Melanie Mayer ENGL 5361 Reading Response Mar 1 From MBW Shor’s “Errors and Economics” and Soliday’s “Ideologies of Access”

I am finally starting to realize how huge this question confronting the teaching of basic writing and education in general really is. What are the goals of the university, of academia, or education, of the United States, and of the world? That is what defines the teaching of basic writing. The implications of the answers to these questions we (and the authors we have been reading) have been asking are far-reaching. Shor and Soliday approach the question differently. Soliday really made me think proactively while Shor caused more of a reaction.

According to Shor, I am taking this course right now to learn how to better oppress people. I do not agree with his claims on page 30 or with his attack on basic writing as an instrument to secure a “top down authority,” “promote inequality” and “produce student failure” (32-34, 41). Teachers of basic writing want to help students, to serve, to teach; to suggest that they have another agenda is ludicrous. (This idea of oppression does not seem to come from actual students.) Shor could be a televangelist - first he said we were all going to hell and then he took up a collection (see his last paragraph) to pay our way.

Soliday offers food for thought on some real questions. How do we maintain standards and expand enrollment, and do we want to do those things, and what groups are represented by “we”? What about open access with subsequent student responsibility for remediation? It is a dilemma: “educational equity” or “acceptable academic standards” (62) – but is it a false one? How much responsibility does education bear to change a world-view that is “as inescapable as biology?” (64) How would a teacher even begin?

These questions are so much bigger than my little place in the world. It is so interesting to read the history and realize how education has mirrored or reacted to events in the world. It makes me feel like sort of a puppet on the string of a larger puppet, the basic writing discipline, on a still larger educational string. Who really is the puppet master? And how long will a student audience pay for the seats and leave dissatisfied? --mm

Butch’s Reading Response March 1, 2007

“Errors and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation” by Ira Shor

One of the first things that I agree with in this chapter is both Shor and Galbraith’s contention “that economy drives educational policies, practices, conflicts, and outcomes, and the connection of writing instruction to economics” (30). However, when Shor introduces his four claims concerning traditional language arts dominating mass education in the past 100 years, there are at least two of these claims that I disagree with. Shor’s second claim that posits that writing instruction primarily “serves the needs of the elite and not the majority of students and teachers who resist innovation against the ‘preferred usage’ paradigm. I’m sorry, but I am going to need much more documentation to believe that in this day and age, where entities such as government and the academy are much more transparent with respect to academic and social issues, such a flaw has not been identified and addressed. I also disagree with his third point which notes that writing instruction’s social function is to produce inequality and “mass failure to preserve the hierarchies now in place. I just do not believe that the educational system in America is actually geared up and supported in its quest to fail.

I do agree with Shor on most of his discourse concerning mass education being miseducation for students of socially disadvantaged backgrounds and I agree wholeheartedly “Underachievement is the outcome of underinvestment in the inferior schools and colleges set aside for this majority of students” (31). A lack of meaningful investment in this country’s academic infrastructure is manifesting itself in reports such as the one produced by a US Department of Education that high school students are not coming to higher education ready to write as is expected of them and this all boils down to one major issue: funding. Who is at fault for this shortcoming is hard to pin down, but one of Shor’s contentions, I believe, is correct when he explains “Mass miseducation, then, structures failure into its outcomes and then transfers blame to the students (‘blaming the victim’) (34).

I was happy to see that Shor agree with writing across the curriculum that “encourages critical perspectives on academic discourses and it is an alternative to build on” (41). I am certainly glad that we have adopted such an approach to writing here at TAMUCC and that it is in keeping with innovative writing pedagogies.

On Tuesday I referenced a US Dept. of Ed. report on higher education and here is the link to that report that address very many interesting issues we are currently discussing in BW.


Susan WM
Shor writes, "we need a Labor Policy on the one hand and a critical curriculum on the other. Let us promote ethnographic, context-based, socially-oriented, interdisciplinary writing and community literacy" (48). The labor policy is to counter the under-employed status of English writing teachers and the curriculum is meant to counter the hegemonic forces of the education system and gate-keeping role of composition and basic writing. This argument reflects similar claims by Adler-Kassner and Harrington, altho it is different. Shor's view is much more heavily based on social and economic and racial inequities than Adler-Kassner & Harrington's; while he advocates "ethnographic" research, they advocate studying "how literacy, power, and language are linked," "mak[ing] basic writing poltical, local, and active" (98) and "to defy the institutional impulse toward perpetuating an autonomous model of literacy" (99).

Melissa Pena

Today’s articles made me see Basic Writing in a different light. Throughout the course of this semester, I have been pretty accepting of remedial classes, seeing them as a shelter for the underprepared, or as in quoted in Soliday’s article, a way to enable “students to acquire the academic literacy skills, motivation, and self-confidence to persevere and to succeed in college” (55). However, after reading these articles, especially Shor’s, I feel that I have been a victim to the whole conservative right’s agenda McNenny? mentioned, unconscious of the politics surrounding the institutions I am (or have been) a part of.

