Journal 4 Basic Writing
Haswell's Gaining Ground in College Writing is a good read, I am especially interested in it since he is a scholar from this university. He has written so much and I really like his theory for minimal marking. It is helpful to give students chances to improve their papers via 'easy fixes' that they would catch if they had read through it before submission. The first section of this book was dense. I am sure the second section will be just as interesting and dense too. I believe that I have the same “ungrounded English-teacher vision” (36). I have not taught very long but I must say I had imagined that my students would grasp the concept of rhetoric and rhetorical situations and be as excited about it as I was. Now that I have read their first round of papers, I am not as enthusiastic. They are learning but they are also all coming from different backgrounds and learning environments. Some were nurturing and some were not. The thought of turning in more than one draft freaked my students out! Haswell stated that this was part of the ungrounded vision as well, that “greater sensitivity to style, willingness to revise, sense of rhetorical context and so on” (37) are expected but there is no reason we should expect them to be able to do all of these things. The concept of deterioration is not new, even for educational purposes. It seems that every generation believes that the one prior was better and the upcoming one will be worse. Albert R. Kitzhaber's 1963 study is dated, being almost 50 years old now, however- it still applies to education today. Students are not great writers initially, they improve with the first year writing course, then get degeneratively worse upon graduation. Dean Whitla's study conducted over a decade later in 1977 disputed this study, but it was too late. Whitla noted that “students abilities to present an organized, logical, forceful argument increased dramatically over the college years” (50). Why was Whitla's study ignored and Kitzhabers' embraced? It was political by this point, open admissions caused many politicians to believe that education was degenerating since anyone could get in so the Kitzhaber study suited the politicians motives better then the Whitla study I guess. The Kitzhaber affect, based loosely upon the “Gustav-Freytag's classical pyramidal diagram of rising action, crisis, and falling action in dramatic tragedy” (Haswell, 45) shows an interesting affect. Why did these students actually write worse than before they entered college? Haswell argues that the students need to be reinforced through all of their classes- “across the curriculum” to write better and more effectively. Haswell does note that Kitzhaber “never suggests that the writing competence of the students decays in college” (48). This is an interesting point to highlight- if students are still able to write well, why do they seemingly stop trying to write well?
Otte & Mlynarczyk open with the Kitzhaber article in their book Basic Writing. They suggest that he helped cause the sense of cultural shift in college campuses. They argue that it is important to look at “how BW defines itself but also how it gets defined” (O&M, 43). It was initially designed as a 'fix-it' situation in which the basic writer would become a part of the mainstream upon completion of the course. This turned out not to be true. They tried it out as a set up for first year composition but as John Brereton points out, “college enrollments nearly doubled from 1890-1910, the decades that saw the birth and solidification of first-year composition as a college requirement” (O&M, 44). Basic writers have been identified for over 100 years and yet we still do not know what to do with them? How have we made it this far? What did they do before Mina Shaughnessy brought the proper language of Basic writer to the equation and it was called bonehead English? In these dark ages of basic writing I think it is interesting that back then it was all upper-class white men identified as the basic writer and today it is often based on socio-economic and ethnic issues combined with standardized testing that identifies the basic writer.