem beneficial. And the NCLB Act only seemed to make matters worse. Sadly, other states follow Texas when it comes to which textbooks, curriculum, and tests to use. Bigger doesn’t make us better, and it certainly doesn’t make us smarter. “[L]iteracy is a social practice”—literacy, language, is a society and an individual’s identity (2). If we test a child’s literacy, then, we are testing his identity. And how can we test identity? How do we determine what is “right” and “wrong,” especially on a standardized test? As teachers, we need to teach students how to learn. We should follow the pyramid so that they can think critically and apply and create on their own someday. Because of this, we don’t need to just be changing the way we test students but the way we teach them. The current tests are easy to cheat on—you write a lot and write big words and get a good score. Teaching to the test ensure that every child will pass, sure, but they will pass into the world a vat full of facts and figures with no way to apply them. They will have no love for learning and no drive to succeed in life. We need to encourage our students to take part in their own education. Promoting days of autonomy is one way to do this—guided work that the teacher oversees but is decided by a student’s interest (this is why when students are given a choice on what they want to write on, for instance, they do better because they care more than when they are assigned a specific topic). See the video above again.
Our media likes to throw out the word “crisis” a lot, and our country is certain in an educational crisis, though it is the one they don’t seem to concentrate on. We are, in some ways, committing treason against our own nation by sabotaging our future. The crisis is also one of continual racism and nationalism all at the same time. The Way Literacy Lives says that most basic writers are those of “lower socioeconomic status” and argues that the way these writers are fundamentally defined needs to change (4). One definition says basic writers need “fixing,” as if something was wrong or broken with them (8). And that basic writers are determined based upon their test scores (9). Finally, basic writers are categorized, or labeled in order to be put into folders (11). Again, if language, literacy, is tied so closely with our identity, how can we clump so many different individuals into one folder? How can we look at one aspect of their lives, their academic lives, and decide that is how the rest of their life must be?
Finally (!) "Errors" relates to the others readings mainly because Shor talks about the cycle of discrimination that started a long time ago. I love the quote that defends her point that BWing? classes and comp classes are set up and filled with "minorities" because the school and government is out to control us--they use “comp for containment, control, and capital growth” (39). Being able to use and manipulate language IS power.
And I think we have too many people in the U.S. We should stop having babies. I promise that relates to the readings. ----I loved the video by the way---Chimene---
In Otte & Mlynarczyk’s “Historical Overview,” I noted a few things that seemed to connect not only to other texts but to the current conflicts in public education. To start, the whole text gave a detailed history of the “Basic Writer,” a term I must admit I dislike intensely. This background is essential to anyone that will be working in the field, whether in teaching or research, as I am currently discussing in Research and Bib. I appreciate the information on Shaughnessy’s pedagogy because I know she is important to the field but had not been exposed to her writing yet. In my opinion, she walked a fine line of developing a curriculum that would be effective and still working within the world that existed at the time. This is one of the main problems I find in many arguments for new curriculum or restructuring a field. People are adept at pointing out the foibles of a system and calling for sweeping reform and deconstruction but are less willing to put forth ideas that might modify the system until it moves toward these new structures. I think Shaughnessy fit this middle area and that may be why her literature and ideas are still valid and seem feasible. I also noted that many of the problems that were discussed in the “Historical Overview” are being revealed in public education, for example: classes expanding in size and staff sizes shrinking (16). This is then easily relatable to the effects of standardized tests.
The first chapter in The Way Literacy Lives concentrates on the effects of standardized testing on “Basic Writers.” Yet, for me, it again points out the foibles. It is a sad truth that there needs to be a way of assessing students learning. The jobs people work towards do have certain functions and knowledge that is necessary. I detest standardized tests but recognize the need for assessment. When pairing this reading with Shor’s “Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation,” the many facets of our current system expanded in my head. I had not thought about the system creating ways to keep itself in power. This makes sense to me, but I have a problem with Shor’s argument. He says there is no need for BW programs because there are students that were not in those programs that succeeded (“Historical Overview” 37) but argues that the programs in 2 yr colleges breed this “cooling-out” (Shor 36). I attended a community college, had remedial courses, and graduated top of my class from a university. I find Shor’s back and forth argument, against it when he dislikes a program and for it when he likes it, an extremely biased argument that, for me, hurts his credibility. Overall, I would hope that this knowledge of the arguments both for and against assessment would yield a solution instead of what seems to be a circular argument that only seems to harm the student. After all, isn’t Shor’s continued fight against a system through literature just another way he, as a writer, can keep perpetuating his own system?
