Race, Language, and Access: Possible Futures of Basic Writing

This afternoon we delved into basic writing and whiteness; the role of basic writing in Minority-Serving Institutions (MSIs); race-conscious basic writing pedagogies; and basic writing and “Generation 1.5” students with scholars Scott Lyons, Beatrice Mendez-Newman, Min-Zhan Lu, Shirley Faulkner-Springfield, Steve Lamos, and Wendy Olson.

Steve Lamos started off the session framing it with the work of Nedra Reynolds: “Dwelling” as Embodied Spatial Practice.

“People’s responses to place—which are shaped in large part by their bodies, by the physical characteristics they carry with them through the spatial world—determine whether they will ‘enter’ at all, or rush through or linger—and those decisions contribute to how a space is used…”

He was interested in using Reynolds’ conceptualization of dwelling as a way to understand BW spaces and transforming them into third spaces.

Min-Zhan Lu explored “A Translingual Approach to Basic Writing.” She explored several myths of monolingual classrooms: Edited American English is a neutral tool, other languages and English varieties interfere w/ learning EAE, writers must be fluent in EAE before they can tinker w/ those rules (i.e., know the rules before you can break the rules). Instead, Lu explained, ask students to reflect on context and identity projected by these rules.

Scott Lyons presented on American Indian Writers & the Question of “Assimilation.” He explored the nature of assimilation as primarily economic, not cultural. This “settler colonialism” is apparent today in the forces of capitalism. Lyons’ question on assimilation: what would happen if a student could not participate in the political market? He argues that Lyons argues native kids need the language tools to participate in the marketplace.

Shirley Faulkner-Springfield focused on Standard American English as racism. Here, she’s very much in conversation with Villanueva’s talk early today, focusing on the arbitrary nature of rules. Faulker-Springfield probed 3 key concepts in teaching basic writing: deficit, initiation, translingual.

If we believe our students’ writing is “deficient,” how do we engage in conversation with our students? Do we really believe that they only discourse our students need is the discourse of academia?

Beatrice Mendez-Newman presented on “Listening To and Learning From Student Writing.” She talked about her students, the geographic challenges of teaching in Southern Texas, showed photographs of her students and then samples from their work. All of this led to some of the observations about challenges for students:

  • lack of college readiness;
  • lack of college-going culture (limited family support);
  • entrenched language deficiencies;
  • instructional scaffolding that fails to take ethnographic realities into account;
  • continued insistence that Gen 1. 5 students are ESL students;
  • these students don’t fit the Shaughnessy and company basic writing definition.

For me, the point that Gen 1.5 students are NOT ESL students and that the students don’t fit the “standard” basic writing definition are incredibly important and crucial to national dialogues about basic writing and race. These points, so true, too for my students in CUNY are too overlooked in the larger discourse.

Mendez-Newman Offered This List of Possible Pedagogical adjustments:

  • agressive one-on-one conferencing;
  • extended atention to Gen 1.5 and immigrant writers;
  • listening and learning: what are the students truly trying to say in their apparently incomprehensible texts?;
  • professional development;
  • knowing students’ stories;
  • less is more: fewer writing assignments, more writing time and space;
  • writing workdays for processing writing and conferencing;
  • incentives for on-line feedback and in-person conferencing;
  • audio feedback.

This post written with additional reporting by Sara Webb-Sunderhaus @webbsusa and Marisa Klages @mklagesnyc

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Filed under CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Race

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