Shor brings up some really thought provoking ideas, such as that language is a means of seeing and interpreting the world. Obviously, we have learned about this in linguistic studies, but I never made the connection that by enforcing Standard English we are driving our students to construe the world in a standard language and that participation in this language and in this specific culture is merely a way to ensure that inequality is accepted and perpetuated by those underrepresented, those who threaten the “culture” of American society. It is interesting how Shor disconnects culture from nature, believing that culture must be taught, and that colleges and universities are places where people go to be quarantined. But I still like to believe that colleges and universities cannot be put to blame for the erasure of one’s primary culture. Whereas a secondary culture is not natural, I believe that certain nuances of one’s original culture are. As Richard Rodriguez stated in one of his articles, though he tried to escape his original culture in order to assimilate into mainstream America, he found that there were certain cultural memories and customs that he could not evade.

I also found it very interesting to see how manipulative or conniving the government can be as to purposely fail students and then make them blame themselves for this failure: “Mass education, then, structures failure into its outcomes and then transfers blame to the students” (34). It’s a pretty nice plan that has worked smoothly undercover. For it has only been until now that I have realized one of the reasons Basic Writing exists. I had considered the positive—that BW helps shelter students and ensure future success in college; the negative—that institutions make a lot of money from this program; but never had I considered the economical impetus—that there must be enough jobs for those who have earned college degrees.

I understand that there needs to be a balance in our economy, but it’s sad thinking that many are already doomed to fail--that the success of the majority relies heavily on the failure of the minority.

Elva’s Response to Error and Economics: Inequality Breeds Remediation by Ira Shor and Ideologies of Access and the Politics of Agency by Mary Soliday.

Basic Writing is very important and there is no reason to eliminate it. With all these people of color trying to get a higher education, basic writing is an essential to advance. Just like what Mutnick’s quote, “If ‘basic writer’ disappears as a name, actual students may disappear as well” (74). As I mentioned before, a move like this will just have an absolute drop in student enrollment. Do you think society and the academia want this?

Just like Soliday mention “Basic writing and freshman composition play an important initiatory role for students who are new to college” (55). I just wonder, what is the percentage of high school students who graduated, attends college and gets a degree? Another question I wonder, how many high school students are thinking about college in their senior year? Then, I think about the students who take time off after graduating from high school and returns to college, forgetting some academic knowledge. Another factor I thought about is the mentality of a seventeen years of age compared to a twenty three year old.

I did not like and realize “cooling-out” (40) mechanism was a way to control the people of color. This mechanism expects the students, they themselves to degrade their confidence and voice. This mechanism is how the dominant race controls society.

As Soliday mentioned “It is often argued that remedial programs shelter underprepared students: but Shaughnessy suggests these programs shelter the regular, full-time faculty from the students (61). What I see is that some faculties do not want to deal with students’ problems. I had one that was not office friendly and I dreaded visiting the office.

I like the portfolio assessment, shows the improvement of the student’s writing. The last thing I want to mention is that “No costly equipment is needed for writing instruction as is required in engineering labs or in nursing departments (48). All that is needed is pen or pencil, paper and write the thoughts down.

Wow! That is all I can really express about today’s readings. Shor really opened my eyes to the notion of the “hidden curriculum,” politics of higher education and their impact on compositions studies—let alone basic writing programs. I guess I never really thought to deeply other than to spout the catch phrases. I don’t think I had an understanding until now and still I feel I have just stepped into the kiddie pool. The whole idea of inequality to preserve the dominant capitalistic culture really freaked me out—I can almost get paranoid on all this. I am know looking at things rather suspiciously wondering –“ya, but what do you really mean?” Am I a victim (I hate that word) of this stuff? It would explain a lot. Like my high school councilor suggesting remediation and “individual Family Living” rather than the honor courses that I selected—what could she have possibly benefited from discouraging and “cooling” me off? I don’t know for sure…but I am glad pressures and constraints all the time. Often, in some workplace experiences, I have been discouraged from trying to achieve more than my BA. I was told that the MA program accessible to me was just “cultural studies” and that I would have a hard time trying to find a position. Was it because they wanted to maintain their elitist status? I don’t know. I don’t want to thin too much about it or I will get really pissed.

