Can I tell you how exciting it is to have a Basic Writing featured session? Our community owes a huge thank you to Program Chair Chris Anson to listening to our concerns last year! In his 2012 Greetings, Chris Anson says of this year’s program that “as promised in the 2011 Annual Business/Town Meeting, heightened focus on basic writing will be noticeable this year.” Given the roots of composition studies in basic writing, it’s gratifying to see this focus on basic writing.
Mike Rose begins with an analysis of how we have always had a version of basic skills in higher education. While higher education focuses on the numbers of students placed into basic skills, it ignores the fact that more students attend college today than ever before. Yet, today, basic skills education is only 1-2% of the total higher education budget. Basic Skills has a lower status than other courses for both faculty and students. This is part of the bigger picture about basic skills and higher education. And, there’s a connection between legislative and economic attacks on basic skills, who teaches it, and who takes these courses.
In keeping with his Exemplar speech this morning, Rose moves to a vignette about a basic writing class. We are invited to take a seat in the back of the classroom as we hear a compelling sketch of who is taking basic writing courses and why they are there. Rose details a classroom very familiar to those of us who teach basic writing, a rich and diverse classroom of students young and old who share a history of being undeserved in their prior education and for whom economics are the most compelling force against them. there is, notes Rose, a big dose of optimism that doesn’t fully address the challenges students in the class will confront such as interactions with the justice system, medical systems, and more.
Rose notes that they were placed in basic skills based on a placement exam which “no one knew about before hand and no one prepared for it.”
Rose moves on to document the differences in social class with another vignette about a visit to his friends who had small children. Surrounded by books, computers, and parents focused on their success, the differences between these children and the students in the classes he observed is based on material and economic disparities. Rose notes that it’s not about parental method, process, or intent: it’s about economic disparity and familiarity with American higher education.
Rose then moved on to address differences in educational preparation. Why, he asks, do we focus on techniques (how to underline and take notes) and not on how to interrogate and analyze the world around them? Why don’t we teach students how to think?
Back to the original classroom, Rose updated the success rates of students in the class. A familiar pattern of students who had to drop the class or who failed the course because of external forces: illness, jobs, pregnancy. Still others failed for missing too many classes and others because of difficulties with the digital platforms for the course.
Rose went on to address critiques of “college-for-all.”Our society, he says, does not provide a rich set of programs and possibilities for vocational training. We don’t provide counseling or advising to help students find their place in society. Does college attendance for financial aid not point to problems with our economic policies?
Rose then moved on to address the labeling of remedial/developmental students. He reminded us that we have always, in higher education, had a tradition of developmental education.
Rose ended his eloquent remarks with a story about a student who was laid off, went back to school, and graduated successfully.
This summary does not capture the beautiful writing of Rose’s carefully prepared remarks, but I hope you will check out his new book coming this September, Back to School: Second Chances at Higher Ed.
Lynn Quitman Troyka followed with some reports from the field on the state of developmental education: Pima College is cuttingndevelopmentalmeducation entirely because, “it only affects about 2,000 students.”
She also detailed the White House conference on community colleges that included no full-time faculty in the conversation.
Peter Adams followed by focusing on the ALP project. In his remarks, Adams looked at the the way in which developmental education has been increasingly moved to the community college. He raised questions about what that means for faculty, students, and the study of rhetoric and composition. He focused on current trends in innovation in community colleges and large national organizations/foundations. The huge list of programs and studies like stretch and bridge programs, studies on basic skills pedagogy like GSCC, and the ALP program point to ways that basic skills educators are innovating and trying to serve the students Mike Rose talked about.
Peter Adams ended by saying that these are critical times for developmental education. “If your focus is social justice,” Adams said, “then developmental education is the most important sector of higher education.”
RESOURCES FROM THIS SESSION: