Posted in Calls to Action, CBW 2013, CCCC 2013, Who is Basic Writing?

Questions and Answer Session with Victor Villanueva

1. There have been questions and discussion about engaging faculty from other departments & disciplines. One issue that’s come up is what happens when students are kept out of the regular curriculum & faculty outside of basic writing do not engage with those students. How do we make those “introductions” and engage them in the conversation?

One strategy is to marshal the arguments for moving basic writing into a credit-bearing position in the university (rather than making basic writing a gate keeping course).

2. What happens when basic writers move into other classes and find themselves still in conflict with the academy? It’s not that this history goes away as students move into other courses.

“Subversive complicity”: how you move through the system and engage the rhetoric of power/dominant discourse while also maintaining your identity.

“Compliantly revolutionary”: alternate term suggested by the group.

3. Engaging students in a question of “how to get something out of the professor”–a question of agency & students engaging in a practice of figuring out what is helpful from the course.

4. See Victor Villanueva’s syllabi in a new book this week edited by Deborah Teague & Ronald Lunsford (Utah State UP, 2013)

These syllabi show his cycle of writing in working with basic writers & the classroom. For example, the syllabi demonstrate that he doesn’t require revisions: those are a practice of seeing if students can obey.

5. Why do we have students write about themes other than language & consciousness of language? Villanueva suggests that we want students to focus on language, not social topics. What we know and know well is language: why not engage students in that?

6. Hannah Ashley shared a teaching practice of “ghost writing,” having her students ghost write other student narratives in the class to think about the issue of learning language & discourse.

She suggested that perhaps we should “ghost” or “ghost write” with colleagues from other disciplines. We need to take ourselves seriously as we make connections & work in our colleges. Work to get them to see your point-of-view.

7. There are many conversations to be had: psychologists are focusing on cognition (how do we build on that and learn from them?).

8. What is the relationship between “second chance” and the language of “non-assimilation assimilation”?

In part, that language is about a social structure: “second chance” means students failed. It also means that they are an exploitable class. So, Villanueva suggests that we reject that language.

And, education is more than a chance.

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

Villanueva, Part 2

Villanueva discussed the importance of political economy.

Considering the important question of maintaining political identity while also complying with the dominant ideology/culture, Villanueva invoked the idea of masks, masquerades, passing, jaiba (messing around): how can you be an academic writer without turning into an academic? How do you stay who you are while also playing the game (and seeing it as more than a game).

Villanueva talked about the idea of “Subversive complicity”: how you move through the system and engage the rhetoric of power/dominant discourse while also maintaining your identity.

Villanueva added the idea of jaiba rhetorics as a concept of “messing around,” somewhat like the idea of masks and masquerades and how we think about dealing with playing with identity, jargon, rhetorics, and language in the classroom.

E.G. Villanueva talks to a provost, invokes the language of academia and invokes the language of multiculturalism instead of remediation (back to where we started).

How do we create a rhetoric of survival? We argue for basic writing imitating the discourse of power. We use that rhetoric to make the argument that can be heard; we do this as part of a masquerade to achieve our goals.

But, we need to also engage our colleagues and our students in this work. How do we create an anti-racist pedagogy that uses the discourse of power?

For example, how do you ask students to “translate” academic discourse into their own language and back again, engaging basic writing students in the work of understanding contrastive rhetorics.

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.