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Bernstein - Basic Writing in Search of a New Map

Bernstein - Basic Writing in Search of a New Map

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Teaching Basic Writing in New York City in 2008-- and speculating on its future. NOTE WELL: The correct date for Dr. Martin Luther King's speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" is April 4, 1967. Dr. King was assassinated exactly 1 year later on April 4, 1968.
Teaching Basic Writing in New York City in 2008-- and speculating on its future. NOTE WELL: The correct date for Dr. Martin Luther King's speech "Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence" is April 4, 1967. Dr. King was assassinated exactly 1 year later on April 4, 1968.

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Categories:Types, Research
Published by: Susan Naomi Bernstein on Nov 16, 2011
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11/16/2011

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JUN-17-201114:30P.02/17
BasicWriting:InSearch
of
ANewMap
SusanNaomiBernstein,IndependentScholar
Writingreflectsadailystrugglewithlanguageand.belief.withlearningtounderstandwhatwewanttosayandthemany
ways
wecanchoosetosayit.Writingremainsanexistentialstruggle,poten-
tially
transformattveandprofoundlyconnectedtothedevelopingperspectivesofthewriter.Writingiscriticalengagementandembodiedengagementwiththewordandtheworld,toborrowPaoloFreire'soften-cited(29-36),butstillarresting,termsfor
the
constantlychangingprocesses
of
literacydevelopment.Writingpedagogy,
I
rgue,shouldmirrorthatcriticalengagementregardlessofwhoourstudentsareorwhattheirexperiences
with
writ-inghavebeen.Indeed,weurgentlyneedclosereadingsofBasicWritingclassrooms,thetermIwillusetodescribepotentialattributesofbegin-ningcoursesincollegewriting.'Thestudentsenrolled
in
suchcoursesoftenlingerprecipitouslyatthemarginsofhighereducation.andthecoursesthemselvesareconsistentlyunderfundedandinconstantdangerofelimination.'Examina-tionsofBasicWritingclassroomsremainvital
ModemLal\jllageStudies40.2
foreffectivelyinterrogating~.andultimatelyre-envisionlng-thepremisesof"remedial"and"basicskills"education.
If
wewishtoendtheneedforandtheexis-tenceof"remedial"courses
in
highereducation.wecannotSimultaneouslydemandtheuniformityofstandardsinhighstakesplacementandexitassessments;thisdemandforuniformitycontra"dietsourconcurrentgoalforcriticalengagementthatEnglisheducatorsvalueinstudentwriting.
My
searchforanewmapisaquesttomakesenseofthisseminalcontradictionthatunderminesmanyBasicWritingcoursesbeforethesemesterevenbegins.ThewritingpedagogyIadvocateheregrowsoutofthebureaucraticminefieldthatBasicWriting
has
becomeatmanyinstitutionsandtheimpactthatthisminefieldcontinuestohaveonstudentsandteachersalike.
BoundariesandLi:ruitationsofthe
Current
Map
WhatisBasicWritingand
why
doesBasic
Wdt.inp;
oftenexistasaseparate,segregatedspaceonthemarginsoftherestoftheInstttution?Perhapsthe
 
