Kelly Ritter joined us to present on “The Local Matters: Defining ‘Basic’ in Local Contexts.”
What does “basic” mean in different contexts? Kelly presented 5 different scenarios that illustrated that basic writing is historic and everywhere. There are basic writers in all kinds of different colleges and universities. At one point, she argued, “we were all basic writers.” Basic writing is not a clean and easy label; it is a complex and multi-layered definition. Yet, when we look at the current budget crisis, basic writing (and basic skills) are the first and easiest target.
Ritter argued that as scholars, we need to take on
- public advocacy
- local research and dissemination of information about local contexts for basic writing
Teachers of basic writing should be active scholars and writers of basic writing scholarship. Acknowledging difficulties of time and teaching load, Ritter argues that this is nevertheless an important task for all teachers of basic writing. We need to write the theory, history, and pedagogy of basic writing. Our words and our experiences matter. We need to claim that space and ensure that our voices are present in the larger discourse of composition scholarship. Ritter says we should all focus on the mantra:
“I am a teacher, a scholar, and a force.”
When she polled the room to ask how many people have published an article on basic writing, basic writing pedagogy, and basic writers, 3/4 of the room raised their hands. The other 1/4 of the room was interested in pursuing publication. We need to continue this trend by supporting one another.
Ritter explained her own publication history. She started small, following a question, “Who are basic writers?”
She believes that we all need to take changes to present our experience and authority with basic writing to establish a voice for our students and our communities of basic writing. She suggested a few areas for possible research:
- Local case studies of how basic writers learn put in the context of national trends (students can’t do x)
- Historical studies of basic writing on your campus in conversation with histories nationally (locally, regionally)
- Brief inquiries into (What does “process” mean? What does cognitive research look like today?)
- Reviews of composition textbooks & their approaches to pedagogy
- Theoretical explorations of theory of pedagogy & basic writing
- Comparative studies that position basic writing within discussions about basic math or basic foreign languages. What strengths might we have in common? What would happen if we join forces?
Focusing on these and other research questions, we will establish the importance of our work and the narrative of basic writing as everywhere. Ritter ended with the assertion:
“We are not going anywhere. We are basic writing.”
Read more about Kelly’s work in Before Shaughnessy:Basic Writing at Yale and Harvard, 1920-1960 and Who Owns School? Authority, Students, and Online Discourse. She is the incoming editor of College English.