Kerryann Kohut’s response with a Shor focus
I was immediately taken with the Shor piece "Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation" because of its implication that not only are BWs? faced with a less stringent and effective writing education, but that this remediation continues throughout their lives as they have been schemed into filling the quota of menial, hard-labor jobs so that the elite can live comfortably and not have to fight for what they want-or feel they deserve. I talk with my students and sometimes I say to them that life only gets more and more full of responsibilities and issues that need to be dealt with-they should be kids now and stop trying to grow up so fast. Now I think about what I have said to them in regards to Shor and they truly are already facing these adult responsibilities and decisions in a way that they aren’t even aware of. We are molding their abilities and ideas about their places in the world of writing, assigning them a skill level, and teaching to it rather than inspiring beyond it. The big decisions of what you want to be when you grow up are partially answered for you at this very early time, and you cannot fight against that stigma or placement if you do not know it exists. What if your parents are BWs?? The cycle continues and your writing path is likely to decline with each generation. Scary. I think the scariest part of it to me is the powerlessness that this scenario implies for the BW. How can we hope to end this cycle when everything that we are doing to alleviate the problem actual perpetuates it? Unfortunately that seems to be the point here. Very sneaky.
The other side of this coin is that the students who are supposed to be the elite are not always following through with their actions and skating by on the fact that they are in an advanced class or just need no remediation. In my advanced placement classes I see two distinct sets of students: those that always get the right answer and write well because they know what to say; and those who are inspired by a particular idea or subject and do well because there is an internal fire to be creative or share knowledge. These students tickle me and fascinate me because there passion is so authentic and so real. I believe these are the kids that will not let the world stop them because they seem to have only one foot planted in our plain little reality that pales in comparison to their creative visions and pursuits. The big question now then is where do I find these gems? To answer that they are all part of the elite, all of the same ethnicity, all of the same socioeconomic class would be ludicrous, but isn’t that what we subconsciously say when we remediate and create advanced placement?
Finally a point that really disturbs me along this same line is that a true utopia can never exist, because if you take away all the leaders and rulers a new one must emerge to guide the ones who cannot make it alone. The same in true in a classroom, whether it is BW or elite (Shor’s term): In a room of all one kind of writer there will be levels of skill. One will be the best and one will be the worst. Write a short story about this in my summer class called “Level M” which is in our anthology. I wish I had a copy so I could attach it now, BUT moving on…..So you must have a best and a worst. Now what is the difference between your highest level BW and the lowest of your elite writers? The answer is so obviously not motivated by the conduciveness for writing success and more about politic/social factors, but yet we feel powerless as teachers to stop this dangerous trend. Breaking the cycle could change education, but how to do it?
End of Kohut’s response
Otte and Mlynarczyk’s “Historical Overview” gave great insight to the history of BW. But it also reaffirmed some pedagogy that I am using in my classroom today that was being developed in the 60s. Robert Lyons is quoted in the writing discussing Shaughnessy’s practice of having English teachers sit in on core curriculum classes that they were unversed in: “Their efforts to grasp the concepts governing these subjects made them more aware of the particular intellectual assumptions and the distinctive languages appropriate to these disciplines” (10). Shaughnessy’s awareness of language in her pedagogy was not something that settled well with everyone across the discipline, but I find it interesting that I have spent the last two and a half weeks working through the idea of literacy, discourse, and discourse communities with my freshman composition classes. There is something to say about learning to write across the curriculum successfully as also being aware that different situations require different language/approaches. This falls back on the idea of rhetorical situation: know who the target audience is, decide what your purpose, and write to fit your target audience and your purpose. This approach will ensure that the audience gets what they want/need from you. And the easiest way to achieve this is to control the language you use to appeal to the reader.
