CCR 611: Discussing Remedial Writing

I’m not sure what to take away from the readings. Perhaps that’s the byproduct of my own frazzled ontology as of late, but I also think part of the difficulty arises from the complex, fraught nature of the debate.

Kynard, I think, presents the most dynamic critique. By redrawing the history, she presents a completely new insight, approach, perspective, tear in the curtain. As she says:

“When I stopped looking for black folk in basic writing scholarship and in the history of open admissions and instead placed basic writing scholarship and open admissions into the already existing history of African American education and literacy, lo and behold, I got a whole different kind of story” (189).

And indeed, that story was different. Protest, tension, ransacked offices, Jim Crow and bodily danger at the heart of literacy. The voice of student. The bodies of student. The structures–both physical and conceptual–making walls and red lines. The pilling up of de jure and de facto discrimination. The hard-fought challenges. And Kynard goes on to vocalize an approach:

“The issue here then is not to insert black teachers into the basic writing paradigm, but to deliberately see black compositionists’ practices, research, politics, and discourses inside of the much longer standing protest tradition of black teaching” (189).

In other words, this “whole different kind of story” needs to keep going, not just in the way composition constructs or tells history, but in how it in enacts it. In how it makes history. How it orients itself.

In other words, composition has a lot to think about.

Moreover, critiques of Shaughnessy show how complicated this whole thing is. Ming-Zhan Lu’s criticism on what she calls Shaughnessy’s “politically innocent” view of language ends with a softening on Shaughnessy, speaking to its potential as contrasted to the work of Hirsch. Shaughnessy’s essentializing is its “most limiting aspect” (781), allowing it to perpetuate potential barriers to student’s right to their language.

Lamos also criticizes Shaughnessy in a similar way, pointing out the “Schaughnassian terms” or approach to basic or remedial writing that privileges cognition over race. Some directors seemed to feel uncomfortable with highlighting race, and considered it “less racist” to take more colorblind approaches. But the erasure of the broader situation presents its own issues. Though Lamos does not discuss it, one wonders how these more colorblind, scientific approaches fit with the process movement, particularly as Ede connects them to professionalization.

In Errors and Expectations, Shaughnessy begins the introduction by noting the role that protests had in establishing open admittance, but she also stakes a somewhat practical position overall: many teachers expect students to write a certain way and will penalize them if they don’t. With this in mind, teaching basic writers the tools or literacies of academic discourse, while respecting their own language, seems to strike a middle ground. One can (hopefully) avoid assimilation, yet give students necessary tools for success.

But as the critiques make clear, this is not quite how it goes.

And so, to return to my beginning, I don’t know what I get beyond a sense for the tensions and fraught nature of the conversation. Once again, I feel a haunting absence of student voice and agency overall, though exceptions exist. And, I feel stuck between the “what feels more possible” v. “what may be more inclusive or ideal”–not what these distinctions mean.

Underlying this, I’m struck by the way that basic writers or remedial writers are largely (dis)abled by the context and literacy that is privileged in academia. Framed another way, what goes into the ontology of being a “basic writer”? What “is” a basic or remedial writer or writing? Is it a category used to reflect certain coursework and approaches–certain paths to take and pedagogies to employ? In that case, what are the other connotations or associations being brought into this categorizing? How is the category looked at? Managed? Embodied–or disembodied?  How is it valued or undervalued? Assessed? What other boarders, terms, categories, bodies, voices, contexts, or experiences get subsumed, excluded, or synthesized in this category?

Asked again: What “is” basic or remedial writing?

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