Friday, February 9, 2007

The Paradox of Basic Writing in the College Curriculum

I was most intrigued by the quote by Spivak that David Bartholomae used to introduce his article "The Tidy House." Basically Spivak makes note of the "unrecognized contradiction within a position that valorizes the conrete experience of the oppressed, while being so uncritical about the historical role of the intellectual" and claims that it is "maintained by a verbal slippage" (qtd in Bartholmae 171). I was unsure of the relevance of the quote, but then it made perfect sense after I read the article. In fact, it clarified his main point, bringing it into sharper focus. Bartholomae's take on basic writing within the college curriculum is that it is a contradictory concept: both an attempt by the university to be more inclusive and a policy that results in the mariginalization of the very students that the academy is attempting to welcome into their ranks. He discusses the theories of other critics who claim that rather than trying to change basic writers into purveyors of appropriate academic discourse, the academy should change the way it views its own policies and discursive practices and try to highlight these differences in culture, class, and education, rather than trying to eliminate and force conformity upon everyone.
I have mixed feelings about this article--for one, Bartholomae seems rather overly cynical about basic writing programs and the intentions of the academy in creating them, although he does have a point about the almost arbitrary nature of the term "basic writing" and what constitutes a basic writer. Does the university find it necessary to use the term to, in a sense, "create" basic writers...in other words, to make sure that there is always a group of students who fall into this category? Perhaps, because the university's very existence depends on a separate sort of discourse than that of the "regular" society. If they lose this divide, perhaps they lose their entire purpose, or at least one of their main purposes. I certainly see the point he and other critics are making about marginalization. Yet, the fact is, that is the nature of the beast. The university encourages high standards for all for the benefit of society and human understanding, and basic writers just need extra help to live up to their potential. Thus, basic writing seems quite necessary to integrate these students into the academic culture, rather than ignoring or belittling them. Certainly it's a complex issue, and I don't have all the answers.

Work Cited:
Bartholomae, David. "The Tidy House: Basic Writing in the American Curriculum." Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Ed. Kay Halasek and Nels P. Highberg. Mahwah, NJ: Hermagoras Press, 2001.

1 comment:

Wordage said...

I too became caught up in Bartholomae in my blog. Maybe it was the language or the attempt to look from different angles to ask questions. He admits his cynicism but at the same time he acknowledges the work and study that has come out of the course and that students have found success - basic writing has a place in the curriculum. After his arguments I believe he came back to the question what is basic writing.