Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Feb 22 MBW Foreword, Preface, and Fitzgerald’s “The Context Determines Our Choice”

The readings this week presented an interesting overview of what is to come in the MBW text. I found myself looking forward to reading some of the articles, such as Gleason’s, while realizing I would have to keep an open mind about others. It appears this text could be helpful to me as I teach mainstreamed basic writers both in high school and at Del Mar.

I agree that the first problem that should be addressed before attempting to restructure any basic writing program is the placement test, which does not accurately assess two groups of students: the older adults who have been out of school from five to twenty years, and the second language students. The older students will likely remember and/or acquire skills rapidly and be able to succeed in regular curriculum, and will benefit more from being in a more challenging environment. The second language students often just need more time on these tests. One author says these basic writing programs are political and have a decidedly “racial cast,” yet another asserts, “the most problematic student populations consist of those students designated as [ESL]”(xvi). How then do schools avoid the “racial cast”? If we could be different in education and use the word “background” instead of “race,” this whole thing might be less about politics and more about people.

Fitzgerald espouses a common sense approach: “any approach for teaching basic writing must fit the context in which it is used” (216). Teaching is different in every context, whether in levels, such as high school, community college, or university, or geographical locations. Crowe’s efforts to “eliminate remedial courses through interventions provided before students arrive”(217), will never happen. We will always have those who need help at all levels, from all walks of life. It is prudent to consider how best to serve in the context in which we each teach. That is why I look forward to more from MBW.

'''Adolfo Butch Cárdenas February 22, 2007 Reading Response'''

Mainstreaming Basic Writers by McNenny? and Fitzgerald Introduction “The Context Determines Our Choice: Curriculum, Students, and Faculty”

I didn’t get much out of the introduction other than a preview of what this book addresses with respect to mainstreaming basic writing. However, one particular aspect of the introduction that I did appreciate is that the authors do not mince words when in comes to outlining their objects such as what is written in the introduction.” Mainstreaming student writers needs to be seen as the first step in the recognition that using writing as a basis for learning is a long-term proposition” (ix).

The final chapter continues with a straightforward approach to mainstreaming basic writers and reiterates their contentions outlined in the introduction. “The goal of our basic writing courses is to prepare students to complete successfully a freshman composition course where they will write 8,000 words and read the equivalent of five, full-length, non fiction texts” (215). Adding to this statement is an equally important point that advocates freshman composition course transfers “to both public and private universities as the first semester course required for general election” (215).

It only seems logical to me that if a higher education faculty is to be in charge of basic writing, they should also be given the freedom to develop an effective and informed program within the English department that is not a “one size fits all” (216) basic writing program. Meanwhile, the situation with mainstreaming basic writing programs at the California community college used as an example throughout this book and in this chapter clearly illustrate the importance of implementing a context guided program. This college has had to expand its writing program scope because of the open admission policy where 70 percent of students applying for admission are placed into basic writing programs. I also wholeheartedly agree with the authors when they note that students should be prepared to perform the kind of writing that is required in the academy. I also join in the authors’ criticism concerning reference to Ed Crowe’s solution to remedial courses across the country that sounds more like calling for the creation of a state employment agency which the academy is not geared to do.

Perhaps one of the most inspiring quotes from this chapter can be found on page 218 and notes “For the most part, the issue addressed in this book is not whether or not students should be in higher education, but rather once they are, what should be done to help them succeed.”

Elva's Response --Preface of Mainstreaming Basic Writers by Gerrie McNenny? and Sallyanne H. Fitzgerald. February 22, 2007.

I keep on reading: “underprepared,” “in need of remediation,” and “at risk” (xi). This preface talks about “…for students marginalized both economically and culturally through a system of unequal privilege” (xiii). Was that not the same thing that Linda Adler-Kassner and Susanmarie Harrington are talking about? People, no matter who they are, are shaped by life circumstances largely determined by forces outside of their control (63). Maybe when we are in secondary education, education was not important. I am talking about my typical Mexican culture. But after having day after day obstacles, we know education can make a difference.

I do not like what the preface said about “basic writing programs are targeted as being symptomatic of a tolerance for underachievement and continued support for failed liberal support program much like welfare and other “entitlement” programs for the poor (xiii). I disliked the comparison of basic writing to welfare. When a student decides to go to higher education, they want to better themselves. It’s a problem when they are label as a basic writer but they are trying. I am not against welfare or other “entitlement” for the poor but do not compare basic writer to welfare or programs for the poor. The basic writer is trying to better themselves while others take advantage of the system.

