Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Feb 20 BW “Looking Outward” and BWM “What the Public Has to Say”

We have finally gone off the deep end. That, or a lot of people don’t have enough to do. “Such efforts [bringing ‘high culture’ to public schools] are often at the center of a kind of cultural imperialism that seeks to impart the values affiliated with elite cultures to those who are typically perceived as separate from (and sometimes threatening to) that culture” (67). Good grief. How can it hurt to invite (it never said “force”) school personnel to see an art exhibit, listen to music of any kind, or go to the theater? If this is “cultural imperialism,” then shouldn’t we also slam the school districts who give employees pedometers and encourage physical fitness, because they might offend those who do not value fitness, who are typically perceived as overweight and threatening to a fit America?

The authors complain that schools seek to “ensure that students have mastered these objective skills, and that these skills also reflect a set of values and will help students to enter a middle-class culture that also participates in them” (69). So what’s the problem? Seems to me this is in line with “What the Public Has to Say About Writing.” They continue: “basic writing students…cannot use this system to advance their situations and participate in the dominant culture” (72). Why not? The authors don’t give students enough credit. Now who is prejudiced? If they are skilled enough to get into college, why can’t they learn the skills taught there?

The authors seem to suggest that the “school success narrative” and the “iconic student figures” are bad things. “Do we want to participate…?” Should we “portray literacy as an objective set of strategies and skills that can be mastered by iconic student figures with the drive and determination necessary?” (80) Again, why not? It seems to me that the alternative is to take more responsibility off the students and blame the schools: “It is not the fault of the students…the problem is with the school system” (66). Now we are knocking not only exposure to “high culture” but hard work as well? Are the poor students who don’t want to work hard discriminated against? Somebody save me.

This was the last straw for me: “asking students to abandon their culture outside of the classroom door so that they can more ably use that language can be damaging” (80). No one is asking students to abandon anything. As Melissa said in an earlier discussion, our classroom does not define us. The entire school curriculum does not define us. We have plenty of opportunities to enjoy our culture outside of school and certainly it remains with us as we go through school. It colors everything we think and say and do, and who we are, exactly like my faith does for me. I don’t check my faith in God at the door. Even in secular situations, I remain a Christian. I don’t have to talk about it every minute for it to be so. The same is true of culture. The authors conclude that “we must first organize to enter the conversation – and then we can consider whether, and how, we want to change it” (82). Forget the “conversation.” We need to stop talking and teach. Meanwhile, I think I’ll strap on my pedometer and walk over to the museum.

'''Butch’ reading response February 20, 2007''

Kassner & Harrington’s “Looking Outward: Basic Writing and Basic Writers in the Mainstream Media”

Since I am a former journalist I tried to view this chapter from a nonbiased point of view, but it didn’t work. The premise of this article, in my view, is that the authors are trying to find a scapegoat in mainstream media to blame for all of the problems that are occurring in remedial writing in higher education, particularly in an urban center. Biased reporting is what they are charging, but perhaps a better understanding of how the media works in different regions of the country would have kept the authors from claiming slanted reporting on behalf of the New York Times. A good example of this contention can be seen in the quote “Clearly, these teachers were not part of the Times’ ‘news net,’ the group of legitimated sources and institutions that form the network of sources that media producers (journalists, producers, and so on) rely on when they construct their stories” (78). What Kassner & Harrington failed to note is that large public institutions such as CUNY and General College have a public information office whereby all information coming from the university or college is disseminated. Aside from informed reporting sources, CUNY and General College are also public institutions whereby educational statistics are a matter of public record and can be accessed through the Freedom of Information Act.

What Kassner & Harrington also failed to point out in this chapter is that the demographics are different in both Minneapolis and New York and that does make a difference because we are dealing with different approaches not only to teaching remedial writing, but to getting both the academy and the public to react to a deficiency in our educational system. Stoning the bearer of bad news is nothing new, but it is exactly what the authors of this chapter are doing to the Times reporting. Nobody likes bad news, especially when it concerns a younger generation of school students, but the facts are the facts and no matter in what type of graphic or light they are presented, they speak for themselves just as they statistics that the Times reported..