While I don’t think that teaching the test is the best way to stimulate students’ minds in order to prepare them for college that is all I know from my experience. And I don’t know what the alternative is. I always hear discussion about how bad standardized testing is for the success of students in college, but what else is there? Carter discusses the subject by starting with its history in education reform in Texas. I think the idea that there is a formulaic answer to writing assessment is trouble also. It made me sick to find out that there were MACHINES that were used to grade and that they were easily tricked into think long words and sentences equaled good writing. Carter discusses the hours wasted planning their lesson plans to conform around the truth of “proof”, meaning proving that they are doing what they are expected to according to the TAAS goals. I will tell you one thing, my eighth grade GT English teacher gave us a list of 25 elements to memorize at the beginning of the school year (the list included metaphor, simile, a quote, allusion, etc), and we were trained to use every single element on that list during all of our writing. We spread them out throughout the essay (in the introduction, one of the three body paragraphs, and the conclusion). And, at the end of the semester, I (and the majority of the other in my class) got the coveted 4 on our writing sample. My freshman year, the last year we would have to take the writing test if we passed, my English teacher was a god-send. She told us to throw out everything that we had “learned about writing,” and she started over. There wasn’t a recipe for our writing, and we talked about the test in minimal doses. That year, I scored a 2 on my TAAS (or maybe it was the TAKS by then) which was barely passing, but I learned how to write. And it is the same method of writing that I use today as an English graduate student. I even failed the writing section of the THEA the first time I took it because I was already so far away from what it meant to write for the audience of standardized testing judges.
The issues that Ira Shor brings up in “Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation” are ones that I have never thought about before. I had been made aware that the students I would be teaching this year would be freshman who would likely not know how to read and write critically at the level they will be expected to in college. But I was completely unaware of the disgusting politics that lace the secondary education of these students. Am I right in understanding that the success of writing instruction is based on its failures (30). Is this real life? Shor is arguing that “mass underachievement is neither an accurate measure of student competence nor an accidental outcome, but rather a structured result of education functioning to confirm inequality” (35). So they (in possible we) are teaching to keep the students separated into a hierarchy to ensure academics need for them (us)? This is extremely brutal to hear/read, and it makes me question a lot of things about the English discipline in primary, secondary, and post-secondary education. I can’t imagine these politics existing in the teaching community I’ve just entered. Wouldn’t I be able to sniff them out?
End of Samantha's response
Reading Response #3: Krystal Glisson
Basic Writing (BW) is one of the terms in my mental dictionary that I thought had been in existence since the beginning. Everyone holds the title of basic writer / beginning writer at one point or another. For as long as there has been education, there have been beginners. Right? Why would writing be treated differently? I don’t think, until this reading, I truly understood what it meant to be a “basic writer” or a “beginning writer” or what basic / beginning writing was. ----Chimene---I had a very similar idea in my head, just to let you know that you are not alone------
From Shaughnessy to Soliday and all the voices between, why is it so difficult to clearly identify and define what is dealt with in every classroom throughout the nation. The clarity may come when we can figure out what good writing is. I used to think I knew what good writing is, but the more I learn the more I realize how little I know. Chapter 1 in Otte and Mlynarczyk’s book was eye opening and absolutely fascinating in this regard. (As a side note, “The 1970s” section should have been labeled “The Mina Shaughnessy Era.”) Shaughnessy is a name that I am familiar with only insofar as others referencing her work; I had no idea the legacy she left and the reform she sparked. I am grateful for learning about her work, and, as an English teacher, grateful for her.
This continuous disagreement between policy makers and those in the trenches strengthens my belief that modern education is only slightly different than the education policies and pedagogy of the 19th and early 20th century. The students we teach are not all white males and the curriculum is extremely evolved (not just readers), but the conversations between “the top” and “the down” are extremely similar. The conversations are still politically and socially driven. The crux is rarely what is best for the students.
Personally, I found it extremely interesting that the conversations teachers / educators are having today echo, almost directly, the conversations Shaughnessy mentions in May 1976: “Our staffs are shrinking and our class sizes increasing…Each day brings not new decision but rumors of new decisions, placing us in the predicament of those mice in psychological experiments who must keep shifting their expectations until they are too rattled to function…we meet our colleagues from other campuses with relief: ‘Ah, good,’ we say (or think to ourselves)—‘you’re still here’” (Otte 16). Incredible!
When I was in high school, I was an extremely poor student (financially and academically). I’m one of those first generation college graduates that a lot of statistics discuss. I had mostly C’s and D’s and was, also, completely disengaged; I graduated because I had nice teachers, and I was in Kentucky—no state assessment at the time. Six years later after my contract with the Army expired, I went college using the GI BILL and was a straight A student (until I took Human A&P). I imagine if I was required to take an assessment when I was in high school, I would have been categorized as a remedial student. From personal experience, I must agree with Sternglass’s opinion that “…given enough time and support, students who had initially been placed in basic writing could succeed in the academy and beyond” (Otte 36). Through the military, I was able to give myself another chance. I found my groove. Some people need a little help finding theirs.