Finishing this article, a thought came into my brain. Having all these problems with the basic writers, why can’t we have a college like GC, designated to have a basic writing degree. We can call it ABW, Associate Basic Writing degree.

The Context Determines Our Choice: Curriculum, Students, and Faculty by Sallyanne H. Fitzgerald.

What is more beneficial, mainstream writing classes or basic writing classes? What is so wrong with basic writing?

Yes, I would be for a basic skills laboratory but with an understanding there is NO ONE way to teach basic writing. Every student is different and needs different strategies to improve their writing. Just what Fitzgerald says, “Unlike some politicians and members of the public, our authors purpose ways of teaching basic writing that fit the students in their institutions-not a “one size fits all” approach (216). Everybody has different needs.

Back to the first question, she talked about 50% of all entering first-year, CSU students place into basic writing (219). What would happen to these students if no basic writing classes? Then they are talking about removing the basic writing classes. They want the high school, community college or basic writing noncredit workshops to teach the students basic writing. Can’t the colleges or universities see that basic writing is needed? Can’t they see they are losing students and money? Here is this article, basic writing is as the “cash cow” (221). Here, I agree with this, the “cash cow” but how many students are having the problem of writing. How much money can the college or university make?

I did not like what I read on page 221, “the world turns to bring the past back again” (221). Do we want the elites to be in control? Now days, every culture has something to say.

<<<<<<< Finishing this week’s reading, I realized there is a problem defining “who is a basic writer?” She talked about a Harvard student, second language speakers, working class and older students, students freshly out of high school, and whoever does not know how to write. But according to “Who?” Remember, there is NOT ONE SIZE FITS ALL!

Anne Ries

Like Butch, I felt like the preface was not much more than a glorified preface. A basic summarization to the text. Similarly, Chapter Twelve wound things up in the same manner that the preface opened them up. But on to the good stuff...

"'Eddy, Rivulet, Backwater, Site Specifically' caution us to asses our programs mindful of the configurations that define their institutional constraints/ Successful writing programs, they maintain, are constructed around the needs of local populations of basic or developmental students and on a critical evaluation of all the apparati that attend institutional efforts to include high-risk students" (xiii). This seems a little obvious, but I am glad it was stated, so that I can discuss it. :)

Why does mainstreaming work for our institution? Does it? Have we done studies to support it? Why have we, as a campus - administration, staff, profs, them all - instituted mainstreaming? Was it an administration choice to save money? Were the faculty even asked what they thought about this? I think it does work programatically, but I would like to see some data across the board to see if it fits. I think we do need to know the needs of the population - basic writers and otherwise - so that our programs and curriculum most closey fit with the students we are serving. But how do you figure that out?

About placement procedures:

"This stressful placement procedure fails to provide students with a fair opprotunity to present their writing. Students have no time for editing or revising of their writing. What happens, then, is that many students, especially those with second-language and second-dialect backgrounds, are discriminated against by assessment readers who lack the essential language background to make fair assessments" (viii). Who has those skills except maybe Linguists specialized in the specific language/dialect that the students speek? You would have to have a Linguist for every language grading these assessment exams. Don't get me wrong, a lot of Linguistics would love the job opprotunity, but we can't afford them. They like to drive BMWs?. I think that what our authors are doing is showing the impossibility of accurately assessing students work in these contexts. But still, that is a pretty impossible suggestion to make.

Melissa's Response:

What I took from this sort of literature review on mainstreaming basic writers is that not one curriculum will work for all. Fitzgerald states, "My concern is that too often we in basic writing see our own context as the only one, and we propose answers for our situation as if those answers are appropriate for all of our profession" (221-22). Fitzgerald makes it very clear that in order to establish an effective program for basic writers, the policymakers must know the curriculum and the students who fill the writing classroom. I think that's the problem with education today. The people in charge, the ones whose decisions dictate what is taught and how it is taught in higher education (or in general) are unfamiliar with what is going on in the inside. How to solve that? I'm not sure that there is a plausible solution, at least not one that I am qualified to offer.

Much of Fitzgerald's article focuses on the elimination of basic writing altogether, and right off, I am opposed to that, especially within community colleges as Peter Dow Adams proposed (219). The reason for my opposition to this idea is that I understand that not all were given the same learning opportunities, for very different reasons, but despite those unfortunate circumstances of missed opportunities, some still desire to acquire higher education. What do you do with them? Put them in an advanced class where they are doomed to fail? I believe that in order to make college seen as attainable, preparatory classes need to be offered. That way, the stigma associated with higher education may not prevent those who have been underprepared from entering.

