Basic Writing e-Journal

Volume 2        Number 1        Spring 2000
                                                                                             (Published March 29, 2000)

Co-editors: Linda Adler-Kassner and Gregory R. Glau


Basic Writing e-Journal

Table of contents

Editors' Page

Billie J. Jones

Patrick Bruch and Thomas Reynolds

Mary Segall

Book Review Section

Review of What's the Big Idea? Writing Through Reading and Thinking
by Phoebe Reeves
Reviewed by Kimme Nuckles

Review of Crossing Borders:  An International Reader
by Anna Joy
Reviewed by Kathleen Dixon

Review of Inquiry and Genre:  Writing to Learn in College
by David A. Jolliffe
Reviewed by Stephanie Vanderslice

Review of Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline
Edited by Duane Roen, Stuart Brown, and Theresa Enos
Reviewed by Mark Wiley

Review of Outbursts in Academe: Multiculturalism and Other Sources of Conflict
by Kathleen Dixon
Reviewed by Camille Newton

Review of Fieldworking: Reading and Writing Research
by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater and Bonnie Stone Sunstein
Reviewed by  Peter G. Shea

Basic Writing e-Journal

Editor's Page

        With the arrival of warmer temperatures, our thoughts invariably turn to CCCC.  By the time this issue is "published," it will be only a few weeks before we all head to balmy Minneapolis for our annual composition get-together.  As an annual rite of spring, CCCC serves as a good time to reflect on the status of our work in this profession and how it has changed over the past year.
        For those of us teaching basic writing, some of these changes have been difficult. When the first issue of BWe appeared last May, we wrote about threats faced by the CUNY and California State systems.  Since then, we've heard about mandatory state testing in Nebraska and Texas and the various and sundry reports of "new literacy crises" that filter through.  On the other hand, there have been bright spots.  In the last issue of BWe, Bill Lalicker and Sallyanne Fitzgerald both described innovative approaches to basic writing courses in institutions across the country (among them the Stretch model pioneered at ASU).  Articles in this issue, too, indicate that basic writing instructors continue to think in creative ways about working with students in the basic writing classroom.
        With this issue of BWe we focus on a specific issue, textbooks.  Far from being just those things that facilitate students' work in a classroom, textbooks reflect particular ways of seeing and understanding the world and, as such, can also tell us about the status of our field.  Some basic writing textbooks seem to define writers and writing as the same kind of reductive activities that many critics of basic writing do.  In these books, "writing instruction" is achieved through what Billie T. Jones' article calls "worksheet-type activities" -- skill-and-drill, fill-in-the-blanks that certainly do not speak to any students we've ever known.  Not much better are textbooks that, as she says, ignore the diversity of basic writers' experiences.  On the other hand, Jones also describes textbooks that create rich opportunities for writers to explore ideas in writing and reading as they develop writing strategies that will be useful for them in their writing in various arenas.  Tom Reynolds and Patrick Bruch also explore this approach to basic writing work, suggesting that texts suffused with ideas from cultural studies and cultural theory can help writers position themselves among the many cultures they will encounter in their academic work.  The conception of "basic writers" and "basic writing" in these books is quite different.  In fact, they treat student writers in much the same way that the writers described in Living Rhetoric and Composition, reviewed in the book review section, do -- as real writers who have real stories to tell.
        If readers come away from this issue of BWe with nothing else, we hope that the articles here will provide readers with opportunity to reflect on the issue of textbooks so that they can make an informed decision about the question that Billie T. Jones poses:  "To use, or not to use?"  And perhaps this consideration of textbooks can also provide the groundwork for us to continue reflecting about how we position writers and writing in our ongoing work in the classroom.

* * *
A reminder!  The Conference on Basic Writing will hold its annual pre-conference workshop at CCCC on Wednesday, April 12.  The full-day workshop (W4), "Basic Writing in a Post-Remedial World: Putting Students at the Center," highlights students and reading in morning sessions, and assessment in afternoon sessions.  Workshop leaders include: We hope to see you there!

Basic Writing e-Journal

Billie J. Jones
Penn State - Capital College


In some back alley at this spring's CCCC in downtown Minneapolis,
you may stumble upon the following scene: Two or three people
huddled together; one muttering, "Are you using?"  Nodding in
assent, one confesses, "Yeah, I tried giving 'em up once, but it was
too hard.  Once you get hooked on textbooks, you've always got that monkey on your back."  Agreeing, the group shuffles back to the publishers' display area, looking for another textbook-any textbook to satisfy their addiction.
        This scenario is more the fruit of my imagination than reality; however, I don't think the addiction analogy is too far fetched to describe the unhealthy relationship I have had with textbooks in my basic writing classes.  (Certainly, a textbook addiction isn't the same as a drug addiction; instead, think of it like an addiction to chocolate.  In many cases, for many people, chocolate is a good-a very good thing-but for some people chocolate is harmful and an uncontrolled addiction to it could lead to serious side effects.  And, as one further disclaimer, despite the use of the addiction metaphor, I am not condemning all textbooks as one might condemn all illegal, addictive drugs.)  Even though a dependency on textbooks isn't a life-threatening addiction, I believe that we sometimes "use" for the wrong reasons.  Many times, we use textbooks not because we, as instructors, need them, and not even because our students need them, but simply because we are addicted to them.
        In my own experience, each time I teach basic writing I find myself resenting the textbook's intrusion in our writing community, using it less and less throughout the semester, vowing first to find something better, but then finally concluding that because the students and I really don't need a text, I'll teach without one next time.  However, when the bookstore order form comes, I have always been too weak to check the NO TEXT option, and so my own addiction continues.
        Before I go any further, I want to make it clear that I am not suggesting that all textbooks are bad.  I simply want to argue that for some instructors, textbooks are a needless waste of our students' resources, and that we should look carefully at why we choose textbooks in the first place.

So-To "use," or not to "use"-that is the question.

To use-

        Unfortunately, while there are many good basic writing textbooks, and many talented basic writing instructors, textbooks do not come in "any size fits all."  Not every good text will work well in every basic writing course.  Instructors' personalities, teaching styles, and the course's goals/objectives are all critical variables in textbook selection.  Basic writing instructors and textbook selection committees should be careful that they are clear about the desired outcomes from their basic writing courses before reviewing books for "fit" in a particular program.  (Because the instructor is such an important variable, I believe strongly that the individual instructor should make the final textbook decision-first, whether or not to "use" a textbook, and if so, which book to use.)  Moreover, they shouldn't be afraid to decide that no textbook is suitable, or even needed, for a particular course.  Although there are many good reasons to use textbooks, for me, the following reasons to stop using a textbook in my basic writing classes are more convincing than the reasons to continue.

Or Not to Use-
Furthermore, the textbook's presentation, its layout and graphics, may also overtly direct the material to this stereotypical audience.  I have purposely refrained from discussing specific texts because I think that this addiction can drive instructors to good and bad textbooks alike.  Moreover, because I am committed to the idea of individualized fit between text, instructor, and course, I would not begin to suggest which books might be better or worse than others.  However, in the textbook I am using, students are treated to cartoon graphics that illustrate certain key points.  While cartoons aren't necessarily for just the young, these characters are clearly youthful, and while using humor with which to teach should not be reserved for only youthful students, these cartoons border on the childish at times.  Some basic writing students, the product of years of remediation, are already sensitive to condescending, childish instruction; textbooks should not contribute to that sensitivity.


        My intention in this article has not been to cry out, "Put Down Those Demon Textbooks!"  After all, most textbooks are based on sound writing and pedagogical theory, and they do provide a familiar framework for the course, as well as easy access to readings, which are critical to many basic writing courses.  Rather than condemning textbooks, I have simply wanted to prompt other basic writing instructors to closely analyze what purpose they see for textbooks in their classes, and how successfully their own texts are working to achieve those ends.
        Textbook selection plays a key role in the success of a course, and I believe that we should not be afraid to think of "no text" as an option.  For all of textbooks' potential value, it is difficult to find one textbook that fits all of an instructor's practices and his/her students' needs and personalities, and an ill-fitting textbook may be seldom used, which is troubling for some students.  Moreover, I sometimes feel as though my over-reliance on a textbook leads to a dependence on "worksheet-type" activities and stifles my own creativity as an educator.  Personally, I am quite certain that I could find textbooks that I like better than others, but I can't seem to shake the feeling that textbooks-any textbook-gets in the way of my teaching because I find myself caught between relying too much on the text and resenting its intrusion into my class.
        Ultimately, I am calling for other basic writing teachers who feel similarly, to begin a dialogue about their dependency on textbooks.  Perhaps we can join together with others, who feel they "use" textbooks only out of an "addiction," to form a support group, if you will, of educators who have struggled with "using" and would like the strength to go it alone-without a text.  The possibilities are endless-we could share ideas and assignments, perhaps put together a web site of resources for other basic writing instructors.  In fact, maybe-just maybe-if we gather enough good material together, we can put it together in a textbook . . .

Works Cited

Dickson, Marcia.  "Learning to Read/Learning to Write."  BWe: Basic Writing e-Journal
        Summer 1:1 (1999).  16 June. 1999.  29 Jan. 2000 <

Harper, M. Todd.  "Textbooks and Change in Teaching."  Online Posting.  28 Jan. 2000.  WPA
        Discussion List.  29 Jan. 2000 <WPA-L@ASU.EDU>.

Basic Writing e-Journal

Patrick Bruch
General College - University of Minnesota
Thomas Reynolds
General College - University of Minnesota


