As folks may be feeling a bit shy to post, I decided to post a question I had.
McNenny, p. 3
McNenny is discussing Apple's analysis of the "rhetoric of educational reform" put forward by the conservative right to "redefine the very meaning of democracy, as well as access to a college education." It is the last sentence of the paragraph that I can't make sense of: "Fortunately, our research and our experience show that basic writers are best understood 'as co-responsible subjects involved in the process of democratically deliberating over the ends and means of all their institutions' (Apple 3)." I'm thinking that they are claiming that in spite of the right's agenda to change, that BW are consciously aware of the social, historical, and economic realities of the institutions in which they are enrolled. Does that sound right?
I would have to agree with you that McNenny?, in the last sentence, argues that Basic Writers are consciously aware of what's going on around them, in all of the politics of the very institutions that they are enrolled in. I believe so because before that statement, McNenny? asserts that basic Writers are not "objects to be manipulated" (3) as the conservative right's agenda sees them. I take this to mean that basic writers exercise their democratic rights by engaging in and contributing to the conversation that involves them through the discussion, writing, and critical thinking accomplished in the classroom.
Reading these articles was quite upsetting because of all the assumptions and generalizations people have and make about Basic Writing. And all these beliefs contribute to the definition of what writing is. For example, in the McNenny? article, it is assumed that "because there was no longer a need for affirmative action, there was therefore no need for developmental education" (1). So what this tells me is that writing does not go beyond Standard American English. If basic writing classes are filled with only those who speak in a different dialect, then those who have been fortunate to speak SE their whole lives are automatically great writers. Ideas that these writers engage in are not important nor is the structure by which these ideas are organized...only the language that they write in.
Also, McNenny? reveals another assumption: Remedial students are not serious about their education: "he wants more money spent on academically motivated students and less on remedial-education classes..." (4). I would just have to say that if students are willing to pay for and sit through a semester of remedial writing/math/reading and exit without receiving any credit, that they are just as (or perhaps more) academically motivated than those who passed their THEA test or whatever placement exam they were given.
It's not fair or even possible to make these stereotypes about students without even considering why they are in remedial courses. Yes, it would be quite nice if we all came from highly literate families, were all given the opportunity to fully concentrate and dedicate ourselves to education, but it's obvious that that's a utopian ideal.
It's just a shame that some believe in it.
Butch's response / 27Feb'07
I'd have to say that I do not believe that all BW are consciously aware of the social and historical realities in their respective universities. Heck, some students are hardly aware of important world events unfolding around them, however, I do believe that some students, especially minorities, are aware of the economic factor.
My honest opinion of NADE's lobbyst Gerald Corkran is that he is experiencing Left Wing paranoia with statements like ". . . doors slamming shut to minorities and disadvantaged students who are more likely to need remedial help"(4). No one is going to mount the steps of univesity or college administration buildings and yell out "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, and segregation forever." Doing away with developmental and basic writing programs in four year universities and colleges does not mean that minorities, the disabled, and disadvantaged have been "barred" from higher education. It means that they are going to have to come prepared to write in the academy because that is what is required of them. If it means having to go to a community college to learn how to write, then so be it.
However, the article concerning incoming CUNY students speaks for itself when McNenny? writes that "In 1997, about 13,000 incoming students at the four-year colleges required remediation" (3). What McNenny? fails to address is that a majority of those 13,000 students are coming from high schools who have failed to prepare them for writing in higher education. I ask, who is responsible?
When McNenny? writes that there is a growing surge of an unfriendly political climate, I believe that this climate is being advanced by those constiuents who are demanding accoutability of their legislative representatives who in turn must demand accountability of the educational system. McNenny? did offer a glimpse of remedies to this malady both good (fining school districts for not preparing their students for higher education) and bad (forcing remedial students to pay for their courses).
But then again, all of this may be a moot point because we now have a Democratically controlled Congress that also essentially controls the Left. Let's see what they can do and let's see where their policies bring basic writing to in the future.
