Tuesday, February 6, 2007

How do you know where to start?

When Adrienne Rich got into teaching basic writing, she was motivated in large part by "white liberal guilt" (3). She recounts a common "secret fantasy" of English teachers--a diamond in the rough, a student whose brilliance would shine through their working-class language and poor handwriting. I think she'd've loved what Bartholomae calls the "Fuck You" essay (173). Bartholomae, however, had not sought out a position working with underprivileged youth. He taught in large part because his fellowship ran out (172). He was looking for something entirely different than Rich was, and because he didn't prepare himself for working with basic writers, he commited himself to spending "14 weeks slowly and inevitably demonstrating their failures" (172). He perceived his job was to prompt them and judge them--not so much to teach them.

I can get on my high horse to look down at young Bartholomae, but it's not so simple. Part of the problem with teaching is knowing where to start. If you assume your students already have the background, you simply prompt them and judge them. Rich, on the other hand, thought she knew what she was getting into and was more prepared to coax her students. But she still had to make certain assumptions about where they were starting from. Her assumptions were undoubtedly simplistic, and possibly condescending.

There's really no way to know exactly what you're getting into--to know when students only need reminded that they're mixing "it's" and "its" and when they don't know the difference (or have internalized an incorrect system).

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. "The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum." 1993. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2001. 171-184.

Rich, Adrienne. "Teaching Language in Open Admissions." 1973. Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Assoc., 2001. 1-13.

4 comments:

imcriswell said...

I had an idea for how we could set up the wikibook project. Since our group is focused on reading and writing, we could use 1/3 to 1/2 the time focusing on active reading as opposed to passive reading. The strengths of active reading, and listing some active reading techniques. Beyond that, I have very few ideas. Perhaps, listing types of writing centering on reading or something. Let me know what you think.

Amy said...

I thought you didn't want to talk about reading? I don't think we should devote too much space to active reading, since it's primarily about writing, not reading. But I do think we should at least mention it.

Wordage said...

First of all, I like your reading response blog. Some good insight and use of quotes - nice.
Then I also agree with your point that the focus of the "Wiki" is writing.

Anonymous said...

I think you make an excellent point when you point out the difference between what it is to teach students vs. "to prompt them and judge them."