I had the hardest time with Ira Shor’s chapter. Hind sight, I agreed with him 50 per cent of the time; I would shake my head to one statement and nod my head to the next. Maybe the 50 per cent I disagree with stems from how uncomfortable it makes me. I do not want to believe that “[m]ass education is miseducation for most students who come from non-elite backgrounds” (31). I do not want to be a pawn in the education system’s game of keeping entire communities of people from achieving their dreams. I do agree that “[b]ecause ‘culture’ is not ‘nature,’ human society must be built daily by human action. Culture and people do not grow by themselves, like trees or weeds, but must be socially constructed through everyday experiences like schooling” (Shor 32). The dominant culture will naturally be the voice of civilization, but we are not automatons without free thought. We do not live in a country where we are persecuted for our differences. (Did you know CCISD schools are teaching “Character First” in a twenty minute homeroom class? The ‘character traits’ we discuss are truthfulness, punctuality, etc. These transcend time and place and dominance.) I agree with Shor that “[e]ntrance exams and first year writing courses became the premier linguistic gatekeepers” (Shor 38). I disagree that it is used to keep the haves from the have-nots. I also disagree that “…[bad] assessment is the cheapest ways to get the greatest control of teachers, students, and curriculum” (Shor 46). Really? Again, maybe it is because I do not want to be controlled. However, I wholeheartedly agree with Shor that “No one plan for change will work anywhere, everywhere, or all the time” (Shor 48).
In every respect, I agreed with Shannon Carter’s chapter; it had me screaming, “I KNOW!” and “YOU’RE RIGHT!” I appreciated most Carter’s explanation that our job is “…to help our students develop the flexibility and skill necessary to negotiate multiple, always changing literacies, learning to hone and apply rhetorical dexterity to increasingly complex rhetorical situations” (20). Carter touched on everything that drives me bananas about being a public school teacher, beginning with but not ending with schools’ performance records. The buzzword in education right now is transparency. Transparency and how we are perceived by the public is at the forefront of everyone’s minds—from the administration to the paraprofessionals—, and it has caused complete chaos. This has further taken the center of the conversation away from what is best for students. Our grade books can be accessed 24/7 in real time. If I change a grade, parents can see instantly the change. Our attendance records are available for all to see. Everyone has to be comfortable with it because it’s not going anywhere.
I agree with Bartholomae who said in 1988, “I think we have begun to rest too comfortably on terms that should make us nervous, terms like ‘basic writing’…” (Otte 30). But what else do we call it? Where does it start and where does it end? With money? With politics? We need to identify those students who need help in whichever field they find interest. Literacy is inherently the epicenter of every subject. The student must have the ability to efficiently and clearly read and write math problems and science charts; they also need to read and write about history and the truth and beauty of things. I leave this reading with more questions than answers. What is college material? What is good writing? Who is a basic writer? What is basic writing? Are basic and beginning synonymous?
End of Krystal's Response
response by Ed
Much of what I got out of these readings is that oppression or another suppressing force like social construction or manipulation can impede in the teaching of Basic Writing (BW). And I guess this seems plausible because the seeds of BW sprouted in the incendiary 1960’s. This makes BW an ancillary element to the spirit of the 60’s. The new attitude and attention to writing became BW. Since BW carried the banner for equality and accessibility for students, there have always been oppressing forces to the teaching of BW. It was the time of the democratization of English and education.
Mina Shaughnessy faced this force when she became a BW trailblazer. Attacks on her style by other BW researchers were a direct force. But other forces like socioeconomy that had a bearing on BW instruction. I do not agree with Trimmer’s assessment of BW instructors as he explains his findings by writing, “…that given [to BW instructors] the training, the incentives, and political status of these teachers, they see no reason to invest more of themselves than they already have in remedial English” (“Historical Overview” 24). Trimmer wrote this in 1987. Not much has changed in the perception of BW teachers. But BW instructors can change this. There are little intricacies within the teacher/student dynamic that can maybe influence the students that can write to try and come to class. Some of the problems can be of the sort as a student not being able to afford the books for whatever reason. Maybe the BW student decides to spend the money his parents, relatives, or loan company has given him on something else other than the BW textbooks. Maybe the student really cannot afford to but the BW textbooks. The “individual differences and and contextual complications” (25) should not be ignored by inflaming subjugation with assessment standards and arbitrary markdowns like deductions for absences. Hell, if an instructor is doing their job, the students should want to come to class. This does put the onus on the student and instructor…instructors should stress the production of assignments is the foundation for grading. It can be a tough sell though. To be “iniatory, orienting, and socializing,” my experiences with culturally diversified writers has shown me that inviting them into the language world with a sense to express themselves without any subjugating force like markdowns. Error can be a difficult to address in papers. Why should error be a markdown. If the BW student attempts to write, instructors can correct the error on the paper and not deduct points. Just a thought.
