Tuesday, January 30, 2007

They Choose to Be Here

In the writing center, I work with such a variety of students. From those who honestly only need help with grammar and usage (ESL graduate students) to those who have difficulty understanding how to analyze instead of summarize. I distinctly remember working with a student whose professor had handed his response back ungraded and told him to go to the writing center. I don't know what it would have felt like to have been the student who was (in essence) told that what he had to say didn't count unless he could say it in academic English.

But he was there. Despite his obvious difficulty with academic English, this student not only had the courage to come to college, he had the courage to come to the writing center to get help instead of throwing the paper away and giving up.

When I worked with special ed high school students, I was sometimes rather frustrated and concluded they shouldn't be there. After all, if you can't read by the time you're in high school and you don't care to put in at least a little effort, then what is the point? But being only fourteen, they didn't have a choice. That's not the kind of situation that Adrienne Rich and Mina Shaughnessy write about. Shaughnessy was probably right that the basic writers were "strangers in academia, unacquainted with the rules and rituals of college life, unprepared for the sorts of tasks their teachers were about to assign them" (3). But they wanted to be there. Maybe they didn't want to be in a writing class specifically, but they chose to enter college, and Rich points out, "Many dropped out (a lower percentage than the national college dropput rate, however); many stuck it out through several semesters of remedial English, math, reading, to enter the mainstream of the college" (4).

I want to continue to remind myself that basic writers are here by choice and that motivation is key to their success.

Works Cited

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.

Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford UP, 1977.