The proposed closing of General College and its campaign to keep it open had a different game plan than did CUNY in that they appealed to their community to unite and defend the school’s mission and the community embraced it. The Minneapolis Star Tribune obviously embraced it because they stood to lose money in advertising and subscriptions revenues if the college closed. For the New York Times it was different. They weren’t going to lose profits because of the actions of CUNY personnel and they weren’t going to lose readers because of their take on the news was harder and brought things closer to reality.

It stands to reason that the authors of this chapter would like to have seen the Times undertake a similar approach to that of the Star Tribune, but wouldn’t that be slanting the news in a similar way as well and could that not be seen as being hypocritical as well?

Elva's reponse

Looking Outward: Basic Writing and Basic Writers in the Mainstream Media by Linda Adler-Kassner and Susanmarie Harrington—February 20, 2007

I do not know why, when I started reading this article, something in my brain thought about the process of getting hire for a new job. I think it was the words used such remedial education, underprepared, and appropriate literacy skills. I see it as a process. After reading this quote, “But because they are concerned with students whose work falls outside of the boundaries of “remedial education” what has been defined as “appropriate literacy skills” (63), I compared this to applying to a new job. Isn’t that what happens when you get the job? The first step is remedial education; the second is underprepared and with time it is considered as appropriate literacy skills. I know it is not appropriate literacy skills but appropriate literacy in the job market.

An experience I went through about five years ago. We interviewed several women for a Senior Secretary position. The one we hired had not worked since the mid 80’s and so she was considered as “unmarketable” or “underprepared.” We saw potential in her. One thing she did was to attend a business school so she became “remedial” person to become marketable. Now with time, she has become an “appropriate literacy in the job market.” Isn’t “remedial education” like the first day on the new job? We hired people that know little about the job. They get paid and will learn the job. It’s a stepping stone in a job or in the classes. Isn’t that what remedial is? Give them a chance to be marketable or prepared.

I did not like the comparison the media did on “CUNY is Adrift and Needs an Overhaul” and the stories focusing on the attempted closure of the University of Minnesota-General College (GC). I did not know what “narrative” meant but because each side was framed quite differently, now I know what it means. At CUNY, there were so negative and had powerless students, according to them. While at GC, they were positive, optimistic and had powerful students. GC had “iconic student figure here is transformed from powerless victim to empowered actor” (74). CUNY focuses on negatively on the powerless students. The media and the Mayor’s Advisory Task Force wanted society to believe problems with the school system and with the students. According to them, CUNY had veered from their set course and departed from its mission. What I did like about CUNY is that they complained and complained about their students’ problems and there comes poor Lozano. She does not blame the system or the test, she failed the writing twice and she blames herself. I believe she belongs at GC. One thing I did not like about CUNY; they say the problem is their students, foreign born, do not speak English, no firm grasp of English, poorer, and have children to support. I get mad because these people do work, pay their tuition or maybe or maybe not have Financial Aid. They are taxpayers and are entitled to be at CUNY.

I realized that both schools deals with “remedial” and “underprepared” but each school handles it differently, positively and negatively, powerless and powerful students. I am all for GC. Maybe, the answer is having Basic Writing Colleges. From there on, the students would advance to CUNY or other universities. There would be no remedial students at the universities. The finished product is appropriate literacy skills.

'Anne Ries

The first thing I thought of when I read this article was “this is a rhetorical analysis! I could have used this as an example for my students for their portfolios!”

I was really amazed by the effect those two articles had on the institutions they wrote about. It was a little appalling. Well, it was appalling in reference to the CUNY school. I think the General College article proved the benefit of the media’s involvement in higher education, in that it got the public involved in the school closure. Both articles, however, generalized and in some cases misinterpreted years of a school’s history into one small article. I was a little ashamed of myself for thinking it, but as I was reading the article I kept asking myself what the reporter really knew about student writing anyway.

Fleischer’s ending words hit home as an instructor at the Island University, “We must have a great knowledge about community organizing and a host of strategies of which we are unaware” (81-82). I think that if we, as teachers, followed this strategy, we could alleviate the media’s exclusion of instructors in their pieces. (Instead of reporters going straight to staff and administration.) The only instructor quoted in either article was strong criticism of a removed president by a history prof. In some cases, TAMUCC has truly taken on the "Island" attitude. We are not as connected to the community as other institutions are, i.e. Del Mar. I think we could potentially prevent a lot of institutional criticism if we built a better raport with our community. I.e. We could prevent issues like the resistance against the university expansion.

