Volume 34, Number 1 (2015)

A Special Issue on Policy, Institutions, and Programmatic Change

Basic Writing and the Conflict Over Language, Tom Fox

David Bleich's exploration of language conflicts in the university in The Materiality of Language: Gender, Politics, and the University helps explain the ongoing struggle over basic writing as between two radically different understandings of language. Progressive educators and writing teachers see language as rhetorical and contextual, "material" in Bleich's terms. Policy makers, large-scale writing assessment designers, and public discourse generally see language as ahistorical and decontextualized, involving ladders of skills to be mastered, or "sacralized." This article examines the struggle between these materialist innovations and repressive policy mandates and assessments as a manifestation of this root struggle over language. The ongoing nature of this struggle, having occurred in this country for over a century, means progressive programs must maintain a stance of constant vigilance, innovation, and subversion. The outcome critically affects efforts to increase access to higher education.

Basic Writers in Composition's Public Turn: Voice and Influence in the Basic Writing Classroom, Christopher Minnix

While basic writing has made a public turn by incorporating service learning and community literacy pedagogies, basic writers are not often discussed in the vast and growing research on public writing in composition studies. Scholarship on public writing in composition has produced important discussions of the outcomes of public writing pedagogy, but the "incomes" of public writingâ€"the experiences, cultural and linguistic differences, and knowledge of and dispositions towards public lifeâ€"that students bring to public writing classrooms have gone largely unexplored. Scholars and teachers of basic writing can productively challenge public writing pedagogy to attend to these incomes by expanding their research on socioeconomic and cultural difference and access to students' writing in the public realm. I develop this argument out of current educational research on youth and civic engagement, beginning with a discussion of what Meira Levinson has called the "civic empowerment gap" among poor and minority students. I argue that the literacy narrative is a genre that provides students with rich opportunities to explore and negotiate the "incomes" they bring to public writing, as well as a genre that can be utilized and adapted for public persuasion.

"Ideas about Human Possibilities": Connecticut's PA 12-40 and Basic Writing in the Era of Neoliberalism, Patrick Sullivan

In 2012, the State of Connecticut enacted Public Act 12-40, legislation that dramatically changed the way remedial education was theorized, designed, and delivered at community colleges and regional state universities in Connecticut. One of the most controversial features of this legislative movement was that it appeared to establish a "floor" for matriculation into open admissions institutions in Connecticutâ€"thereby effectively abandoning students who scored below certain cut-off scores (at or below the 8th grade level on our standardized placement test). This essay reports on an ethnographic study conducted with individuals enrolled in one of the first classes designed for this cohort of students. This group of students provides professionals interested in questions related to access and higher education a unique opportunity to reflect on key questions for our profession and our nation, framed and embodied by very real people with unique life histories.

Remedial, Basic, Advanced: Evolving Frameworks for First-Year Composition at the California State University, Daniel Melzer

In this essay. I conduct a Critical Discourse Analysis of the language surrounding the California State University (CSU) Chancellor's Office latest plan to curb remediation, the Early Start program. I consider Early Start in the context of what I argue is the evolution of three major frameworks for Basic Writing in the CSU: the CSU Chancellor's Office Remedial Writing Framework that focuses on deficiency and gatekeeping; the Basic Writing Framework that developed in the 1970s as a way for CSUS writing teachers to defend access for underserved students; and the emerging Advanced Writing Framework, which eliminates Basic Writing and redefines one semester of composition as advanced and a two semester stretch course as mainstream. I trace three themes in the "discourse event" of Early Start: Early Start's relation to historical discourse on remediation; replication of discourse norms by the media; and faculty complicity in the discourse of the Remedial Writing Framework. Based on my analysis of the ways that it disrupts the dominant discourse of remediation and basic skills, I argue the Advanced Writing Framework provides hope of changing the nature of the discourse.


Copyright © 1992 by the Journal of Basic Writing.