There may be a reason for the “conservative sentiment toward public education” (McNenny? 3), or as White calls it, the “new elitism” (White 19). Perhaps it is a reaction to the politics of the 70s and 80s, producing the seesaw effect: go overboard in one direction, then over-correct in the other. Perhaps it is a response to public outcry or demands of the business world. You’ve heard “fifty is the new thirty.” Well, a Master’s degree is the new Bachelor’s; a college degree is the new high school diploma. The trick is to encourage and assist more students to reach these educational goals without lowering standards. That may be a bit like buying a wrinkle cream that actually works.
It is true that placement tests need an overhaul; the problem is in finding an alternative to the timed prompt that does not jeopardize the integrity of the test. I do not think that most teachers necessarily “teach to the test,” although surely some do. We must teach students, not content; therefore we must be flexible daily, weekly, yearly, in finding new ways to teach new people. I worry that we place teachers in the college classroom without proper training; there is a difference in knowledge and credentials on paper and the ability to maintain a classroom environment conducive for imparting that knowledge to others. Here is one area I actually think high schools may do a better job than colleges. And sadly, colleges seem to be especially less selective when it comes to basic writing and freshmen composition courses. They hire graduate students (not always a bad thing of course) or students with little experience teaching. Sometimes the teacher even has graders read the essays. Then critics say, “inadequately trained instructors [are] hired to teach what is commonly perceived of as a ‘skills’ course” (12). These readings are starting to remind me of sports and politics: everyone’s a critic when they aren’t in the arena. It is easy to point fingers at what is not working, but who among the critics will offer a viable alternative, a solution? I will readily admit that I do not have any answers.
The new abolitionists “argue that if the whole business became elective, students would be motivated to learn and the course would lose its curse as a dreary place for teachers and students to put in wasted time” (21). People don’t always choose wisely for themselves, especially something that might present more work. White offers data that supports “a clear, positive relationship between completing remedial writing and staying in college” (27). I know at Del Mar I have had students who were weak, but still much better prepared for 1301 after 305-307. I have had older adults who, if they jumped right into 1301, would have been overwhelmed with types of reading assignments and use of the computer and dropped out altogether. BW can serve as a buffer, a way to ease back into academic life.
If more employers are going to require college degrees, more students will get them. This is good if it will still mean what it did. If everyone has college degrees, more will want to get a Masters or a Doctorate, to stand out above the norm. It is the nature of capitalistic America. Whoever says 50 is the new 30 likely isn’t the one turning 50.
Why so much controversy about Basic Writing? “Action the nation, basic writing programs are being scrutinized by numerous audiences-by politicians, board of trustees, university administrators, and the public alike (1). Basic writing is a needed skill for everything.
McNenny? mentioned City University of New York (CUNY), Florida except Florida A&M University, Georgia, and Massachusetts, of phasing out developmental education. I did not know there was an A&M University in Florida. How can that be phasing out many students are not prepare for college. We keep on reading all these articles about the unprepared students. Why do the legislators get involved? “Instead of educational goals that place “equity, sharing, personal dignity, security, freedom, and caring at the forefront of educational policy, we have legislatures and trustees alike a vision of students “as objects to be manipulated or to be ‘freed’ to follow the dictates of the invisible hand of the market” (Apple 3) (3). I do not like to be call an object. I know why the legislators get involve but it’s the students who decides to pace their education. I have read and been told that there is a time frame for students to start and finish their higher education because the State loses money if students takes longer. Who chooses to go to college? The student of course and it is according to the student’s time frame not the legislatures. Let’s talk about the marginal student who wants to go to school part time that all they can afford. Whose money is been use? Let’s talk about the students who are not admitted to college, what happens to them. What about the students who graduates from high school? What about the students who does not graduate from high school? All these people compete in the job market. Eventually, this will trickle to crime, homeless and welfare programs.
Revisiting the Importance of Placement and Basic Studies: Evidence of Success by Edward M. White
When beginning this article, the long word “egalitarianism” scared me but I have to realize that they are talking about people like me. “At different times, one or the other motif is dominant (19). I am glad the egalitarianism motif has been in control that is why I am here writing this reflection. But what I am afraid of, is that the elitism motif is looking for the control to get rid of the “underprepared,” “developmental,” “inexperienced,” “at-risk,” or “remedial” (McNenny? 2). What I gather in this article is they complain and complain about basic writing been abolish. But if it happens, then, there would be an absolute drop in student enrollment (19). What happens next?