But I digress from basic writing.

I don't know what to do with the school success narrative. Is it beneficial? It is harmful?

Melissa's Response:

First of all, I would like to point out that the school success narrative is finally clear for me. And now I see how remedial students may be seen as a dispruption to that narrative with a quote from the Adler-Kassner and Harrington article: "Rather than using the educational system to enable their success and move to greater economic participation in middle-class culture, they are taking money out of the system and away from that culture, as CUNY is devoting a good deal of resources to prepare them for higher education" (72). I guess my main area of focus is on the decline in education, especially in 2 year colleges. Why aren't these students graduating from 4 year colleges? Who is to blame? How have things changed from then to now? This article seems to suggest that the reason students are graduating with low literacy skills is because there is not a "consistent and objective set of literacy skills" (69). What does that mean? Are those seeking answers hoping to find the answer in a standard method, such as TAKS (or TAAS, as I know it). What exactly is an objective set of literacy skills? Are we (graduate english students) learning how to teach those objective literacy skills? If so, I'm not so sure I've learned what they include.

I do believe in the school-success narrative, mostly because that's the impetus which has gotten me this far. I graduated from a small school, went to a 2 year college where I graduated, then transferred to a 4 year college, and now I'm working on a masters. I just see myself in these articles. I am the student these authors try to understand. I suppose that's why I have a plethora of questions.

Shut Up and Teach? --Literacy, Lunacy, and Lore

Adler-Kassner and Harrington argue for the need to situate pedagogy and practice “within the broader contexts surrounding those courses” (61). This is especially important in a pedagogy that involves literacy: lore and practice too often contradict what research findings support and conclude. Since we all use language and engage in writing, we tend to think that we understand language and writing, and that our common-sense understanding, or “lore,” is “natural” or “practical.” But what do we do when faced with findings from linguistic research and composition studies that challenge those basic assumptions?

Lore is typically supported by what we “see” in our classroom, but, as Adler-Kassner and Harrington argue, that perception is heavily influenced by how our practice is represented in the media and by our own understanding and interpretation. We are only able to see what we “know.” A theory is an additional lens or perspective that allows us to see what would otherwise have remained unnoticed. A social-constructivist perspective allows us to see that writing isn’t about mastering a neutral set of skills, which makes it possible for us to add dimensions to our definition of basic writers: perhaps the basic writer is better defined as a writer who is constructed as, and sees herself as, being outside a discourse community or discourse variety. Writing pedagogy then becomes a matter of repositioning students, meaning that teaching them skills doesn’t help (or rather, that what we currently understand as “teaching skills” isn’t what it seems to be). If we can see beyond “this is how you do it and that’s all there’s to it,” which I think we can and should, then pedagogy (and theory) becomes meaningful and important.

It may, as Melanie argues, seem insane to claim that media representations and the “school-success narrative” have anything to do with teaching writing, or to even suggest that such a narrative should ever be questioned. I would argue that it’s healthy practice. “Just teaching them what they need to know” is hardly as innocent and simple as it appears. When we teach a discourse, e.g. “academic writing,” we are not simply (and, some studies suggest, even not at all) teaching a standard variety: we are teaching the variety as if it contains, rather than makes, meaning. In so doing, as Adler-Kassner and Harrington recognize, we are indeed marginalizing students and operating within a paradigm that does not value duality and inbetweenness. As much as I hate using a sentence that includes “marginalizes,” “paradigm,” and “inbetweenness,” that doesn’t mean that the insight isn’t practical. I taught for ten years before I came to TAMUCC, so I think I have a rough idea of what it means to be a teacher—but I also know that my reading of a classroom is just that, and I see it as my responsibility as a professional to continually challenge my assumptions about what I and my students do.

Joining the conversation matters (especially if and when you disagree with what’s being said) and helps all of us; pretending that teaching is a straightforward affair doesn’t. The concept of writing as the execution of “mastered” skills has been, if not disproved, then at least seriously questioned. Problematizing an issue, in my opinion, doesn’t mean lessening its practical value; “simple” or “common-sense” is not necessarily better of more true. The perceived gap between theory and practice, and the often distorting power of the lore, trouble me both as a teacher and a teacher trainer. I think we will do better if we keep talking than if we shut up and teach.