         The challenge at the heart of Basic Writing has always been to transform the social group privileges and oppressions-the relations of presence and absence-that literacy institutionalizes. With the introduction of cultural studies to graduate and undergraduate programs over the past two decades, Basic Writing as a discourse has become increasingly concerned with the ways that writing instruction participates in structures of higher education that continue to underserve racially and economically marginalized students (Shor, Lu and Horner, Counihan, Agnew and McLaughlin, Ball and Lardner). But too often the relationships that cultural studies critiques reveal between Basic Writing courses and the stubborn racial and economic apartheid in U.S. higher education are explained as consequences of pedagogies represented as Basic Writing's rearguard.
        Exemplary in this regard is Ira Shor's recent representation of Basic Writing as "an empire of segregated remediation" in which "not enough teachers of Basic Writing have moved away from skill-and-drill workbook exercises, away from disembodied language work, towards critical literacy mobilized by the students' natural language competencies" (100). While decrying the "disembodied" nature of traditional pedagogies might encourage some teachers to reflect on the social consequences of their teaching, it does not question current critical theories and practices for the ways that they unintentionally reinscribe the very dynamics of power that they set out to challenge. As Shor's When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy argues, concentrating on what others are not doing in the classroom should lead critical educators toward rather than away from engaging the strengths and weaknesses of the alternatives we offer. In this paper, then, we look to Basic Writing textbooks-a primary expression of theory and practice in our profession-to assess the resources that cultural studies oriented reformulations of Basic Writing can provide to the project of helping Basic Writing teachers teach toward a more just literacy.
        James Berlin, the figure perhaps most closely associated with introducing cultural studies to composition, highlighted transformative goals for critical literacy, proposing that cultural studies literacy "will enable students to read and write and to produce and critique the conditions of their own experience. They will be given guidance in becoming active agents of social and political change and improvement, learning that the world has been made and can thus be remade to serve more justly the interests of a democratic society" ("Literacy" 266). For us, a major challenge that has emerged within Basic Writing during the time of Berlin's and others' efforts to reformulate literacy education through critical theories such as cultural studies, is what it might mean for literacy to "serve more justly the interests of a democratic society." What might a critical democratic literacy look like and how can students be given guidance in becoming active agents of such a literacy?
        Looking to representative textbooks can help teachers of Basic Writing grapple with questions of what and how in two important ways. Textbooks can enable us to assess models currently widely available for imagining what critical democratic literacies might look like, and they can help us to reflect on how we might use currently available teaching paradigms and supports to make the kinds of progress that our profession and our students need. In what follows, we draw attention to the need for critical educators to reflect further on what kinds of critical literacy will better serve more Basic Writing students.
        We raise questions about critical literacy by examining the definitions of critical literacy foregrounded in the introductory chapter to a collection of cultural studies pedagogical theory--James Berlin and Michael Vivion's Cultural Studies in the English Classroom-and two first year writing texts-Joyce Moser and Ann Watters' Creating America: Reading and Writing Arguments and Libby Allison and Kristine L. Blair's Cultural Attractions/Cultural Distractions: Critical Literacy in Contemporary Contexts. Though directed at different audiences, these texts each operates as a Basic Writing textbook that teaches Basic Writing constituencies (undergraduate students, graduate students, teachers, and researchers) how to see the teaching and learning of writing from a cultural studies perspective.
        In our readings of these texts we first highlight a key weakness of cultural studies' theoretical formulations of literacy-inattention to questions of how critical literacy might more effectively value diversity and difference than traditional literacies. We then examine how this weakness manifests itself in the views of writing that current critical Basic Writing textbooks put forward. Specifically, we point out the challenges that arise when critical literacy education moves beyond an emphasis on learning to engage the silences in dominant representations and asks students to use their writing to reformulate those representations and the relations they inscribe.1 Finally, we discuss the implications of our reading of current texts for the ongoing struggle within Basic Writing over socialization and critical transformation through literacy. We suggest how best practices for a critical literacy that responds to the legacy of underservice to marginalized groups can supplement resources of cultural studies with critical attention to the connections between literacy and "whiteness."

Theoretical Roots of Cultural Studies Pedagogies

        In an effort to critically evaluate and transform the social and political effects of privileging the communicative practices of socially dominant groups, many compositionists have developed a perspective towards writing under the rubric of cultural studies. Karen Fitts and Alan France have explained that what unites cultural studies pedagogies theoretically is the effort to challenge liberal theories that understand writing "as individual expression or as individual control over discursive conventions" which make "the aims of writing instruction unproblematic and inherently liberating: to facilitate the individual's growth as a self-conscious, reflective person and a useful productive citizen" (xii). In opposition to liberalism, cultural studies focuses on historicizing the meanings that writing communicates and questioning the cultural work that privileged forms of writing perform. Min Zhan Lu and Bruce Horner have recently located this more richly contextualized literacy as a response to "the gap between the official accounts of basic writing and our day to day experience as writing teachers and students" (xiv). Most recently, attention to the silences in official accounts of literacy has explained how relations of social group power shape conventions and practices even as those conventions and practices construct themselves as equally open to all. Catherine Prendergast has phrased this insight with specific attention to race, calling race an "absent presence" in literacy instruction (36). Within this view, silences or gaps constructed by communicative conventions are not to be understood as aberrations within an otherwise neutral medium but are expressions of the structural "business as usual" carried out at a daily level by institutional practices like literacy (37).
        In cultural studies-based textbooks, efforts to reconfigure the teaching of writing in light of questions about the absences and presences that traditional formulations of literacy have helped to institutionalize have emphasized identifying literacy practices that enable students to recognize and challenge the ways that identities are constructed through discourses. Thus, Berlin described the critical literacy that he advocated as "methods of locating and naming the discursive acts that encourage unjust class, race, gender, and other power relations through the tacit endorsement of certain economic, social and political arrangements" ("Literacy" 264). Such a critical literacy addresses the challenge at the heart of Basic Writing by reformulating literacy as a practice that, rather than demonstrating the individual's autonomy, highlights, communicates about, and works to exploit the constructedness and malleability of identities and relations. This way of conceptualizing literacy is attractive because it constructs citizens and students as the agents of extant and alternative meanings and relations. Cultural studies positions students to see and use literacy to engage and transform relations of absence and presence in the texts that surround them and in the texts that they create.

Absence and Presence in a Textbook for Professionals

        But even though cultural studies critically questions the politics of absence and presence in formulations of literacy, textbooks tend to be silent about the ways that cultural studies as a critical discourse transforms the ways that literacy institutionalizes racial identities and group relations of power. In fact, cultural studies strategies for making explicit the relations of inequality that are implicit to dominant popular rhetorics have led some within cultural studies to suggest that critical literacy itself, in certain ways, reinscribes hierarchies that structure the broader society. Exercising sensitivity to the silences within the discourse of cultural studies, Berlin and Vivion conclude their introduction to Cultural Studies in the English Classroom by pointing out a major weakness in the collection-that "people of color did not choose to submit materials for consideration" (xiv). While Berlin and Vivion do register the significance of this absence, stating that "The silences created here speak loudly of a need to examine how we constitute ourselves as a community" (xiv), their characterization of the constitutive gap in their collection as a product of what "people of color did not choose" to do potentially minimizes their own insight that the deafening silence is a product of the well-intentioned choices and actions of cultural studies theorists ourselves and the social relations of race inscribed in the discursive practices we value.
        The danger here is that by representing absence and presence within cultural studies literacy as a choice, Berlin and Vivion construct gaps within the discourse of cultural studies as aberrations rather than as its business as usual. Since their discussion of what is in the book-the chapter summaries-is disconnected from the critical comment regarding who is not-people of color-race is framed as something absent from cultural studies rather than as a dynamic that structures cultural studies and the critical literacies it values. In the particular case of Berlin and Vivion's book, the critical discourse of cultural studies raises the question of "how we constitute ourselves as a community"-that is, it draws attention to questions of whether critical literacies transform the group dynamics of the uncritical literacies we challenge-but none of the authors within the book ever pursues the question. Berlin and Vivion do draw critical attention to racialized inequities, but their book suggests that cultural studies pedagogies don't presently formulate the critical literacies they promote as practices that transform those silences.
        In their attention to literacy as a cultural practice that reproduces unexamined assumptions upholding a dominant social order, cultural studies theorists like Berlin and Vivion draw attention to the need for a critical literacy that can "serve more justly the interests of a democratic society." But this insight does not itself create such a literacy. Even as these theorists recognize that the critical practices they promote (like those they critique) participate in the privileges that structure the dominant order, their literacy is actively reinscribing that order and its exclusions. We do not propose to have overcome this dilemma of being in a literacy that embodies a legacy of social injustice-a legacy of white male privilege. What we do want to propose is that this dilemma is central to the practice of Basic Writing and to the teaching of critical literacy supplemented by textbooks-thinking or not thinking about how we use language as part of transforming unjust relations shapes how our courses are seen by ourselves, our students, other students, administrators, and the public. Accordingly, Basic Writing theory and the Basic Writing classroom are necessary places for exploring the promises and perils of trying to create a more just literacy. Recognizing that critical literacy provides no easy way out of the dilemma of literacy as an embodiment of a racially segregated and hierarchized community should not distract us from the important insight that "in the absence of challenges to linguistic hegemony . . . language is white" (Wolfenstein qtd in McLaren, 37). The challenge that textbooks like Berlin and Vivion's leave to teachers and to the undergraduate textbooks we use to teach Basic Writing, then, is how the practice of critical literacy can transform "the ways we constitute ourselves as a community" and fill the gaps that critique reveals.