I did not like “…were developed by Harvard in the 1870s, English programs and assessments have been used to winnow out the “undeserving,” often defined as those lacking the right dialect (20). I am glad that they have better words now, “underprepared,” “developmental,” “inexperienced,” “at-risk,” or “remedial” (McNenny? 2). Who is the “undeserving?” Who is the right dialect? Are they talking about the DEAD WHITE MALES, who control society?
Then I read about the 50’s, the elites did the same thing “eliminating those could not measure up to standard… would quietly disappear from the university-and that intent was met” (20). That happen back then but I do not think it could happen again. There are so many people of color that is fighting for their right. The “under privileged” have a voice and will speak up. There comes these “new abolitionists” (20) who want to get rid of first-year writing courses but they do not like to be label “elitists” (21). Why? Aren’t they doing the same thing?
I did not like these two studies “California States University Studies” and “The New Jersey Basic Skill Council Study.” The “California study” was in writing only and “New Jersey” was reading, mathematics as well as writing. These are too old to consider, times have change. I feel disappointed that the “New Jersey program” is but a memory and the “California study” is barely surviving. The “under presented people” need to voice their position in keeping basic writing. I am pretty sure that the elites needed help in basic writing.
I appreciate how McNenny? set up the developmental and affirmative action questions in the first chapter. It was quite refreshing to have a larger picture of the ongoing debate over nontraditional and basic writers. I think that McNenny? quoting Apple hits it on the head when he states, “ we have from legislatures and trustees alike a vision of students ‘as objects to be manipulated or to be “freed” to follow the dictates of the invisible hand of the market’” (3). Basic writers have become political pawns. I had no idea that politics were so very dominant in these debates. I simply thought it was based on cost-cutting procedures. But, either way, it is the underrepresented group of students that continually feel the fallout of the political debates going on higher up. With so many institutions closing their doors to underprepared students, I struggle, as does the author, to find the consistency with their mission of diversity.
I agree with Dr. SWM that the quote on page three is referring to the notion that these students are aware of the social, political, historical etc. They are students. Furthermore, they are individuals and thinkers…just because their written expression may be limited according to some damn test, does not mean that they have no concept or fell no responsibility in their learning. As McNenny? highlights in his discussion of the issues in mainstreaming, these standardized test produce a false sense of ability or disability because of the artificial writing contexts. How can that every aptly measure a writer’s ability especially when there are obvious cultural biases imbedded in the very test itself?
I believe everything boils down to a certain degree of exclusivity that is discussed in White’s article. I touched briefly on this in my posting for comp. theory, but I think it is a definite source of problems within academia as a whole. White dubbed it “new elitism.” I believe it is rooted in separating “us” from “them.” Because of equal and open access, the clouted, prestige, and separation afforded by higher education that often cemented the stratifications in our society, is called into question and demystified. Almost anyone can achieve higher education and hopefully social mobility. But, what that mean for those who hold positions of power—who have intent ally separated themselves from the masses? It would mean that they are not quite as unique and special as they once believed. Ever competed in athletics? Believe it or not, I was slotted as one of the best in my sport. I quickly realized though that there were many beneath me that wanted to take my place. These were the same people that I though really sucked. They caught up though and I had to fight to maintain my position. I know what it means to have someone rise from the ranks beneath you to almost (she didn’t ever beat me) overtake me. Is this what everyone is afraid of? That these groups may end up eventually displacing them? So what is the response to this anxiety? Close the doors of the institutions, cutback spending on supplemental instruction, remove basic writing course etc. If we can’t kick ‘em out—w’ell freeze ‘em out. What arrogant bastards.
If it is the conservative right responsible for this, then I am ashamed. This is America! Anything is possible for those who make the effort—if these students are making the effort, we should support them all we can to have a more productive society rather than to maintain our positions of privilege.
While I do believe that hard work will help students succeed in college, I do not think that eliminating developmental courses will necessarily force students and/or colleges to improve. A lot of the measures that have been taken in the universities mentioned seem to be least helpful to the students in question. The students who need the developmental classes are, as McNenny? suggests, most often the ones who can least afford to pay for extra classes. In this way I can understand how mainstreaming can help them, but for CUNY to make students take remedial classes at their community colleges before taking standard comp at the university just seems to be a drain on the students’ budget.