As I read the first few pages of Adler and Harrington’s piece, I was reminded on the school success narrative, “Stand and Deliver.” Like the typical characters that Adler and Harrington claim appear these types of narratives, the students in this movie were also very under prepared, from a lower socioeconomic status, and primarily from a minority group. These students in a math class ended up taking AP Calculus and all passing the AP exam. The types of students, as Adler and Harrington claim of the notion of iconicity, crossed the divide by “going from undereducated outsiders to participants in an educational system that, through hard work and sacrifice, will enable their success in the broader culture” (is movie projected the 63). The students in this movie projected the iconic student-figure stereo-type in the school success narrative. This classification, like the Times article on CUNY reinforces the marginalization and disempowerment of students that are not a part of the traditional dominant culture because it depicts them as originally being outside of the acceptable objective literacy criteria. While this can be seen as a failure of the narrative, in a sense, the depiction of these students can also be viewed as a success, therefore contributing to the perpetuation of the school success narrative, as in the GC story. Both these perspectives of the school success narrative create a tension: do these “iconic” students even want to be the focus of attention? Do these students, in the case of basic writing, want to replace their own culture and language with that of the accepted standard of the objective literacy? Organizing and awareness enable an entrance into the debate. With our guidance, these students can work within the system’s constructs to determine for themselves whether the want to be “iconic’ or not.


Looking Outward: Basic Writing and Basic Writers in the Mainstream Media

When reading this article I kept asking myself why we constantly feel the need to place blame? It seems that they spent so much time writing about the high schools being responsible or the basic writing teacher being responsible or the colleges being responsible (or even the media carrying some responsibility), but couldn't that same amount of effort be put into actually trying to solve the problem that they're writing about? I like that the media coverage of GC helped to enforce the program's effectiveness, but most of what we hear about basic writing or success in college is related to figuring out where the system has failed or commenting on the failure. I understand that finding the flaw will help to fix it, but it just seems like everyone's pointing a finger and the ones who are suffering are the students.

After reading this article I understand the school-success narrative, but I somewhat disagree with the argument that the "iconic" students are a threat. If they represent a threat, why don't we focus on how to bring them into the conversation or better ways to reach them? This article frustrated me quite a bit.


Looking Outward

I think that it is an important step in each instructor's life to acknowledge the connections between what we do and the world outside of the classroom. Sometimes, the two things are one and the same. What constitutes a "school success" narrative? What is success, and why can't remedial be a success? If an event can only make sense in the context of other events, then success is only constructed from failures? I know, lots of stupid, lofty questions, but nevertheless, it is important. Each student is coming in with such different life experiences, that it is difficult to gauge what is teachable and learnable...(I know, such PC terms, right?)

If we abide by an expressivist pedagogy, we want for our students to be able to express themselves. Isn't that the bottom line? Can these students communicate? I don't think its fair to classify students who are in remedial classes as temporary failures. I think that this brings us back to the question on whether or not literacy is indeed autonomous. Isn't it the schools responsibility to make literacy more about the student and less about how the student could be nothing more than a potential failure.

If students are "underprepared" isn't it time to stop bitching, and start trying to fix the problem?

-Erica Rangel

<<<<<<< I understand that the media perpetuates the school success narrative. I understand that people already adhere to this narrative. I understand that basic writing instructors and theorists are not a part of this media conversation, and instead the administrators are seen as the voice of knowledge and authority (even though administrators are usually concerned more with money – education as it relates to money anyway). What I don’t understand is what should be said.

It seems like everyone is concerned with the “unprepared” student’s entrance into the University (as it challenges the school success narrative). The articles make it sound as though the students are undeserving. The Lozano paragraph on page 72 declares that “she was whizzed through Hostos.” That makes it sound as though she did not really do anything deserving of those hours, but was pushed through without effort. The hard work portion of the narrative seems really important – like people should have to suffer more if they are poor or not Standard English speakers.

So basically, the administrators, politicians, media, and standardized exams act as gate keepers. They try to keep undesirable people out of school (and therefore out of the running to join this middle class society).

The problem I have is that all these stories serve to further glorify Standard academic English. Shouldn’t one of the things people talk about (to the media, when they finally start talking) be the man-made hierarchy of language. Shouldn’t someone be spreading the word that different dialects exist and are valid? It seems that until we do that, nothing will change.

Heather Dorn

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