Undergraduate Texts: Absence and Presence in the Basic Writing Classroom

        Given the multiple roles textbooks serve as nationally available products, as professional contributions, as teaching tools, much of what an individual textbook teaches depends on its use. The close readings of textbook prefaces that we offer below are accordingly readings not so much of their authors' insights or intentions as of the effects of conventions and historical and social pressures on talk of literacy. Attending to such effects and the social, cultural, and historical roots of the conventions that shape them will, we hope, help instructors to reflect more fully on how these books and others like them might best be used.
        Current undergraduate Basic Writing textbooks informed by cultural studies theory work to fill the gaps in theories of critical literacy. Students who encounter these books read authors whose viewpoints were not formerly included, and they are asked to write about topics that were formerly not available in more traditional texts. From a critical literacy perspective, these books create a more inclusive view of literacy by giving students a fuller picture of the possibilities represented by literacy-who participates in it as a cultural activity, what the literacy experiences are of writers from differing backgrounds, how writing has been and is used to change realities for people. Recognizing the advances that these textbooks demonstrate by making use of insights of theorists such as Berlin, they also bring along the problems of a theory that underattends to the difficulties of formulating more just literacies.
        Libby Allison and Kristine Blair's Cultural Attractions/Cultural Distractions: Critical Literacy in Contemporary Contexts, and Joyce Moser and Ann Watters' Creating America: Reading and Writing Arguments, are representative of good textbooks that draw on the insights of cultural studies theory, and so import some of the same successes and difficulties made possible by the theory. Moser and Watters are clear about what the book will do to help negotiate that world-in short, it will teach students how to analyze and write arguments. And it does so in a straightforward manner, by taking the first two chapters to explain important concepts about persuasion and argumentation. Although the book makes use of some classical rhetorical terms in this section such as "ethos, pathos and logos," it does so with the stated understanding that the world has changed and the meanings of these terms along with it. Writers in today's multicultural world must recognize, for example, that "we come to the discussion with different cultural perspectives" and so will have to consider today's audiences in a different light than writers of centuries past (5). Reading the past is also recognized as a more complex act, as exemplified by the inclusion of such pieces as an 1891 anti-Native American tract from the Police Gazette titled "Indian Treachery and Bloodshed" in a section on "Frontiers."
        In several ways, Creating America gives the sense that writing has played, and continues to play, a role in constituting social relations in the country. As a book that values the insights of cultural studies theory, it implicitly places emphasis on the student's act of "arguing" her way into the conversation. Persuasive arguments, it seems, will play a role in forming a democracy suitable for our times. Importantly, the book creates the possibility for student writing through the consideration of writers and viewpoints not formerly available in such books. Many writing teachers recognize what a powerful act it can be for students to realize that "reality" is written through the perspectives of those with power, and that recovered or new viewpoints help us to see those power relations more clearly. A more difficult task is to get students to see their part in that act of structuring and to come to a practice of writing that engages the "mess" of social relations as an ethical dilemma negotiated through writing.
        Similarly, Cultural Attractions / Cultural Distractions makes use of the act of looking critically at culture, but at a culture that sends messages in multiple and often conflicting forms, as the basis for producing written texts. On the opening page Allison and Blair note that the book is "designed to help you consider the ways in which messages from the mass media and the popular arts influence concepts of 'self' and group identities such as age, gender, class, and race" and also to "introduce you to the newest media and literacy technologies you may use to read, research, and produce responses to cultural messages" (3). Here the critique of existing representations is intimately connected to reformulating those representations and the social relations among groups naturalized by them. For Allison and Blair, cultural studies supports literacy education in which students not only critically observe, but also critically participate: "Web pages, posters, videos, advertisements, brochures, letters, e-mail, and newsgroup posts, can be created and distributed through the very kinds of media you will be studying" (4). Blair and Allison hold out the possibility that writing is now changing forms, and so changing realities, and that new forms are available to students as well for entering their texts into the mix.
        Connecting critique of texts and conventions to creating new texts and conventions, Allison and Blair emphasize in the introduction to Cultural Attractions / Cultural Distractions that critical literacy is a process of learning to "examine . . . media messages first hand rather than merely responding to opinions of 'experts' about these messages," arguing to students that rather than an expert discourse critical literacy is a matter of becoming more reflective about already active processes through which we all "interact with each other and community members" (3). Allison and Blair's comments reveal a shift in understanding of what critical literacy enables students to do with such a text. Whereas earlier models of critical literacy placed students in the position of reading and writing primarily as a process of absorbing the expert knowledge of accomplished writer/critics, it now places students actively in the position of negotiating the burdens of making knowledge-reflecting on what it means to participate in representations that are a primary means through which we all "interact with each other and community members" (3). Argumentation, for Blair and Allison, occurs more in a context of creating social relations than it does in the more detached formulation of Moser and Watters' text.
        But similar to Berlin and Vivion's textbook of pedagogical theory, each of these textbooks demonstrates the difficulty of moving beyond critique to practices that reformulate communication by including what has in the past been absent. Further, in keeping with Prendergast's identification of race as the "absent presence" in literacy practices that students are expected to perform, both of these texts demonstrate the difficulty of asking students to use privileged conventions to overcome social group relations-specifically the privileging of "whiteness" as a subjectivity-that those conventions have historically institutionalized. These textbooks show that cultural studies oriented teachers of Basic Writing, like theorists, recognize that critique itself communicates about injustice but on its own does not undo the inadequacies of dominant literacies. The next challenge for advocates of transformative literacy will be to make the Basic Writing classroom a place where students can contribute to making literacy learning a practice of participating in ongoing struggles to transform literacy itself and the racial work it does.
        The difficulty of transforming literacy that we see represented in these texts and that we have experienced in our classrooms becomes clear when each of the texts offers sample student writings that model critical literacies. The sample student texts we discuss in detail below demonstrate the common bond between critical literacies and traditional literacies-the common rhetorical subjectivity that is the absent presence in each. Following theorists within the field of "critical White studies" such as James Baldwin, James Cone, and bell hooks, we use the term "whiteness" to name the subjectivity (and thus social relation of power) implicitly valued in each kind of literacy. Drawing on Baldwin, Henry Giroux has explained the term "whiteness" as a way of naming "claims to a self-definition that excludes itself from the messy relations of race, ethnicity, power, and identity" (13). The insight of critical White studies into critical literacies is that although there is no necessary relationship between the literacies currently valued in Basic Writing classrooms and racial hierarchies, there is an historically entrenched relationship between those institutionally valued literacies and justifications for racial hierarchy. It is this ideological relationship between race, representation, and power that critical literacies must work to transform. One implication of this is, as Tom Fox has argued, that the assumed relationship "between access and standards associated with vague notions of academic discourse or an economically valued standard English is a lie" (42). Another implication is that critique of absence and presence invites us to see part of literacy learning as learning to grapple with complicated dilemmas of trying to create representational practices that transform the terms of absence and presence without simply adding what appears to be absent. In this sense, we agree with Christine Clark and James O'Donnell that under current rhetorical conditions "while dismantling racial constructs remains a distant goal, facilitating critical dialogue about these constructs may prove more valuable to realizing this goal than we have previously believed, that is, talk may not be so cheap after all" (3).
        As critics within and outside of composition studies have highlighted, the racial disembodiment of literacy that links it to whiteness happens on material and ideological levels. On the material level, critical literacy underserves members of marginalized racial groups by downplaying the significance of the fact that, as Eugene Wolfenstein has pointed out, "languages have skin colors. There are white nouns and verbs, white grammar and white syntax . . . . if you don't speak white you won't be heard" (McLaren, 37). Wolfenstein's argument helps to point out how, on the material level-in terms of the models that textbooks feature as examples of student and professional writing-whiteness is the assumed norm in the writing classroom. On the ideological level, literacy continues to underserve marginalized groups by implementing the belief that valued institutional practices like literacy are neutral with respect to social group relations of power. This ideological effect is accomplished by using literacy in ways that ignore its historical context and participation in racial dynamics. We see critical literacies as institutionalizing "whiteness," then, not in the sense of the skin color of those who may or may not use the literacies, but in the sense that the relationship each literacy imagines to exist among social groups and valued institutional practices-namely, that valued institutional practices like literacy are themselves neutral with respect to social group relations of power-protects the facts and outcomes of white privilege by disguising them as individualized meritocratic achievements.
        In short, the student texts that each of these textbooks use to introduce critical literacy demonstrate the entrenchment of the view that writing provides a practice for transcending power rather than a process for renegotiating it. In each of the student texts, the operative question seems to be whether a text represents relations of presence and absence by including or excluding particular groups, rather than how power and privilege structure the kinds of absence and presence that students identify in others' texts and that they inscribe in their own. Critical literacy remains "disembodied" to the degree that learning writing does not locate the practice of literacy within the context of struggles over the meanings of difference. Here, despite appeals to a multicultural plurality of equal differences, the critical literacies that these texts document continue to privilege whiteness by inscribing "the illusion that being white is no different than belonging to any other racial group in the United States" (Gallagher in McLaren, 31).
        Demonstrating the link between critical literacy and whiteness, in Creating America, Moser and Watters provide a sample student analysis of a World War II era Norman Rockwell poster. As an example of critical literacy made possible by the book, the student reading performs cultural work that remains blind to its own re-inscription of privileged conventions and practices. Throughout the paper, the student analyzes different strategies that Rockwell employs to "identify with the common American" in a way that, as the student phrases it, "served the government's purposes quite well" (19). The student considers Rockwell's depictions of the family, the neighborhood, and American optimism, discussing how the poster predicted a happy outcome of the war in its representation of a soldier returning home. The student concludes by explaining how what is present in the representation-"Rockwell's nationalistic morals"-could be opened to include what is absent:

[Rockwell's] abilities in relating to the nation's people made him a valuable tool for the U.S. government. The power of such identification could just as well have been used to rouse the country in a cultural diversity campaign. If Mom were stretching her arms out to a newly arrived Japanese family, then the same concepts of identification would work in promoting the acceptance of the Japanese culture. (22)
        The student's argument is representative of both the success and failure of cultural studies. The student succeeds, in Berlin's terms, by recognizing "that the world has been made and can thus be remade." Further, in imagining an alternative version of the poster, the student reads the way that it might "serve more justly the interests of a democratic society." But the suggestion that including representations of a Japanese family in a set of conventions that convey nationalist morals would "promote acceptance of Japanese culture" obviously exaggerates the power and flexibility of the representational conventions Rockwell was working within. Moreover, the student's rhetorical move preserves an easy interchangeability of racial designations expressive of the privilege afforded by whiteness. How, we might ask, does the addition of the missing term-here, the Japanese family-change social relations? And under what conditions, with what considerations of power relations, might that move be possible? A key insight that is missing from this example is that in the transition from critique to reformulation of literacy, texts cannot not inscribe relations. As we have experienced in our own classes when similar writing situations have come up, an effort needs to be made at this point in order to re-engage analysis of the kind of conditions that led the student to make this move in the first place and apply them to this new representation. As an example of critical literacy, the rhetorical move employed by the student seems to us to be just the beginning of the needed analysis of placing difference within a richer, more historically grounded textuality. To ask that students attend to such subtleties along with us may seem overly sophisticated for a Basic Writing class. But many Basic Writing students, by virtue of their experience with representational practices that cannot accept their culture except as a degraded starting point to be transcended, can and should be encouraged to think about such dilemmas as the work that writing is always engaging. If Basic Writing classrooms fail to ask into the constraints that conventions place on presence, and fail to involve students in thinking about how adding difference might materially change what came before, we risk placing "critical" writing in the service of the unjust relations that uncritical views of writing have historically helped to institutionalize.
        The sample student text that Allison and Blair provide, a response to an assignment asking students to critique and revise an advertising image, sheds further light on the challenge of reformulating literacy. In a way that is similar to the example provided by Moser and Watters, the exemplary student re-formulation of an advertising image performs an act of representation that, in effect, side-steps an engagement with the social conditions described in Giroux's formulation of whiteness. Setting up this assignment, Allison and Blair announce the cultural studies project of learning to recognize the constructedness of the world. They propose that "one of the goals in deconstructing an ad is for you to then to reconstruct a more ethical, egalitarian ad image" (6). The editors make an important move toward encouraging students to see literacy education as the act of constructing representations that are responsive to the ethics of representation that structure dominant conventions. But the student text that Allison and Blair offer demonstrates the difficulty of moving from critique to reformulation, where critique recognizes absence and reformulation replaces absence with presence. As it provides the foundation for the alternative the student creates, Allison and Blair quote the student's analysis and critique of a Guess jeans ad at length:
Guess advertisements are geared toward single, young, and impressionable women. These women value their appearance and find name brands vital to purchasing their clothing. The advertisements appeal to these women by implying that if they invest in Guess apparel, they will acquire these things that they desire. The woman shown in the advertising campaign has a marvelous figure and is made to resemble a Madonna-like image with her blond hair and black bra. Yet this new style created by Guess is unrealistic for women to follow. The ideal characteristics are to be thin, blond, and to have an intimidating aura. These promises made by Guess are both unrealistic and deceiving, for Guess is unfairly suggesting, through their advertisements, that consumers will obtain beauty, men, and sex. (8)
        The critical literacy modeled here typifies the critical literacy students are taught in many cultural studies oriented basic writing courses. And Allison and Blair extend current pedagogy when their text encourages students to see this kind of critical writing not as an end in itself but as a foundation for deliberating about and creating more just representations. This student, for example, "created [an alternative] ad with photographs of several women of diverse body sizes and ethnic backgrounds; included were women of African American, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Stressing women's commonality and diversity, all of her models wore blue jeans and white T-shirts for her product, "Diversity Jeans." The slogan was "Different by Nature" (8).
        The student's alternative ad, like the hypothetical alternative Rockwell poster, represents, for us, both the promise and the peril to be faced by cultural studies-oriented formulations of basic writing. These classroom texts have succeeded in facilitating the difficult work that Berlin and Vivion call for, the work of "examining how we have constructed ourselves as a community" The student's recognition of the injustice done to persons of color and to women through the representations that she is studying is an important first step in her becoming an informed citizen and language user capable of contributing to a more just and democratic society. At the same time, the alternatives the students construct in both books, concentrating on making present what had been absent, do little to reformulate the social group relations of privilege that each student recognized and challenged in the original representation. Each of these alternative texts, by simply adding women and people of color, participates in the convention of producing representations that inscribe a false equality across differences. The alternative advertisement's slogan suggests that "nature" makes different racial groups and genders different and subdivides those groups into individuals. This ignores the ways that differences only have meaning for us today as part of past and present group relations of power. Again, the new student texts re-inscribe conditions of whiteness by standing apart from social relations, even as those texts make rhetorical moves that proceed from insights that challenge dominant ideologies. Critical literacy, as demonstrated by the examples in the textbooks, proceeds by carrying out the cultural studies act of reading the "silences" in texts, but may end up, in the ensuing act of literacy in response to those silences, reinforcing traditional notions of literacy instruction as socialization into the conventions of dominant representational practices.
        In both of these textbooks, the alternatives that critical literacies generate to replace dominant representations do not consider how including difference, overcoming absence, might involve changing the purpose of the text or practice of writing that difference is added to. This is because the purpose of both the original text and the alternative was framed thinly in terms of selling jeans or garnering support for a cause, rather than in terms of power distribution and the privilege of whiteness-the privilege of ignoring how power relations in the real world constrain the conventions and powers of texts. As in the liberal democratic models of literacy that cultural studies seeks to challenge, the privileged conventions of communication are understood as infinitely flexible, able to include all persons and all purposes on equal terms. In the rush to see the act of writing as providing a solution to a problem-that of racial inequity, in these examples-the examples show how the conventions and privileges afforded by an ideology of whiteness make an engagement with power relations a difficult, but necessary, task for a richer notion of critical literacy.


