We were delighted to welcome Bruce Horner this morning for his talk on “Relocating Basic Writing,” which argued for a recommitment to basic writing as a central part of our field and our teaching.
Horner began his talk by addressing that part of our work and our “successes” are sometimes based on regaining old battles; we keep fighting to regain what we once had. The relocation of basic writing is part of an ongoing struggle to meet our responsibilities to our students, our teaching, our field, literacy, and the project of democracy.
When we talk about basic writing, we are really talking about refusing fixed designations of literacy/illiteracy, who is educable/ ineducable and what we know about learning.
Attacks on basic writing too often fall into these limiting fixed notions. Basic writing as a field instead, takes student experiences as a norm (difficulty with writing) and makes it the both question and the site intellectual work for both faculty and student.
The dominant view of basic writing & literacy is one of gate keeping and assimilation (bright or slow, literate or illiterate, college ready or developmental, etc.). Horner suggested that if we were to think of basic instead, and CLAIM it as foundational and essential to the field (the basic foundation for learning and research), this would relocate basic writing and its place in teaching and research.
An additional complication in relocating basic writing is the reductionist and fixed definition of language (here, English). These monolinguist tenants–often represented in our institutions and dominant cultural practices–of what Horner called an “archipelago model” ignore traffic between languages and literacies and ignore writer/language agency (the choice to write in a particular way for a particular audience).
Instead, Horner suggests a traffic model: who shows up at a particular intersection at a particular time changes the exchange based on who is there– the people, the time, and the traffic all changes. As a model, Horner’s traffic model speaks to the complexity of writing and basic writing because it more accurately represents the practices and experiences of teaching and learning of basic writing:
Fluid, intermingling practices that demand sustained critical inquiry.
English and literacy are not simplistic matters; basic writers contribute to the lexicon of a changing and changed language; “Every instance of the use of language is a potential modification of that language at the same time as it reproduces it.” (Anthony Giddens)
In summary (Horner’s language), basic writing:
“Rejects simplistic notions of English, language, and literacy;
Always insists on searching out the different in what might appear to be the same and familiar;
Committed to students not as peripheral but leading edge;
Positioned to learn, and rethink, along with students, what it can, does, and might mean to write.”
A great talk!