Hmmm, where to start. When have labs ever worked? For anything? In my unexpert opinion on labs, what would that make me, a laboligan, I just think that there isn't enough application. I got nothing out of labs that I've had. Not that I am the shining example, but geez, it it just in our field that when someone says something doesn't work, people don't believe us? We are after all, only writing teachers.

We have to prepare the underprepared, make things fit that don't fit, and to boot, we have all of a semester to do it. I'm sorry for anyone with virgin eyes, or ears, or whatever, but fuck funding, and those to OK it.

Wow. Sorry. I just think that people need to start prioritizing. They need to realize that basic writers are not going to go away unless something changes. Unless something somewhere magically happens and we have a literate culture in a world of open admissions. We have a civil responsibility. We need to make people make a connection to writing that goes outside of the classroom. They will need it again, regardless of what they do.

So what to do? Mainstream? Create an active learning environment. Maybe. but doesn't the student still realize that they may be behind in this mainstreamed class? Will there be frustration? I don't know. What I do know is that writing has a bad rap. It's right up there with a photo of Michael Jackson standing next to some kids, it provokes cringing.

How are we doing with mainstreaming? Is it making a difference? Are we getting to the holy grail of status quo? I don't know.

Overall, I liked this book better than the last one we read.

Erica Rangel

Given the lingua-centric emphasis of Basic Writing pedagogy (skills, vocabulary, syntax) and the tendency to define students in terms of deficiency and remediation, it does seem as if the “designation issue,” and its pedagogical implications, is at the center of the mainstreaming debate. If mainstream classes are taught based on more recent composition pedagogy and Basic Writing classes cling to a skills/current-traditional model, placement becomes a choice of fundamental, theoretical assumptions: basic writers work on “basic skills” (defined by the skills/current-traditional pedagogy that dominates basic writing as sentence-level, text-centered, individual, and code-based) while mainstream writers work on “composition” (defined by SCT-influenced composition theories that posit writing as social, meaning-making, and discoursal) (cf. pp. 216-217).

If both groups are given access to the same pedagogy, the grouping of students (and their classification) could be based on other factors (e.g. backgrounds, goals, etc.). It would be helpful to discuss the effects and possibilities of mainstream and focused groups without automatically assuming that the fundamental definitions have to change. It’s as if we are saying that our fundamental assumptions about writing and writers change based on the “level” of the students: when you reach a certain level, or acquire a set of skills, writing (and the act of writing) changes. Perhaps it does (but I doubt it), but even so, shouldn’t our discussion address this?


I laughed as I read the Fitzgerald article. I had asked in Tuesday’s posting what is the solution to basic writing if it isn’t mainstreaming or the basic writing courses. This chapter lays out the alternatives such as stretch, mainstreaming, and pre-comp. coursers while acknowledging that it is entirely dependant upon the college’s context and culture. I found it quite refreshing that some faculty are willing to fight for the needs of their students and to gather a curriculum based on student needs and population.

The preface and the introduction describe such terms as under prepared, at risk, and remediation. It gives on overview of the authors and the issues surrounding the “mainstreaming” debate as well as provides perspectives from other options. The chapters further orient readers to the discussion about social and cultural domains that tend to be inhabited by this certain type of student. More than anything, I feel that these 3 pieces introduce the background material needed to understand what is going on in these types of composition issues. I found the placement of Fitzgerald’s article kinda weird—I think it could have gone in the beginning with the preface and introduction because it still sort of highlights topics and issues from the previous sections. I found the truly beneficial in understanding the movers and shakers in this conversation about mainstreaming and equal access as well as in helping to understand the terminology that is often thrown around.


I am not against mainstreaming. However some of the reasons for mainstreaming outlined in the forward and “The Context Determines Our Choice” seem to go against the things that we have been reading about Basic Writers. In the beginning of class, we read that basic writers are not basic thinkers. We read that they are able to perform the same thinking that non-Basic Writers can. However, in the Forward, the author argues for mainstreaming so that students will not waste time focusing on the skill level and will instead engage in “serious reading and writing tasks” (vii). Wouldn’t a basic writing class ideally involve serious reading and writing tasks? Later in the article they talk about “lower level cognitive demands” which Basic Writers would supposedly be engaging in. I don’t see the basis for this opinion considering what we have read so far.

Heather Dorn