        These excerpts from recent cultural studies writing textbooks demonstrate for us the importance of engaging students in generating critical alternatives to dominant representations that explicitly try to transform the terms of absence and presence that dominate our representations and our relations. The danger that these texts highlight is the old and familiar danger of investing in currently dominant conventions as if they are separate from, and thus capable of transforming, the group relations of power that they have historically institutionalized. Prendergast points out that although the discursive socialization paradigm is attractive because it seems to respond directly to continuing inequalities of who gets to participate in institutionally sanctioned discourse, given the historical entrenchment of group privileges in those institutionally valued discourses, "it will not be simply enough to add women and people of color and stir. Without significant changes to the profession and pedagogy, women and people of color will continue to wind up on the bottom" (50). If literacy is to provide marginalized racial groups meaningful opportunities to participate in and transform educational and other institutions, it will have to be reconstructed as a means for expressing and valuing cultural difference. The challenge to those of us who use these cultural studies texts to involve students in changing the dynamics of whiteness inscribed through literacy is coming up with ways of using critiques of the absences and presences of dominant literacies as a foundation for restructuring the literacies we value. Critical literacy must reflect on the terms of presence and be a beginning of a process of inventing new ways to be present in language and representation, ways that reduce the burdens of presence currently visited on the historically absent and that reduce the privileges that have historically marked the presence of the dominant.
        As teachers of Basic Writing are well aware, dominant conventions of communication are not neutral mediums equally open to all perspectives, backgrounds, and purposes. At the same time, an important part of our work is to prepare our students to participate in institutions that continue to operate on the liberal premises of inclusiveness without fundamental transformation. For us, the ways that basic writing has responded to its contradictory and compromised position have overemphasized discursive socialization at the expense of discursive reformulation. Karen Greenberg draws attention to this emphasis in her response to Ira Shor's call for critical pedagogy in Basic Writing when she argues that "students who are unfamiliar or uncomfortable with the academic community that college represents need practice in arguing logically and sounding credible in writing" (92-3).
        We would not disagree with Greenberg's assessment that students in Basic Writing can benefit greatly from the kinds of practice she emphasizes, nor would we disagree with her claim that, in some institutions, "most basic writing students are not 'Blacks' and 'the children of poor and working families" (90). But we do think it important to highlight how the characteristics of Basic Writing students who are "unfamiliar" and "uncomfortable" and African American "children of poor and working class families" are systematically underserved by Basic Writing if it refuses to dedicate some of its energy and some of its work with students to imagining how taking those absent from currently valued literacies seriously and valuing the contributions that those persons can make to the academic community will change our community and the things we value and the practices we privilege. If we fail to do this then we participate in maintaining the extreme alienation that these students have to negotiate for future generations. Instead, let us begin to more fully address how our conventions are changed if we commit ourselves to relations in which the formerly absent become present.

1. For one recent treatment of the need for a critical literacy pedagogy that "advocates and appreciates diversity and difference" see Jerome Harste and Robert Carey's presidential address delivered at the 1999 NCTE convention. The full address is posted at For recent treatments of the need for professional discourses that more adequately value difference see Virginia Anderson and Min-Zhan Lu.

Works Cited

Agnew, Eleanor and Margaret McLaughlin. "Basic Writing Class of '93 Five Years Later: How the
        Academic Paths of Blacks and Whites Diverged." Journal of Basic Writing 18 (Spring
        1999): 40-54.

Allison, Libby and Kristine L. Blair. Cultural Attractions/Cultural Distractions: Critical
        Literacy  in Contemporary Contexts. Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 2000.

Anderson, Virginia. "Property Rights: Exclusionas Moral Action in "The Battle of Texas."
        College English (March 2000): 445-73.

Ball, Arnetha, and Ted Lardner. "Dispositions Toward Language: Teacher Constructs of
        Knowledge and the Ann Arbor Black English Case." College Composition and
        Communication 48 (1997): 469-85.

Baldwin, James. The Price of the Ticket. New York: St. Martin's, 1985.

Berlin, James. Cultural Studies in the English Classroom. Eds. James A. Berlin and Michael J.
        Vivion. Portsmouth: Boynton/Cook, 1992.

----. Literacy, Pedagogy, and English Studies: Postmodern Connections." Critical Literacy:
        Politics, Praxis, and the Postmodern. Eds. Colin Lankshear and Peter McLaren. Albany:
        SUNY Press, 1993. 247-270.

Clark, Christine and James O'Donnell. Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and
        Disowning a Racial Identity. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.

Cone, James. A Black Theology of Liberation. New York: Orbis, 1990.

Counihan, Beth. "Freshgirls: Overwhelmed by Discordant Pedagogies and the Anxiety of Leaving
        Home." Journal of Basic Writing 18.1 (1999): 91-105.

Fitts, Karen and Alan France, eds. Left Margins: Cultural Studies and Composition Pedagogy.
        Albany: SUNY Press, 1995.

Fox, Tom. "Standards and Access." Journal of Basic Writing 12.1 (1993): 37-45.

Greenberg, Karen. "A Response to Ira Shor's 'Our Apartheid: Writing Instruction and Inequality.'"
        Journal of Basic Writing 16.2 (1997): 90-95.

Giroux, Henry. "The Politics of Multiculturalism in the Era of the Los Angeles Uprising." Journal of
        the Midwest Modern Language Association 26.1 (1993): 12-30.

Harste, Jerome C. and Robert F. Carey. "Curriculum, Multiple Literacies, and Democracy: What If
        English/Language Arts Teachers Really Cared?" NCTE Homepage. Online. March 8, 2000.

hooks, bell. Black Looks: Race and Representation. Boston: South End Press, 1992.

Horner, Bruce and Minh-Zhan Lu. Representing the"Other": Basic Writers and the Teaching of
        Basic Writing. Urbana: NCTE, 1999.

Lu, Min-Zhan. "Redefining the Literate Self: The Politics of Critical Affirmation." College
        Composition and Communication (December 1999): 172-195.

McLaren, Peter. "Unthinking Whiteness, Rethinking Democracy: Critical Citizenship in
        Gringolandia." Becoming and Unbecoming White: Owning and Disowning a Racial
        Identity. Ed. Christine Clark and James O'Donnell. Westport, CT: Bergin and Garvey, 1999.

Moser, Joyce and Ann Watters. Creating America: Reading and Writing Arguments. Upper
        Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Prendergast, Catherine. "Race: The Absent Presence in Composition Studies." College
        Composition and Communication 50 (1998): 36-53.

Shor, Ira. "Our Apartheid: Writing Instruction and Inequality." Journal of Basic Writing 16.1
        (1997): 91-104.

----. When Students Have Power: Negotiating Authority in a Critical Pedagogy. Chicago:
        University of Chicago Press, 1996.

Basic Writing e-Journal

Mary Segall
Director of Freshman English - Quinnipiac College


        Like the spiral strands that coil around an axis, the text selection process simultaneously influences and is influenced by program design, the WPA, and the faculty who teach in the program.  At the axis, of course, are the students, and how we define developmental (or basic) writers determines the shape these strands take. At Quinnipiac, our developmental writers fit the most common definitions, and then some. We have students who may write technically correct sentences, but only because their choice of syntax is limited and risk free.  We have students who think deeply and creatively, but who struggle with mixed sentence construction or limited vocabulary.  We have students for whom English is a second language, students with learning disabilities, and students whose attention in high school centered on everything but writing. In short, we define basic writers as those whose reading and writing skills are unevenly developed and who, given the intellectual challenge and the instructional support, can produce written work on parity with their non-developmental peers. To honor the discrepant needs of our students and to invite them equally into the college community, our selection of texts must reflect the broadest definition of basic writing and provide the intellectual challenge offered to traditional EN 101 students.

What We Desire

        Text selection for an "Intensive" program1 that places developmental students in a credit bearing EN 101 composition course is particularly complex because there are multiple features a text must contain to serve both student populations.  Defining basic writers, not as cognitively deficient, but as writers in a "complex universe of strengths and weaknesses" (Elbow "Writing" 89), we look for texts that are accessible, but not limiting, to students with a wide range of reading and writing levels.  To respect the "rich and varied nature of human cognition" (Rose 297), the readings and apparatus in a text adopted for an intensive program should ideally support weaker readers while still providing them with support to grapple with complex ideas; hence, a serviceable text would provide readings ranging in complexity and length.
        We look for texts that treat reading and writing as interrelated processes and that identify subskills, such as summarizing or editing, but do not privilege those skills over the larger context.  As Anne Ruggles Gere has observed, " Students in . . . the 'regular' college composition classes receive instruction designed to foster abstract thinking and critical analysis while students in lower tracks or remedial composition courses focus on isolated skills" (123).  Political issues aside, this kind of reductionism does not accurately reflect the actual reading processes identified by Judith Irwin in her comprehensive treatment of reading cognition in Teaching the Comprehension Processes.  Her research shows that the reading processes "do not occur separately . . . that they occur almost simultaneously in no prespecified order, and that they interact with each other" (6).  An intensive program that replaces a traditional model of separate developmental classes for reading and writing instruction can more effectively reflect the recursive nature of reading comprehension and development by reintegrating the subskills. Locating a textbook, however, that achieves this end is not easy, since most developmental texts not only separate the skills, but also contain readings that do not invite students to synthesize or engage in abstract thought.
        We look for texts that invite opportunities for students to become intellectually engaged in the readings and to make meaningful connections among the readings. Peter Elbow has observed that many students "get seduced or preoccupied with the surface dimension [of academic discourse] and learn only to mimic it while still failing to engage fully the intellectual task" (Elbow "Reflections" 149).  Among the ways to counter this disengagement, Michael Gamer, in his article "Fictionalizing the Disciplines: Literature and the Boundaries of Knowledge," suggests using imaginative literature because it "not only allows students to interact with other ways of seeing that invite reflection and writing . . . [but it also functions] as sites for the construction of plural and often conflicting 'readings'" (282).  In Gamer's view, "This critical distinction is in no way too complex for first year students" (282), and I would only add that such critical distinctions are not too complicated for developmental students either.  Others, such as Patricia Bizzel, in her article "Opinion: 'Contact Zones' and English Studies," support the premise that content is the basis for writing and that the content is necessary for meaningful writing (165).  Adherence to this premise means that our ideal text would contain thematically arranged readings, not restricted by genre, that would promote sustained inquiry into a topic and would encourage students to form a common ground for discussion and writing on contested issues.
        Finally, we look for texts that offer suggestions for highly interactive classroom activities that invite students to apply their own experience to the readings and to think critically about linguistic expression. The apparatus of a text, then, would ideally offer suggestions for what George Hillocks describes as the most effective teaching mode, "the environmental mode," structured activities that are highly interactive to achieve a specific objective (55-58).  Finding such an ideal text, one that would reflect the pedagogical, theoretical, and programmatic goals of our intensive model has not been easy, to say the least.2
        To extend equal access to challenging readings, types of assignments, and level of instruction for both developmental and nondevelopmental students in our EN 101, we have decided to adopt the same text for all sections. In this way, we can better justify giving EN 101 credit for developmental sections of EN 101 and support the broad definition of basic writers as those capable of achieving EN 101 goals with additional support.  Of course, text selection alone does not ensure parity of instruction or grading criteria, because, as Bruce Horner states, it is not the texts but "the way in which the textbook are used" (Horner 374) that counts. However, I would like to argue that text selection does contribute significantly when coupled with anchoring sessions for grading and departmental guidelines for number of papers, revisions, and elements of composition to be covered in each faculty syllabus.

