Here are some of my thoughts on Victor Villanueva’s talk, “Toward a Political Economy of Basic Writing Programs.”
After earning my PhD at WSU with Victor Villanueva as my mentor, I still don’t tire of hearing this work. It is his way of engaging an audience that probably resulted in his talk ending with a standing ovation. He drew chills, goose bumps, and, no doubt, renewed, re-inspired, and motivated his audience to think about their programs and their teaching in new and innovative ways.
Basic Writing programs are almost always in crisis. Sound familiar? It seems like every few years, a basic writing program has to argue for its existence. That is because, Villanueva states, crisis is a necessity of capitalism. Remedial writing programs are also a product of capitalism.
Basic Writing exists because *institutions* too often fail to educate women, people of color, and the poor. Too often, Basic Writing students are viewed as the ones with the problem. Villanueva encourages us to remember that basic writing students are not the problem. The problem is a function of capitalism, which requires an exploitable class of people. Race, class, and gender have been the most exploitable population, and it is not mistake that Basic Writing programs are largely populated with these people.
Villanueva reminds us that BW is not in need of remedies or in need of development. There is no illness. There is no cognitive dysfunction. We must stop thinking about our students in terms of deficit and needing to be “prepared” for classes beyond basic writing.
Instead, writing needs to happen across the curriculum. Teachers and administrators of basic writing need to be in conversation with other disciplines to allow these writers to exist within the larger university—not exiled to their remedial classes. Part of this work means giving these students college credit for the work that they do so that the exploitation of paying for credits that do not count toward a degree does not continue. This is an especially crucial aspect of supporting our poor and working-class students.
According to Villanueva, if Basic Writing is going to move outside of the deficit model, where the teacher/missionary/savior “converts the natives,” basic writing must “enter in to a dialogue across the disciplines” so that students see their community, see themselves as a crucial part of the university, and understand how to gain access.
Of course, Villanueva’s talk was far more nuanced in addressing issues of assimilation, enculturation, and identity. These are some of the quick points and observations that stand out to me.
I cannot think of a more energizing way to kick start CCCC 2013! Stay tuned! ~ Sheri Rysdam, UVU