JUN-17-201114:30
responsestothesequestionsseemsimpleatfirst,but
it
seemsalmostimpossibletodefineourun-derstandingofBasicWritingbywhatit
is,
ratherthan
by
whatitisnot.BasicWritingoftenfocusesontheknotsofdifferencethatmakewritingunacceptableorincomplete;inotherwords,BasicWriting
is
everythingthatis"not"CollegeWrit-ing.Mostofusarefamiliarwiththislitanyofnots:BasicWritingisnotgrammaticallycorrect.BasteWriting
is
notclearlyorganizedBasicWritingdocsnothaveathesis.BasicWritingdoesnotfeatureanyormartyparagraphs.BasicWritingdocsnothavetopicsentences.BasicWritingdocsnotincludesufficient
sup-
portingevidenceorexamples.BasicWritingisnotcomplex.BasicWritingisnotCollegeWriting.ButwhatwouldhappenifwedefinedBasic'Writingbyaccentuatingitsmostpositivefeatures?BasicWritingwouldbe,throughthislens,aseriesofopportunitiesforstudents.BasicWritingexistsbecauseoursystemofpublicschoolingisfraughtwithunequalopportunities.BasicWriting,how-ever,isanopportunitytoholdourcommitmenttopubliceducationaccountable.IftheacademicworldsaidYEStoBaskWtitingandapproacheditascriticalengagement,acoursedescriptionmightlooksomethinglikethis:
Ba;icWritingcreatesaspace-physicaland!orvirtual-forstudentstodevelopaswriters.BasicWritingprovidesanopportunityforstudentstodiscoverthe
kinds
ofwritingthey
will
encounterthroughoutcollegeandintheworkplace.BasicWritingofferstimetopracticewritingintensivelyandextensively:'IbissecondlistismuchshorterandpresentsamoreaccurateviewofBasicWriting's,
poten-tial
tohonortherecursivenatureofthewritingprocessincreatingawrittenproductfor
a
variety
ofaudtencesand
purposes.SuchopportunitiesframeBasicWritingasnon-deficient;
the
lensesof
theframe
allow
ustosee
that"remedial"isaninappropriatelabelfor
a
collegecourse
and
forstudentswhofindthemselvesinthedifficultsituationoftaking
this
course.Thisre-seeingcanbecomeafirst
draft
ofournewmap,amaplinkedbytimeandplacetotheadventofopenadmis-sionscollegeeducationin
New
YorkCity.For
a
verybriefmoment
in
history,educa-torssuchasMinaShaughnessy;whodesignedtheBasicWritingprogramattheCityCollegeofNewYork(CUNY)inthelate
19606
andearly
1970s,
wereabletocreateavisionofBasicWritingasasocialchangemovement.Thehistoryofopenadmissions
in
thedecadesfollowingthesocialmovementsofthe1960sismuchrehearsed.In-steadofreiteratingthat
hlstory,'
IwillconcentrateinsteadonShaughnessy'sapproachestopedagogyandtheimplicationsofthoseapproachesfordrawinganewmap.ShaughnessyenvisionedapedagogythatwouldprovidestudentswithequalaccesstoademocraticeducationandthatwouldenableteacherstoexperimentWithpedagogythatwouldfacilitateequalaccess
fOT
students.Variousstake-holdersdidnotbelievethat"remedial"coursesbelongedatCityCollegeorotherpublicuniver-sities;theyworkedcontinuallytoundercuttheeffortsofeducatorsandstudentsinvolvedwithBasicWriting,asJaneMaherhasdescribed
in
hergroundbreakingbiography
Mina
P.
Shaughnessy:
Her
LifeandWork.
Then,asnow,manystakehold-ersinsideandoutsideofpublichighereducationidentifiedBasicWritingas
"remedial,"
Nonethe-
less.
Shaughnessyandadiversecommunityofstudentsandteachersstruggledtoestablisha
P.03/17
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JUN-17-2011
I.'::,"
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I
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1
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14:30
footholdforBasicWriting,andforawhiletheymanagedtosucceedBecauseoftheurgencysurroundingthebeginningofopenadmissionsatCUNYandbecauseoftheexperimentalnatureofthosefirst
COUISe$
at
CUNY,Mina
Shaughnessywasabletohireteacherswithwidevarietiesofex-periences.amongthemthefeministpoetsAudreLordeandAdrienneRich.Inaconversationconducted
in
1981,LordeandRichdiscussedtheirpedagogyforteachingBasicWriting
('Tnterview",seealsoRich's
"Teach-ingLanguageinOpenAdmissions").Lordeand
Rich
usedliteraryandSociologicaltextstoteachBasicWriting,textsthatchallengedstudents'previousexperienceswithreadingandwriting.LordeandRichbelievedthatstudentsenrolledillthesecourseswerecapableofengagingwiththecomplexityofthesetexts;theseeducatorscreatedapedagogythatwouldbreakcomplexitiesintoman-ageablecomponentpartsforthestudents.Lorde,inparticular,discussedher
joy
atlearning.alongwiththestudents,thepowerandpossibilitiesofstudyinggrammarandsentencestructure.
In
theseways,studentscouldgain
mort
access
to
thetextsandtothepurposesandpotentialofwriting,thusembodyingtheprinciplesofdemocraticeducationthatShaughnessyenvisioned
(n3~27).
ContextsforReadingtheBasicWritingClassroom;UnderstandingConstrictions
and
RestrictionsWhatJeanAnyonhascalledthe"hiddencur-
riculum"(68)
has,tosomeextent,comeout
of
hidingandisnowmorevisibletostudentsunderextremefinancial
ana
academicpressures.In
other
words,
the
intellectuallyinvigoratingread-Jogandwritingcoursesdescribed
by
LordeandRichnowrecedeintothebackgroundasexpla-nationsof
coursepolicies
takeupmoresyllabusspaceandclasstime.ThehiddencurriculumofBasicWritingasaninstitutionalgate-keeping
Modern
LanguageStudies40.2
P.04/17
mechanismisrevealedwhenassessmentcriteriaforplacementandexitmustbeexplained,as
well
asrulesforcredit/nocreditCOursesandfinancial
aid.
Students
rightly
havequestionsabouttheseissues,sincefailuretofollowaspecificpolicymaywellresultinfailureforthecourseandfailuretothriveinhighereducation.TheIimitsandboundaries
of
"remediation"havehauntedmeoften
in
thelastseveralyearsasIhaveparticipated
in
theriseandfallofnewprogramsand
in
the
failed
hopesandcrusheddreamsoffartoomanystudents.Studentsareusuallyrequiredtoenrollin"remedial"COursesbecause
they
havefailed
a
writingplacementtest;thetestisgenerallygivenbeforethetermbegins.Often,asIraShorhasobserved
(1..
10),studentshavenotbeenfullyinformedabouttheinstitutionsexpectationsforcollege-levelwriting,Indeed,manystudentsalsohavenotabsorbedtheunstatedassumptionsbehindtheplacementtest.thatthetestdetermineshowtheinstitutionviewsstudentsaswriters.Giventhesecircumstances,"remediation"alwaysalreadycarriesthestainoffailureforstudents."Remediation"alsocontainstheseedsofitsownfailuretofindasustainableplaceinhighereducation.Inthecurrentperiodofdiminishedpublicfundingforpost-secondaryinstitutions,"remedial"coursesareofteneliminated,asrecentexamplesfromCaliforniaandOhiomakeclear(Jaschikn.p.:Handn.p.),Institutional.policiesfor"remediation"alsogrowmorerestrictive,asin-stitutionsraise"educationalstandards"toenforce"academicrigor."Theserestrictionscarrytheconsequenceoflimitingaccesstohighereducation,AsJanice
L_
Blooms
researchwithurbanhighschoolstudentssuggests,youngpeopleofteneliminatethemselvesfromthepoolforhighereducation(363"64).Thiseliminationoftenhappenswhenpotentialstudentsfacelifecircumstancesexacerbated
by
economic
,
'
"
.
..
.
~,':

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