What We Found

        Reflecting on her research of the essay canon, Lynn Bloom asks why Freshman texts are "essentially conservative" and suggests it is because they are conceived of as "received knowledge rather than as innovators" (417).  She found that the text apparatus "throughout the fifty year period of [her] study embedded a philosophy of reading and writing that encourages students to be passive, obedient  . . . to replicate its matter, mode, or manner" (419).  In his examination of the fifth edition of Writing with a Purpose, Robert Connors found "A lowered evaluation of its audience's abilities" and concludes "Less seems to be expected of the reader in terms of awareness of abstract issues or depth and breadth of reading (107).  A glance at the mound of examination copies of developmental texts on my desk confirms that what Connors found true for Writing with a Purpose is even more true for basic writing texts: the margins are wider, the print is larger, and the format includes cartoons and large photos.  These features convey a powerful message to developmental students about their place in the academy.  As Stephen North observes, "For the most part, [textbooks] serve a catechetical function . . . because they provide the Practitioner's charges--students learning to write--with a simplified version of the articles of faith that purportedly underlie the literate community to which the students aspire" (30).
        A survey of the 1998 "WPA Annual Bibliography of Writing Textbooks" (188-212), shows the most prevalent texts listed are 8 workbooks (skill and drill approach), 5 rhetorical readers (with cartoons), 5 grammar texts, and 5 sentence/paragraphs pattern texts listed under 'Developmental Texts" section, compared to only 3 thematic readers. Listed under the regular composition section, the most prevalent texts listed are 8 argument, 7 process, 7 critical thinking, 14 thematic, and 13 cultural readers.  Granted, this bibliography is a descriptive rather than prescriptive one, but the pedagogical implications for developmental students is suggestive nonetheless.

Considering Conservatives

        Although Lester Faigley claims that "Few college teachers of writing today would advocate returning to the predominantly grammar, mechanics, usage, and patterns-of-development curriculum of the 1950s (151), I do not find that to be the case. My experience has been closer to that of  Min-Zhan Lu, who suggests there has been "limited influence on Basic Writing instruction which continues to emphasize skills" and that "this view persists among Basic Writing teachers in the 1990s" (889).  Sharon Crowley also sees "no evidence that an alternative epistemology has ever succeeded in dislodging the hold of current-traditionalism on writing instruction in American colleges and universities" (64). Crowley finds "the process orientation did not alter the epistemological and rhetorical assumptions we bring to our teaching" and further claims that "when process-oriented strategies were introduced during the 1970s, they were fitted to current-traditional epistemology and were used to help students produce current-traditional texts" (64).  Similarly, Erika Lindeman, in her discussion of composition as product, process, or social action sees the product approach as "the oldest and most prevalent" (290).  She characterized these practitioners as those "who do not read College English" and suggests that they "may be unfamiliar with professional developments that have changed English 101 since they themselves took the course" (290).  Robert Connors also believes that "the only teachers still making real classroom use of the [rhetorical] modes are those out of touch with current theory" (252).  In my experience, what Connors describes as true in the 1950s is still true today, that scholarly journals are "read by a minority of teachers" (69), those "whose only training came from the rules and tenets found in the textbooks they asked their students to buy" (101).   Stephen North also notes the pedagogical inertia of practitioners: "Even when what is clearly a problem demanding inquiry is forced upon them, they will try to handle it by turning to the same sources that inform their routine practice," and he concludes, "even when Practitioners look for new solutions to old problems, they almost always remain pragmatically conservative" (43).
        Much has been written about the leadership role of the WPA, and it is in this spirit of leadership that I would like to make the case for WPA pre-selection of texts for consideration.  Since the context for my case may be somewhat atypical, I offer this description. We are a department of 10 full-time faculty and 53 adjunct faculty, many of whom are now close to retirement. We do not have a graduate program from which to draw trained composition instructors, and while all our full-time faculty teach at least one class of Freshman English per semester, their degrees and interests are in literature.  Of the 53 adjunct faculty, at least half have taught in the program for over a decade, and while all have a master's degree, none have a major or focus in rhetoric and composition.  Many of our adjuncts are retired secondary school teachers, and still more have lucrative full-time jobs elsewhere.  Some are writers who prefer part-time teaching, and others with small children at home enjoy the flexibility of adjunct status.  A minority, about 20%, is actively seeking full-time positions, and without a terminal degree in the field, the prospects look bleak. Not all our instructors share the pedagogical practices or theoretical premises that underlie such an inclusive definition of basic writers. Some instructors are quite traditional and prefer skill and drill methods, assuming sentence level correctness must necessarily precede critical thought.  While these traditional composition instructors can be inspiring teachers and often bring unique gifts to the classroom, and as such should be respected, they also tend to select texts that do not promote integration of reading and writing nor invite students to engage in college level writing.
        Bruce Horner refers to a prevalent attitude that "teachers who value existing academic practices are liable to be charged with being obstructionist, hidebound traditionalists" (372).  Certainly, some instructors (full and part-time) do fit this description, but polarizing the faculty does not seem a productive approach to me.  I prefer, instead, to endorse Stephen North's view of the "accumulated wealth and richness" of the Practitioner's lore (25).  I believe that we can capitalize on the epistemological orientation of their communal dialectic because "the Practitioner's community is primarily an oral community" with exchange of ideas occurring most often in the faculty lounge in the form of  "experience-based testimony" (North 32-36).  I share his view that "in practice this talk does wield considerable influence, bringing communal influence to bear on individual behavior" (39).  In addition to other forms of faculty development, practitioners who value ritual and lore may find using a progressive textbook and chatting about it in the faculty lounge more meaningful than being dictated to by a WPA who says, "The research shows X, Y, and Z." As Trudy Smoke says, "The WPA does not function unilaterally as a master or as a savior; it is not an either/or position" (100). In practitioner exchange of knowledge over a new text, we can provoke and acknowledge "the discourse of remediation . . . [which] essentially deconstructs remediation rather than moves it out of the way" by out-sourcing (Trainor 170).
        Robert Connors observes that "for the first time in this century, more textbook adoption decisions are being made by rhetorically trained persons than by rhetorically ignorant persons" (110) because "the average composition program is more likely to be directed by a trained specialist than ten years ago" (110). I suspect this is true, but as Jeanne Gunner points out, "One person, one WPA, cannot 'give' knowledge to others" (913).  Equally important, Gunner reminds us to question the "assumption that is seen in the adjunct or temporary faculty situation . . . that invokes 'the myth of the novice'" (912).  In the prevailing climate, adjuncts often lack pedagogical and theoretical authority simply because of their nontenured status. But what happens when the majority of teachers are not theoretically informed? When the majority are either tenured literature faculty who denigrate pedagogical training or are adjunct faculty who, for whatever reason, are still teaching the way they were taught thirty years ago? How does the WPA simultaneously create a collaborative environment while dispelling a "tradition of amateurism" or foster a climate where  "writing programs could integrate theory and practice" (Gere 128)?  One way is to modify the text selection process and the other is to "reconceptualize WPAs in terms of multiple subject positions, positions that are more collaborative" (Gere 127).

The Pre-selection Process

        By selecting in advance five or six texts for potential adoption, a WPA can support the pedagogical and theoretical goals of the program while still involving faculty in the final text selection process.  Given the particular program design and students in the program, the WPA can weed out those texts that clearly do not fit.  For example, in our intensive program, basic writing texts for pre-college courses are clearly reductive, but texts that assume a uniformly high level of reading and writing proficiency and contain no supportive instruction or apparatus are not appropriate as well.  The following list represents a sampling of the texts pre-selected for review:

Robert Keith Miller's Motives for Writing, third edition, which focuses on purpose, because of its premise that modes and patterns are "more likely to grow out of the act of writing than to be imposed at the outset as a framework to which invention must be subordinated" (vvi).

Charles R. Cooper and Susan Peck MacDonald's Writing the World: Reading and Writing about Issues of the Day, for its "informed, reasoned civic literacy" (v) approach and for "considering competing accounts, discovering what [students] themselves would say, and choosing supporting material that suits their own purpose" (vii).

Rise B. Alexrod and Charles R. Cooper's Reading Critically, Writing Well, for its strong sustained apparatus on critical reading and treating "how readers construct meaning" (vi).

Laurie G. Kirszner and Stephen Mandell's The Blair Reader, for its thematically grouped readings and for its stated purpose to "encourage students to make their own contributions to the public discussion and to help them realize that ideas only exist in response to other ideas" (xxi).

And, of course, Portals: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking, because it was written specifically for an intensive program.

Instructors are encouraged to review a half dozen texts, available in a common area for all faculty, with review forms handy for evaluation.  The forms ask faculty to rank order the texts for potential adoption and to offer evaluative comments.  Once the review process is completed, the WPA tallies the results.  In this process, the faculty is involved in the review and rank ordering of the prospective texts, with subsequent adoption of the text most favored by the majority.

        The influence of text selection becomes apparent when we contrast these two scenarios:

A.   Students read an essay, perhaps Deborah Tannen's "Sex, Lies, and Conversation," from a text organized around rhetorical modes, such as The Macmillan Reader.  In class, the instructor leads the students in an examination of the particular rhetorical strategy,  for example, comparison and contrast as in Tannen's essay.  The students learn about point by point and block organizational patterns.  Perhaps the students then brainstorm in small groups how they would compare two roommates.  Then the students are assigned to write a paper using comparison and contrast, choosing from suggested topics at the end of the chapter.  The directions read, "Using comparison-contrast, write an essay on any one of the following topics.  Your thesis should indicate whether the two subjects are being compared, contrasted, or both.  Organize the paper by arranging the details in a one-side-at-a-time or point by point pattern" (Nadell 459).  The topic list in the text includes these suggestions: "two career family versus one-career family," "living at home versus living in an apartment or dorm," and "two friends with different life styles" (Nadell 459).

B. Students read two or more essays representing conflicting points of view on free speech from a text organized thematically.  Prior to class, students write reflective journals, expressing their reaction to the ideas and values contained in the readings.  In class, the instructor directs group activities designed to have students discover the strengths and weakness of each essay and to project the consequences of adopting the point of view expressed in each.  The instructor then assigns a paper, drawn from the journal responses, in which students take a position on the issue of free speech and refer to the readings, as they are helpful to support the student's point of view.

