Posted in CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Uncategorized, Who is Basic Writing?

“We Can’t Afford the Luxury of Basic Writing”: Victor Villanueva Talk, Part I

Villanueva began by talking about the story of saving basic writing at University of Washington in the beginning of his career.

He was called to a meeting on the same day his daughter was born and told that “we can’t afford the luxury of basic writing.” The provost contended that English 101 wasn’t remedial but English 100 was. The only difference? The population. Villanueva was able to mount arguments to save the program by focusing on what basic writing did for the university including the importance of acculturation. He said “We don’t remediate, we acculturate.”

Villanueva went on to talk about how we marshal arguments & how we exercise political economy to get what we need.

He then moved to talking about racism and writing programs.

“First year comp has always been remedial, but it was never called that until it began to serve working people, people of color, and the poor.” He reminded us that basic writing was born in the Bronx, in CUNY.

Issues of naming: we refer to “New Students”: as if the university had a sudden realization that about who people who have been in our society all along–this tag differentiates “white” students from “other” students.

Villanueva contends that “There is no basic writing without talking about political economy and racism.”

Part of the problem with multi-culturalism is that it is not assimilation, not anti-racist, and it doesn’t work.

So, how do things change?

Think about the violence of our metaphor for pluralism: a “melting pot.” It’s so violent. Assimilation is the norm. Eventually we all give in to the assimilation demands. But, what does that mean for our students? What does that mean for race and education?

Rather than throw up our hands and say “well, that’s the reality: we have to give into assimilation & the norm, maybe it’s time we begin to infiltrate other spaces.”

Right now, there is no basic writing in writing across the curriculum. What happens if we infiltrate that space and engage with other disciplines? Today, some of the most interesting writing about racism is happening in sociology (writing about racism), psychology (studies of racism), medical profession (written narratives).

Citing the article in The Chronicle of Higher Education this week, “The Second Chance Club” (, Villanueva suggested that we need to move basic writing away from a social work/missionary mode. Instead, we need to engage our colleagues who are working in interesting ways on race, racism, gender, and critical theory (among others) and add our work in writing to their work: integrating the work–yoking critical work and the work of writing & pedagogy.


Thanks to Rakka at for my gravatar image, "Binary Easter Egg." Awesome photo!

2 thoughts on ““We Can’t Afford the Luxury of Basic Writing”: Victor Villanueva Talk, Part I

  1. Here’s what I thought: Composition was meant to do what high school didn’t. Basic Writing was meant to do what grammar school didn’t. Composition, though, is meant to take our writers to an academic level, beyond high school, not just fill in what high school didn’t give.

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