Another topic that I took issue with in this chapter was the mention of the “conservative right’s agenda on education,” and their proposal for Florida high schools to pay a fine if their students are not properly prepared for college. Perhaps I’m being negative, but if ever there were a proposal of this sort passed in Texas our high schools would be in sad shape. What I mean by that is that we spend so much time preparing our students for standardized testing, college prep is often severely neglected. This proposal was to serve as an “accountability” measure. This sounds too much like business lingo to me. In business they’re so focused on holding people accountable that they don’t realize the greater issue is being ignored—isn’t this the same in college? We’re so focused on finding out who is not teaching the students that it doesn’t dawn on us that, simultaneously, the bigger picture of the students not learning is not being addressed.
I understand the benefits of mainstreaming, but I was a little bit concerned to read about the changes that many colleges are making. It is suggested that there will be less cultural diversity and that basic writing instruction will not be valued anymore. Personally, if I decide to teach basic writing, it makes no difference what kind of value others see basic writing as having. What matters is that I am making a difference and learning is occurring in my classrooms. There is little use in arguing with people to try to make them see the good that comes from basic writing instruction or the function that it fulfills. The part that most distresses me is the lack of cultural diversity in the university. That is something to fight against.
<<<<<<< I don't know if I believe that basic writers are perfectly aware of what is going on around them in a political sense or not. However, if certain events begin to take more precedence such as "once is enough" then it may prove to be impossible to change the mindframe of what is seen as a remedial education. Is once enough? What does this prove? If you can get through a class once, you are automatically more apt to be educated, or you are more apt to be educated by our system.
Our efforts as instructors are undermined by those who in many cases don't even know what they are talking about. as remedial becomes more and more of a dirty word, we begin to judge on what a writer's ability, (as done in one standardized test) really says about the literacy of a student. Writing is a social act. The writer has to realize this of course, but what are we doing if we tell people that they cannot write, and that once is enough? Are we deeming them unable to be literate? Unable to be a part of society? Or is it more than that. More and more, I have to frown at those who believe that we are either in an egalitarian or elitist academic environment. I think we just switch off. What evidence, besides financial numbers are there to prove that what basic writing programs do is pointless. I think that we have to make considerations every time we teach. We have said time and time again, that each student is in a sense, a case by case basis. Maybe this is too democratic, but why is there such a disconnect in the legislature and the trenches. I realize that this has probably always been there, but nevertheless.
It seems that we circle around the same issues. Not that this is bad. However, it is confusing a little. McNenny? is still talking about teachers of Basic Writing being advocates for their students, both in educating faculty members and in joining the political conversation about Basic Writing. But how do we do this? How does one join the political conversation when administrators are making the decisions? And how can we educate faculty who are unwilling to let go of long held biases? It almost seems that there needs to be a wide-scale revolution. Comp instructors marching in the streets! OK maybe not, but how else does one get heard when those who seem to be outside the field (and ignorant of it) are controlling things within the field?
It is clear that there is this image of the basic writer (or the “remedial student”) as one who should not be in the University and who is not academically motivated. James Carlin is quoted in the article as wanting, “[M]ore money spent on academically motivated students and less on remedial-education classes” (4). Who is to say that thre “remedial” students are not academically motivated? They are taking extra classes in order to be allowed into other classes that they need to complete their degrees. I would say that this shows academic motivation.
It still seems that people are viewing basic writers as basic thinkers as well, though we see that this is not the case. I think that this could actually be a problem with mainstreaming if the student who is a Basic Writer is put in a class with an instructor who holds these beliefs about students who have difficulty. The desire to drill skills may take over in class, as the teacher believes that this is what the student lacks. It seems to me that one way or another, the person teaching the Basic Writers should have some awareness of how to do this (whether in mainstreaming situations or in Basic Writing classes).
On a slightly separate note, I think the bias that was reported based on the use of AAVE dialect and/or presence of ESL accent makes an even stronger case for fighting against the glorified use of Standard English. I think that if there is something that we really need to shout loud and clear about, it is the idea that Standard English is not a natural dialect that people should just know. Other dialects should be respected. This is not a message I have ever seen, but instead hear the opposite all the time. The point should be about conveying the message. Standard English is not usually necessary for this.