        In scenario A, the text based on rhetorical modes is conducive to privileging form over content and promotes writing assignments that ask students to fill a form before discovering meaning.  In scenario B, a text organized thematically allows students to debate an issue and to discover their stances before selecting an organizational pattern in which to express that meaning.  Granted, these two scenarios polarize the issue. In reality, an experienced teacher can usually find a way to work with and around an undesired text, either through providing supplemental materials or by making the text itself an object of rhetorical study. Nonetheless, a particular text can drive a pedagogical approach to composition, despite an instructor's theoretical leanings, especially among new or inexperienced faculty working for the first time with basic writers. Novice teachers and those who rely on a text's apparatus and organization to build their syllabus will be influenced in varying degrees by the text's epistemology.

Qualms and Quells

        There are several complex issues attendant to this approach. While I would like to claim autonomous faculty choice in the text selection process, to do so would be, as Huck Finn says, "a stretcher."   One qualm is the circumscribed degree of collaboration, which can be seen as manipulative, as Peter Bradley admits: "Were the reforms implemented manipulative? On many levels, yes," but he would "still argue that the collaborative model of the writing program helps prevent the manipulation from becoming undemocratic" (129) because it involves adjuncts who are otherwise marginalized.  Similarly, in our situation, though the texts are pre-selected, the process still makes room for collaboration.  In the institutional world, "WPAs must decide which sort of collaboration allows them to accomplish their purposes without unconscionable sacrifices of principle" (Harrington 59).  Harrington also reminds us that consensus does not mean that everyone always agrees (60).  She gives the choice of text adoption as an example, but notes that "temporary consensus" is part of what makes collaboration work until the full conversations have taken place about the issue (60).   I believe faculty acceptance of "temporary consensus" is largely what makes our system work, since it allows for infusion into practitioner's lore through a communal dialogic, especially when combined with other collaborative opportunities, such as workshops and committees.  While not absolutely autonomous, the pre-selection process is still a collaborative structure that, as Harrington found, "would encourage information flow between full-time and adjunct faculty and has indeed fostered good morale among our faculty" (57).
        In a program that wishes to support student inquiry and to promote student investment in writing, the WPA's early involvement in the text selection process can be far reaching.  First, as part of a larger effort toward faculty development, the text selection process can contribute to the way instructors conceptualize developmental writing. The examination of pre-selected texts for adoption and the actual use of the adopted text give the more traditional faculty a gentle prod to reconsider their assumptions about basic writers and to try different approaches, such as reflective journals or collaborative activities with their students.  Without being heavy handed, it invites traditional faculty to open a dialogue with more current faculty about different and more effective ways to teach composition.
        Second, participation in the text selection process increases faculty investment in the program and nurtures better morale.  Part-time instructors often find few avenues for recognition or participation in departmental matters, and participation in text selection helps to ameliorate that demeaning aspect of adjunct life.
        Third, and perhaps most important, is the effect that the adopted text has on the students who use it. Carrying the same composition text that the nondevelopmental students use, the basic writer who strolls across campus is far less likely to feel stigmatized.  Comparing similar writing assignments and discussing the same readings with roommates, the developmental writer becomes a member of the community of writers on campus. The student who is welcomed into the college community, with all its attendant challenges, becomes more motivated to stay abreast of his or her peers and to take the act of writing more seriously. The program, the faculty, and the text all influence how developmental writers define themselves.  If we wish that definition to be an inclusive one, then the text selection process becomes an influential strand coiling around the very core of the student's academic experience.


1: A full description of our EN 101 Intensive program design can found in "Embracing a Porcupine: Redesigning a Writing Program." Journal of Basic Writing 14.2 (1995): 38-47.  Other institutions have referred to similar designs as "jumbo," developmental courses that follow a regular EN 101 syllabus but provide additional contact hours, either within the framework of the course or in workshop format.  In contrast to "stretch" models, our Intensive students enroll in a one semester EN 101 course that meets for 5 hours per week with the same instructor.

2:  Frustrated by our failure to find a text that contained all the features we sought, William R. Brown and I wrote Portals: Reading, Writing, and Critical Thinking  (Harcourt Brace, 1999), which we have adopted at Quinnipiac this year.

Works Cited

Axelrod, Rise B., and Charles R. Cooper.  Reading Critically, Writing Well: A Reader and
         Guide. Fifth edition. Boston: St. Martin's, 1999.

Bizzell, Patricia.  "Opinion: 'Contact Zones' and English Studies." College English 56 (1994):

Bloom, Lynn Z.   "The Essay Canon." College English 61 (1999): 401-430.

Bradley, Bruce.  "Enculturation, Not Alchemy: Professionalizing Novice Writing Program
        Administrators."  WPA: Writing Program Administration 21.2-3 (Spring 1998): 121-136.

Connors, Robert J.  Composition-Rhetoric: Backgrounds, Theory, and Pedagogy.  Pittsburgh,
    PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1997.

Cooper, Charles R., and Susan Peck MacDonald.  Writing the World: Reading and
        Writing about Issues of the Day. Boston: St. Martin's, 2000.

Crowley, Sharon. "Around 1971: Current Traditional Rhetoric and Process Models of Composing."
        Composition in the Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change. Eds. Lynne A. Bloom,
        Donald A. Daiker, and Edward M. White. Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1996. 64-74.

Elbow, Peter.  "Reflections on Academic Discourse: How It Relates to Freshmen and Colleagues."
        College English 53 (1991): 135-155.

----.  "Writing Assessment in the Twenty-First Century: A Utopian View." Composition in the
        Twenty-First Century: Crisis and Change. Eds. Lynn Z. Bloom, Donald A. Daiker, and
        Edward M. White. Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1996. 83-100.

Faigley, Lester.  Fragments of Rationality: Postmodernity and the Subject of Composition.
        Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.

Gamer, Michael.  "Fictionalizing the Disciplines: Literature and the Boundaries of Knowledge."
        College English 57 (1995): 281-286.

Gere, Anne Ruggles.  "The Long Revolution in Composition." Composition in the Twenty-First
        Century: Crisis and Change.  Eds.  Lynn Z. Bloom, Donald A. Daiker, and Edward M.
        White. Carbondale, IL: SIU Press, 1996. 119-132.

Gunner, Jeanne.  "Decentering the WPA." WPA: Writing Program Administration 18.1-2
        (Fall/Winter 1994): 8-15.

Harrington, Susanmarie, Steve Fox, and Tere Molinder Hogue.  "Power, Partnership, and
        Negotiations: The Limits of Collaboration." WPA: Writing Program Administration 21.2-3
        (Spring 1998): 52-64.

Horner, Bruce.  "Traditions and Professionalization: Recovering Work in Composition." College
        Composition and Communication 51 (2000): 366-398.

Hillocks, George Jr. Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice. New York: Teachers College
        Press, 1995.

Irwin, Judith. Teaching the Comprehension Processes. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice, 1986.

Kirszner, Laurie G., and Stephen R. Mandell.  The Blair Reader.  Third edition.  Upper Saddle
        River, NJ: Prentice Hall, 1999.

Lindeman, Erika.  "Three Views of EN 101."  College English 57  (1995): 287-302.

Lu, Min-Zhan.  "Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?"  College
        English 54 (1992): 887-913.

Martin, Eric.  "WPA Annual Bibliography of Writing Textbooks." WPA: Writing Program
        Administration 21.2-3 (Spring 1998): 188-212.

Miller, Robert Keith.  Motives for Writing. Third edition. Mountain View, CA: Mayfield, 1999.

Nadell, Judith, John Langan, and Linda McMeniman.  The Macmillan Reader. Third Edition. New
        York:  Macmillan, 1993.

North, Stephen M.  The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field.
        Upper Montclair, NJ: Boynton/Cook, 1987.

Rose, Mike.  "Narrowing the Mind and the Page: Remedial Writers and Cognitive Reductionism."
        College English 39 (1998): 267-302.

Smoke, Trudy.  "Collaborating with Power: Contradictions of Working as a WPA." WPA: Writing
        Program Administration. 21.2-3 (Spring 1998): 92-100.

Trainor, Jennifer  Seibel, and Amanda Godley.  "After Wyoming: Labor Practices in Two University
        Writing Programs." College Composition and Communication. 50 (1998): 153-181.

Basic Writing e-Journal

Book review Section

Review of What's the Big Idea? Writing Through Reading and Thinking
by Phoebe Reeves
(Prentice-Hall, 1999)

Reviewed by Kimme Nuckles
Baker College, Auburn Hills, Michigan

        What's the Big Idea? by Phoebe Reeves uses a little different approach to integrate reading, writing, and thinking.  She leads the student through the process of seeing how reading and writing are connected, and she assists the student in thinking critically about what has been read.  This is not the usual anthology of essays for the students to read and the teacher to create assignments that vaguely resemble the readings.  The assignments in this text are cumulative, leading students from discovering their connections to what they read, to ascertaining that they have something of value to say in their writing, to writing in a way that is focused and convincing.
         The sections of the text progress from brainstorming ideas based on what has been read to focusing the writing, then connecting with the audience through formulating a good argument, to researching in writing assignments.  Each chapter begins with a brief summary of what was covered in the previous chapter, and then gives a preview of the new chapter with a goal of what will be learned.  Some of the goals include learning what critical thinking is and beginning to use it (34); moving from informal to formal writing; different ways to write attention-getters in an introduction; and practicing a content critique of drafts.
        Before the readings in each chapter, Reeves provides some direction and insight into how to approach the readings, as well as tips on how to write during that part of the writing process. For instance, chapter 3, "Thinking Critically While You Read and Write," discusses how to respond to what is read.  The author gives explicit questions to ask during and after the reading.  She assumes that the students will read the assignment more than once over a couple of hours or days, something that is not usually done by students.  However, most of her guidelines and prodding questions are ones instructors want their students to learn and use.  These are analysis questions and guidelines students need to remember as they move through their courses and attempt to understand and analyze the course materials. Another technique Reeves uses in her preliminary material to the readings is to insert boxed material that is labeled "Important to Remember," little hints about the reading or writing assignments included in the chapter.   Most are quite relevant and useful, such as "Don't be afraid to write your rough draft first and use the outline to organize your draft" (118).
        The readings included in this text vary from science fiction to autobiography to folklore and mythology, including "Monster" by Sanyka Shakur, a former gang member; "Bloodchild" by Octavia Butler; and "Marlurlukurlu (The Youth)" by Kajingarra Napangardi, a member of the Warlpiri people of Central Australia.  The readings allow the students to explore different modes of writing and to explore cultural issues, as well as their effects on society, that some may be unacquainted with.  While a great variety of readings are included, some contain vocabulary or ideas that may be difficult for lower level readers and would require some additional pre-reading activities to overcome these hurdles.
        Since the reading and writing activities are based on what has been done previously in other chapters, to leave out a chapter may affect the writing assignments in later chapters.  For instance, chapter 6 suggests a writing activity based on chapter 4.  However, many of the activities could be done in the classroom if enough time is available, and using class time for the activities may lead to more successful completion of the writings.  Also, some of the suggested pre-reading activities would require whole class involvement as most students will not go out to do some research before reading a piece.  For example, Reeves suggests that students look up what Yoruba is and where it is for one of the biographies, an activity that most likely would need to be done as a class.
        At the end of each chapter, Reeves provides both suggested class and individual writing projects.  The majority of these could be used in small-group discussion more than as writing assignments.  A good point of these assignments is that they lead to reaction/response writing in the class, especially in small peer response groups.  She suggests that the students share their writings with a writing partner who both hears and reads the paper.  This assists students with the reader-writer connection.  She cautions that the responses need to be focused on the actual writing, not on personal opinions about the subject.  While this is a necessary process, the text takes several chapters to develop it, something that is not possible within classrooms that are under strict time constraints and meet for only one quarter or semester.
        Part three of the text is titled, "Planning to Go Public with Your Writing Project."  The first chapter of this section discusses arguing a point in writing.  Reeves outlines three different forms of structured argument: Classical, Rogerian, and Toulmin.  The information is valuable, but may be a little difficult for some lower level students.  One disappointment here was that no examples were given with the explanations, as some other texts do.  Some of the readings at the end of the chapter are also difficult to classify.
         What's the Big Idea? offers a different way of approaching reading, writing, and thinking than most anthologies do.  It will guide students through the process of connecting their reading and writing and critically thinking about what they read and write.  While teachers who have taught for any length of time may already do some of the activities or use some of the questions that Reeves provides, they may find some fresh ideas to use in their classes.  New teachers of students with difficulties in reading and writing will find many of the activities and questions helpful.  Overall, this text is worth perusing and considering for use in developmental or first semester composition courses.