My new mantra (for the next few weeks anyway) is equal access. Soliday pointed out that institutions, while claiming to be focused on diversity, are often ambivalent about underprepared students and like Shor noted, are apt to ship though students off into a another “university” within the larger institution. GEEEEEEEEZE. What kind of crap is that? I bought in to all the “remediation” stuff, especially at the community college level, because I really thought that it was a good and helpful service for students. I never even considered that this was a possibility. Again, as Soliday notes, each intuition much examine its program based on the context of the area. But more than likely, mainstreaming will prove to be most beneficial in most circumstances. But then again, as we have seen, maybe basic writing/remediation is necessary to keep open access to universities. With all the competing politics and interest groups, I don’t know if there is one blanket solution. Something must be done—I would really like to know who are the parties in power—specifically—how do they at least try to keep the society stratified by higher education—I want names, offices, dept. etc. I want a face to blame. I feel like this upper echelon freezes the Ricardos of this nation out of their inalienable rights. Raise the tuition, refuse aid, make them pay extra…God, do I want to be a part of all this. There are so many questions swarming in my brain that I can’t express myself except to say I think I am in shock. No class system in America—my ass! ~NB

Does inequality really reproduce itself? Are we in the middle of a never ending cycle of inequality? Is it as the text argues, that we are trying to dance the two dances, "the upbeat opportunity and success for all through education and literacy vs. the downbeat story of unequal schooling and lesser outcomes from the majority" (31). If the conditions for learning are a result of economic policies, as we know that they are, then we have structured education to conform to inequality.


What really interested me about this article was the section on "Cooling out" certain students. Is composition an "instrument of exclusion" in the sense that it is weeding out students who don't fit the status quo, or is it naturally an exclusionary course due to the fact that most people have a bias against writing? Chicken and the egg, I guess, but it seems that what I have major problems with is anything the makes students internalize guilt. Students shouldn't be made to feel guilty about having to take a remedial class, but rather, should be helped along. If we are in a literacy crisis, or maybe a post open admissions crisis, I don't really know which one I feel more comfortable ith, I think that we have to stop treaing it the way that people did way back in the day. Fine, can we just acknowledge that "bogus assessment" is bogus, and can we try to solve the problem instead of making it worse?

First year writing is a cash cow, but it is also a guard. Who do we want at our institution? Those who can write, who can show that they are literate, and yet, we know that this is an integral part of the freshman experience. Remedial is not a part of the traditional college experience. Why is it that we have racialized remediation? I don't really know what I'm talking about here, but it just seems unfair. Mainstreaming gives students a more idealized view of college, in that they are in a real class, and it could be argued that they set the bar higher, but do they reap the benefits?

-Erica Rangel

I definitely think that students have different expectations of different instructors, which Shor suggests on page 33. He says that minorities, women, and young instructors have a more difficult time asserting authority over students, which is one of the things that I am worried about going into teaching composition. But I definitely think that respect is earned, and an old white male may have more authority upon first glance, but in the long run how you teach and how you treat your students elicits more respect than appearances. We just have to work a bit harder for it.

Shor also presents quite a few other ideas that have me considering how to teach. His view that the curriculum and teaching methods that we currently employ are doing an injustice to the students and serve the elite really made me question my own beliefs about teaching. Although some may disagree with what he says, I think that we have covered this topic in a variety of ways this semester--when we read about the importance of teaching Black English, multiculturalism in the classroom, etc. Shor is only pointing out things that the majority of us do not want to admit, which is that as much as we say our classrooms are student-centered and Freirean, they aren't.

I read an article by Lad Tobin in which he discussed Process pedagogy. He said that although he read articles about process pedagogy and thought that the ideas were wonderful and innovative, he still taught his composition classes the exact way that he had been taught in composition. I think that is the rut we are stuck in. Although we hear all of these great things, and it is popular and fun to say that we are student-centered and liberatory, most instructors teach composition the way they were taught. They lecture, they teach "correct" grammar usage, they neglect, they bore....


While Ira Shor explains the ways that writing instruction maintains inequality, and also makes a call for action, I don’t feel that he goes far enough. I hate to always harp on the same few things, but they seem to be issues that are recurring, both in our readings and in my mind. The Shaughnessy quote on page 29 reads, “English teachers are inclined to exaggerate the seriousness of error. Since the birth of the composition course in American education, the English teacher has been viewed as the custodian of ‘refined’ usage…This emphasis upon propriety in the interest not of communication but of status has narrowed and debased the teaching of writing…” Shor also touches on this idea by explaining how the teaching of academic English and the instruction of “correct use” benefits those who are already a part of that linguistic community, and discriminates against those who are a part of a different linguistic community. However, if this is the case, then how is mainstreaming students and having a portfolio for assessment, and using ethnography really going to help. We are still discriminating against students by requiring Standard academic English. Why is this not something that we are challenging?

At the same time, Shor describes Basic Writing as a gatekeeper. Isn’t every class wherein a grade is assigned a gatekeeping class? I’m not saying that Basic Writing is not more of a gatekeeper, but shouldn’t we also be looking at the reasons we grade and grade the way we do? I just wonder what the benefit is and what we are pedagogically trying to accomplish by grading.

Heather Dorn