Students can be given the freedom to learn by having instructors give them an invitation into a new world of language. Sometimes, with the historical perspectives of the readings as a looking glass, it is not the students fault that there writng abilities have been assessed as remedial.
Caleb’s Reading Response: 9/13/2011
Empowerment does not come with language, rather language reflects power.
-Frank Smith (30)
Pertaining to all the readings this week, my answer is YES! I guess I never realized just how messy and complicated scholarship and legislature on basic writing really is. In my eyes, it seems like such a simple issue, but when magnified by scholars, it engulfs so many areas of our lives. After all, language is something we use every second of every day.
I decided to start my post off with one of the same quotes Shor uses in his article, as it seems to sum up so many of the issues within basic writing. I think at the center of all the issues surrounding basic writing lies one component, POWER! In all three readings, who owns language is a dominant theme, as all three scholars paint similar illustrations with different points of view attached.
The first chapter in The Way Literacy Lives by Carter outlined how the Texas education model was being adopted by the national government so they could create a national model of education and assessment. At the heart of Carter’s argument was the concept that standardized testing creates an “autonomous model of literacy”, which displaces literacy as a social practice, instead modeling it as a universal set of skills based on age, grade level, multiple choice questions, and a very vague (and often extremely boring) writing prompt (1). By emphasizing that cognitive skills are standard for people of the same age level, the autonomous model of literacy disregards “the cultural and ideological assumptions” that influence language, essentially ignoring two of the most important variables, and creating a notion that literacy will effectively enhance cognitive thinking skills, improve economic conditions, and create better citizens (Carter 1).
Although this view follows the notion of the American dream, where people from all backgrounds can pull themselves up from their own bootstraps, at this point in American history I think it is safe to say this is not the case. Although assessment came around to measure how students were doing, make teachers and administrators accountable, and keep parents in the loop, sadly “the testing culture rarely allowed any overlap among or beyond” basic skill sets, which often did not require the act of cognitive thinking (4). Because teachers are forced to teach to a test, often students from low income and minority backgrounds get stuck only learning the skills they need to pass TAKS, while never learning how to harness their cognitive thinking skills, or being labeled as remedial despite making ‘intelligent mistakes’.
I felt that Carter’s text led into Shor’s text very nicely, as the assessment protocol in secondary education has seemingly left many students (primarily low income/minority students) underprepared for the rigors of college coursework, prompting the adoption of basic writing programs at the collegiate level. Much like Carter, Shor focuses on the economical/political concepts present in basic writing instruction and scholarship, noting that: It is the role of writing instruction to focus on correctness in order to assimilate everyone into a common culture, often is taught in a manner that only serves the elite, and works to reproduce inequality, placing those who are unable to cope at the bottom of the social platform, while launching those students capable enough into more prestigious positions (31). Essentially, Shor believes that basic writing instruction is a system that works to weed out those that don’t belong, subjecting them to labels that outline the fact that they are outsiders within the scholastic realm, and reinforcing the ideas and values of the dominant political and social culture.
Otte and Mlynarczyk sum up the history of basic writing, pulling in many of the concepts discussed in both Shor and Carter’s texts. I guess to me it seems like the educational system should work so much smoother than it does. If education is used as a means to subjugate and class students, then I guess the system works as it should; however, if we as a nation truly want to educate our masses, I think it would be beneficial to restructure the system with help from basic writing scholars. I wouldn’t ask a store clerk to build a bridge. I would ask an engineer. In this same manner, government cannot continue to allow politicians to make decisions on education matters. They should ask the experts and include basic writing scholars in key educational decisions concerning writing. We as a community have been voicing the exact opposite of current policies for years, to no avail. The only way to improve basic writing instruction is to leave it in the hands of scholars who have experience with the issues. In the end, education and writing isn’t only an economic, political, or classroom problem; it is also a social problem. Until the situation is remedied, students will continue to fall between the growing cracks in the system, costing them everything!
I enjoyed the readings this week, as they demonstrated just how complicated basic writing instruction, policy, and history truly are. Is there an answer to the situation? I don’t know; however if the readings did anything for me, it made me understand the need to keep discussing these issues and hope that over time the education system will be capable of growing, changing, and accommodating those we see as less.
End of Post