Review of Crossing Borders:  An International Reader
by Anna Joy
(Harcourt, 2000)

Reviewed by Kathleen Dixon
University of North Dakota

        One cannot fail to admire the ambitiousness of the project:  this text aims to teach college-level reading, writing, and culture-crossing, borrowing from process-oriented composition pedagogy as well as anthropology, literature, history, science, and so on.  The work of Peter Elbow, Ann Berthoff, Rose and Kiniry, and the many multicultural readers of the past decade or so are this text's antecedents.  The invention is all Joy's, however, and includes references, even, to what some might consider current-traditional rhetoric (e.g., her assigning students to write an "information paper").  With so much going on, one might expect some moments of confusion, and indeed, this is the case.
        The book is divided into two parts.  The first consists of Chapters 1-4, which introduce the student to a way of reading culture and to the types of rhetorical analyses she or he will be expected to perform on the cultural texts.  Included in this part are explanations of the kind of writing assignments a student should expect to engage in.  Chapters 5-12 center reading and writing assignments on themes that carry across cultures, e.g., "The Family," "Rites of Passage," "Working," "Custom and Gender Roles."
        My  first question concerns the author's notion of how one reads cultural texts.  Early on in Crossing Borders, one is introduced to an excerpt from anthropologist Raymonde Carroll's Cultural Misunderstandings.  This is a superlative piece, written in prose quite accessible to a lay audience, including most first-year students.  What is challenging about the excerpt is, of course, Carroll's ideas, which include the promotion of a highly-disciplined, careful reading of culture.
        In addressing lay readers rather than budding anthropologists, Carroll wishes to assist us in merely "avoid[ing] intercultural misunderstandings," but even that limited task will be an involved one.  First, we must practice, again and again, a certain self-reflexivity to highlight our own encultured perspective. Then, we must identify a cultural text, placing it within an adequate context:  "I must find an interpretation the validity of which can be verified, that is to say, a cultural proposition that is asserted elsewhere in the same culture, though perhaps in a very different form" (13).  Let me say that I feel gratitude for Joy's having introduced me to this text of Carroll's.  I feel certain I can make use of it with my students.  Yet I must also say that I cannot find much evidence in the book that Joy wishes to abide by Carroll's advice.  Rather than gathering a cluster of texts from a particular culture that, together, might provide a Carrollian insight into the culture, Crossing Borders instead, well, crosses borders, from one culture to another in what some might describe as postmodern tourism--the good kind of tourism, to be sure, in which Americans are less likely to appear ugly.
        Now it may be that a kind of relativizing of value judgments will naturally come to pass by the end of a semester of reading and responding to a number of the chapters in this book, and this may be a good thing in view of the book's obvious desire to increase cross-cultural toleration among American students.  There may be all sorts of effects in Joy's classroom (and elsewhere:  the book cover says questions and writing topics are "classroom tested") that I can't anticipate.  I can say that there's a sense in which the presumed negative reaction of the student to a new culture--evident in the "Writing before Reading" sections--is both encouraged and effaced.  In preparation for a piece in which "[t]he author explains that cultural biases in various locations worldwide about eating or not eating insects stem from practical considerations." (xv), students are asked to write about insects:  "What do such insects remind you of?  Do you look more favorably on some species.?  Are there circumstances under which you might consider eating certain insects?  Is your attitude typical of the people you know?"(29).  Under the "Reading for Meaning" section the interrogation continues:  "Would you eat fried grasshoppers.?  Is there any other kind of food that you would not eat.?"
        It is as though a culture-crosser must purify herself of her own cultural influences before understanding can occur.  This leads us to another culture crossing associated with this assignment, hinted at by the model student "Response Paper."  The student demonstrates well-balanced assessment of the insect essay, including some criticism:  "It is a bit much, though, to revel in the practice [of insect eating] and occasionally belittle Westerners for not following suit" (45).  However, the student does not mention that the author, Marvin Harris, is an anthropologist:  "revel[ling] in the practice" is his job!  Nor does Crossing Borders do much to help students or teachers cross the cultural divide between academics and the public, made famous some time ago by Mina Shaughnessy, Patricia Bizzell, and others.
        One might even consider the introductions to the readings laughably inadequate.  Yet I don't find myself laughing.  Maybe that's because I've worked with countless students on research papers which take them and me to all sorts of fragmented academic and popular essays, books, and reviews, or to unsigned, uncontextualized Web sites, where we lose our bearings and construct, on the spot, our own idiosyncratic hermeneutic.  Somebody does need to write the postmodern cultural reader.  Hats off to Anna Joy for making the attempt.
        With supplemental texts to contextualize the ones Joy includes in Crossing Borders, one might find oneself happily adopting this text for the composition--basic or introductory writing--classroom.  I would dispense with the pre-writing questions that, I believe, lead away from a critical apprehension of the readings; likewise, I would replace the "Reading for Meaning" questions with ones that lead students back to significant quotations in the excerpted texts.  The rhetoric apparatus might give the impression that audience, purpose, style, and tone can be divorced one from another (the student responding to the insect essay does just this).  But the teacher can put primacy on purpose and audience. "Conclusions About Summary Writing" might well be helpful.  If we assume that English teachers already know how to teach reading and writing, Crossing Borders will provide them with many texts well worth the teaching.

Review of Inquiry and Genre:  Writing to Learn in College
by David A. Jolliffe
(Allyn & Bacon, 1999)

Reviewed by Stephanie Vanderslice
University of Central Arkansas

        Ironically, perhaps the most useful writing-across-the-curriculum text available today doesn't even list that handy catch phrase in its title, and this is just one of the ways David A. Jolliffe's Inquiry and Genre:  Writing to Learn in College sets itself apart from other composition texts.  Rather than offering the reader-rhetoric-handbook paradigm of many WAC texts, where college writers are given a "way" of reading or writing about their subject in the first chapter and are then shown how to compose various essays about the abundant cross-disciplinary readings that make up the bulk of these tomes, the comparatively slim (206pp) Inquiry and Genre focuses exclusively on a detailed, eleven chapter writing-to-learn system that is designed to be applicable to virtually any subject of study.
        Inquiry and Genre gives students several angles from which to examine and write about subjects of their own choosing, rather than readings supplied by the text.  Providing students this freedom is key to demonstrating how writing-to-learn techniques are not just static principles followed for one instructor and one text and then abandoned, but rather, constitute a systematic approach to understanding often complicated college material.
        Introduced in the first chapter as the "Inquiry Contract," Jolliffe's method is a graduated system of five research-based writing projects consisting of the contract proposal, the clarification project, the information project, the exploration project, and finally, the working documents project. Chapters two through five lay the groundwork for the early discovery stages of the inquiry contract, and form the core of the book.  Students begin by determining a subject of investigation through the contract proposal and work toward the clarification project, or reflective reading essay, in which students respond to a self-chosen article or book chapter.
        Drawing on his experience as a "veteran teacher of college writing" (11), Jolliffe explains why students need composition in college even though they studied "writing" in high school, and how, beyond the surface issues of mechanics and usage that define the subject for many, it can help them learn about their culture and environment, thus making concrete a connection that is often a tenuous one at best for many of our students.
        It is also here in these early chapters that the author introduces a key point emphasized throughout the text: just as various "real world" situations demand audience awareness, so different writing situations demand different writing strategies.  The ability to adapt writing to situation and audience is an essential life skill that comes up again and again in my conversations with employers and one that Inquiry and Genre drives home well, with statements like "structure and format are flexible. . ." which effectively debunk the long-held student belief that there is a "single kind of composition" (14) that can be made to fit all circumstances.
        A thorough discussion of the whys and wherefores of keeping a learning journal, a convenient place for the many "In Progress" exercises scattered throughout the book, is also a feature of the first chapters, as is the familiar description of the writing process.  An engaging chronology of the development of process theory precedes this definition, moreover, providing students with a solid rationale for the system of writing they are learning.
        The middle section of the book, chapters six through nine, moves beyond reflective response and firmly establishes the importance of writing in the search for knowledge itself, detailing and expanding three basic methods of acquiring new information:  experience, reading text, and conversation (interview).  It is important to note here that throughout Inquiry and Genre, Jolliffe broadens the notion of text to include mass media, programs, conventions, interactions and so forth, what has become known as "reading the world" (129).
        Chapter eight, "Raising Questions and Resisting Closure" confronts a real problem that student writers struggle with and that teachers sometimes inadvertently invite:  pushing to find a thesis or central idea too quickly.  In advising students to hold off on their theses until the discovery process is complete, Jolliffe posits the student as an explorer planning an expedition.  Drawing on the long tradition of the explorer myth and invoking historical figures from Columbus to Watson and Crick, he demonstrates how acting in this capacity enables students to learn a great deal more about their subject, much of which will be unexpected or serendipitous.
        The final chapters in the book, "Writing to Make a Difference" and "Working Documents" introduce students to methods of organizing their information to "change minds and influence action"(139).  Here Jolliffe invites students to consider "who" they want to act and "how they want them to act differently" (139) again focusing on issues of audience and the writer-reader transaction. Finally, "Working Documents" encourages students to join the world of public discourse by writing op-ed pieces, open letters, or brochures.  Jolliffe contextualizes this movement into the public sphere by offering a brief history of higher education in America, from its origins as a preparatory stop before the public life of education, government or the ministry to the eventual shift towards specialized training that altered the aims of college writing.  Although admittedly much condensed, this kind of history, absent from most college texts, can help students locate themselves in contemporary higher education.
        Writing teachers looking for a traditional text that directs students' reading and introduces them to the synthesis and documentation of outside sources will probably find Inquiry and Genre's almost-exclusive focus on writing-to-learn strategies too narrow for their purposes.  However, those who have long been in pursuit of a text which offers students a vital system through which writing can become a means of unlocking difficult subjects and which can be used in not only a variety of composition courses but also in any course an instructor might wish to make "writing-intensive" may have finally found their alternative.  Nonetheless, some might also want to order a handbook, just to be safe.

Review of Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline
Edited by Duane Roen, Stuart Brown, and Theresa Enos
(Lawrence Erlbaum, 1999)

Reviewed by Mark Wiley
Composition Coordinator, California State University, Long Beach

        One irony in the field of rhetoric and composition is that while the appropriateness of narrative in the writing class has been a subject of debate, narrative as a legitimate mode for understanding and constituting knowledge seems to be gaining acceptance among scholars in many fields, including rhetoric and composition.  The titles of some recent publications, such as Narration as Knowledge: Tales of the Teaching Life; Teaching College English and English Education: Reflective Stories; and Comp Tales: An Introduction to College Composition through its Stories, indicate that "story" is an effective genre for representing the drama of teaching and the reflective thinking of teachers.
         In Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline the editors attempt to use narrative to demonstrate how some of the more "visible members" who have entered the field over the last four decades came to fall in love with their profession.   By "visible members" I think the editors mean those who have published a good deal and whose scholarship has helped constitute what the field has become.  Readers will therefore find familiar names here: Edward Corbett, Janice Lauer, Richard Coe, Frank D'Angelo, James Kinneavy, Richard Lloyd-Jones, and Ed White, among others.  Each of the nineteen authors is responding to these questions: "How did you come to 'love' rhetoric and/or composition?"  "How did you come to dedicate your life to the teaching of writing?"  "What has it been like to make a life in this field?"  "What does your vision of the future, or even the past, foretell?"
        Duane Roen, one of the editors and contributing authors, came up with the idea for this volume of "stories" while on a visit to Syracuse University in 1993.  In one of the Dean's offices Roen came across a book by David Karnos and Robert Shoemaker called Falling in Love With Wisdom: American Philosophers Talk About Their Calling.  In that collection sixty-two philosophers explain "how they fell in love with philosophy."  Roen, Stuart Brown, and Theresa Enos (contributors to this volume as well) later decided "that every field needs a book like Falling in Love With Wisdom."   In a very brief Preface, the editors claim the collection is designed primarily for graduate students embarking on careers in the field, but established scholar-teachers can also benefit from learning about the vicissitudes of individual careers.  The editors also hope that Living Rhetoric and Composition can provide a recent history of the field through the autobiographical accounts of some of its prominent members.  It is, nonetheless, this dual purpose--individuals telling stories about how they fell in love with their profession and in the telling constituting a bit of the field's history--that I think actually works against this volume in realizing its full potential.
        Imagine if you were invited to write your story about falling in love with rhetoric and/or composition.  How would you construct your narrative?  What would you include and leave out?  What would you foreground?  Your actions and accomplishments?  Your growth in relation to the field's growth?  Relationships you had that helped/hindered you?  How would you work in the history of the field, all within the 4,000 word limit?  And who would be your primary audience?  Fellow scholars in the field or graduate students about to (or thinking about) entering this field?  It is not clear if the editors offered any guidance to these authors in helping them make some of these difficult writerly decisions.  Perhaps that is why, although each story is interesting in its own way, the whole varies considerably in focus and emphasis.
        Certainly, it's interesting to discover what motivated various scholars to pursue rhetoric and composition, and, in one sense, each story is therapeutic for readers in stimulating them to find patterns in their career choices.  Some authors reaffirm faith in a field dedicated to social justice, and all 19 stories can reassure readers that falling in love with rhetoric and comp was not so crazy after all (or perhaps it was "crazy" but readers have lots of good company).  Out of sheer curiosity, I can't imagine readers not wanting to find out why Bill Covino was so fascinated with Bob Barker of "Truth or Consequences," or what Harry Caplan's hat had to do with Richard Leo Enos's decision to pursue Rhetorica, or how Janice Lauer was inspired by her father.  I was surprised to learn that Charles Bazerman taught kindergarten and first grade, and I was fascinated and moved by John Trimbur's account of his activities with political groups of the radical left during the tumultuous sixties and seventies, of his experience teaching in Vietnam one summer while the war raged, and of his recent work teaching adult immigrants.
        Stories that foreground educational histories, academic accomplishments, cherished mentors, and battles with traditional English Departments in securing tenure are typical in this volume.  Since the stories these authors were requested to write pushed them toward romance (How did you fall in love with rhetoric/comp?), the majority of these narratives end happily.  But I wonder if such a denouement will give unrealistic hope to grad students entering the field?  Will these newcomers all find employment, or will there eventually be just as many unemployed Ph.D.'s in rhetoric and comp as there are in literature?    Moreover, how different might other colleagues' experiences be if they are not White and male?
        In a brief Foreword (two pages), Andrea Lunsford asks, "Where are colleagues of color in the [sic] story of rhetoric and composition?"  She goes on to note that of the nineteen contributors 14 are White men and 5 White women. The editors to their credit acknowledge the oversight of not including more women and people of color.  They claim, however, that the volume reflects the "not-too-distant past when most college professors were members of those groups (i.e. "White and "male"), and that the history of rhetoric and composition mirrors the academy.  The editors also claim that they did invite more women and colleagues of color to contribute to the volume, but several dropped out of the project.  I wonder why.  The editors don't say.  Jacqueline Jones Royster briefly (and politely) comments in her two-page Afterword that we must remember to distinguish between continuities and differences and "that we not flatten our stories that we tell about ourselves but bring instead even more texture and vibrancy to them, especially as we envision or imagine placing those tales within the presence of others not yet told."   (Why didn't Royster write her story?)
        The lack of editorial direction prevents this volume from being more than it could have been.  Romance usually feels good, but I am not sure it's what students about to enter the field need most, nor am I comfortable with romance standing in for a history of the field, unless the romances are complemented by accounts written in other modes.  Victor Vitanza does attempt such a (counter)contribution by offering several apocryphal commentaries: some on Kazantzakis's account of Christ, others on getting called/seduced by rhetoric.  Vitanza plays with the distinction between love and lust, falling in it, getting seduced, well, you get the idea.  Kathleen Welch chooses not to do the "assignment" by avoiding any first person narration; instead, she provides a brief history of the field, portraying it as one of the leaders of the New Paradigm to merge research and pedagogy.  She argues that to progress further, we must train more scholar-teachers of color and make "issues of race and ethnicity [and I would add class] more central in composition and rhetoric studies."  Although Welch's point is well taken, her argument fails to provide the pleasures other selections offer.
        A few other contributors chose not to write romance, either.  Trimbur and  Bazerman foreground unresolved, ongoing tensions about the place of writing in the field, in wider disciplinary conversations, and throughout society.  Theresa Enos highlights the greater difficulties women have had than their male counterparts "making it" in the field.  The more intriguing stories here then for me are those that work against the genre of romance and imagine readers who might need to know about the struggles endured and the personal cost of enduring.  As an example of opportunity missed where the editors could have asked for elaboration (if not a different kind of "telling") is Richard Coe's tale.  At the end he explains how he had trouble finishing his story because of a five-month long writing block.  It's a brief paragraph, but a telling one:

I had lost faith in my ability to influence what and how students
learn by writing for their teachers.  It was a great relief finally to
complete the chapter in May 1997 because that act of completion
hints that I may have found a way back to the faith that gives
meaning to my scholarly work in composition.

        What if the editors had suggested that contributors focus on failures as much as on successes?  How would it change our sense of the history of the field if we learned about scholarly projects that, for one reason or another, were possibly abandoned, or never pursued?    How much would graduate students and established members of the profession benefit from knowing that successful scholars have struggled, too, with their research and their writing and have experienced long periods of writers block?   What have accomplished scholars done to free themselves when, perhaps at midlife (or mid-career), they have found themselves stuck in a terrible slough of despond?
        Perhaps because I am, like Vitanza,--a "nonpracticing Catholic"--I am always looking for the sin behind the success.  Nonetheless, this volume is more suggestive than definitive.  There are so many good stories yet to be told.  Another way of creating a prompt for a volume such as this in order better to align more pointedly personal narrative and disciplinary history is to ask something like, "How has your love affair with rhetoric and composition been influenced by changes in the field?"  Or, "What do the personal successes and failures in your career say about what the field was, is, and might become?"   But I don't want to end this review on a "what could have been, should have been" note.  There are some fine moments in these stories.  Trimbur's plea at the end of his contribution, which is addressed to himself but to the field as well, is particularly compelling.  He's talking about all the work he has done--teaching, writing, speaking--and says,

 I want to know how to make my work accountable--to bear
 witness to the "appalling power" of late capitalism at a
 moment when the bosses are winning the class struggle on
 a global scale and working people everywhere need the
 intellectual and moral resources of literacy to find hope.

        That's the kind of commitment every "lover" needs to make!

Review of Outbursts in Academe: Multiculturalism and
Other Sources of Conflict
by Kathleen Dixon
(Boynton-Cook, 1998)

Reviewed by Camille Newton
University of  Louisville, Louisville, KY

        Kathleen Dixon's edited collection Outbursts in Academe: Multiculturalism and Other Sources of Conflict seems at once both new and familiar.  Most of us have experienced what Dixon defines in the introduction as an "outburst":

            a moment when the often latent conflicts among faculty and among students,
            between students and faculty, or within individuals bubble to the surface,
            erupting in class discussions, small group work, office hour conversation,
            conference presentations, evaluation of teachers, written assignments, academic
            publications, or email conferencing.  An outburst is a response to a conflict
            that expresses a person's orientation to that conflict and to the social and
            political conditions that underlie it.  (xi)

Many of us have read articles in disciplinary journals about such moments and writers' analyses of them (cf. Richard E. Miller, Robert Connors, Kathleen Dixon, Helen Ewald and David Wallace, to name a very few).  What is fresh about this volume is the deliberate concentration in an entire collection upon these outbursts as "isolatable, researchable moments in the lives of teachers and students," and the commitment in the text to explore the complex interactions of race, class, and gender in such moments.  Contributors generously share their personal stories of research, teaching and reflection in order to make critiques of outbursts possible.  The value of such shared stories and reflection, and what I see as the potential value of this volume, is nicely summed up by contributor Carol Winkelmann:  "If these stories were simply acts of telling, perhaps they would not be worth the effort of retelling. . . . I would like to believe that the stories--the acts of telling--became acts of doing.  Critical teachers build their pedagogy of praxis on the hope of such transformations" (18).
        But transformations don't often come easily and are not guaranteed, and Outbursts makes such difficulties apparent.  The volume contains seven articles, six responses to those articles, and two "inter-views" by Dixon.  In general, the articles are written by untenured academics and the responses by more established professionals invited to contribute.  Contributors hail from a variety of disciplines, though they are primarily from departments of English, literature studies, education, women's studies, and rhetoric and composition.  Most authors rely on methods of cultural studies or psychoanalytic theory for their analyses. The articles focus on a wide range of outbursts, and indeed several writers explore multiple outbursts within one article. The outbursts that authors share are often uncomfortable, for writers and for readers.  There are few positive resolutions or satisfying answers. Several of the responses in the text, including Dixon's inter-views, might well be considered disquieting outbursts of their own.
        In the first of three sections of the book, for instance, Carol Winkelmann shares the outbursts generated in an electronic literacy class she created.  She wanted to encourage class participants to "transverse" via technology the boundaries between the culture of the academy and the culture of the community--specifically a battered women's shelter at which she volunteers.  Winkelmann describes the outbursts that occurred when she required students to respond via email to the narrative of a homeless woman, "Sheila"; Winkelmann's analyses are based upon Donna Haraway's theory of the cyborg.
        If the outbursts analyzed here are disturbing--a homeless woman narrates her (subsequently edited) story, receives (required) responses, overdoses, and eventually disappears; students express anger, discomfort, and incomprehension and are labeled naive and disaffected--the responses to it are also less than comfortable.  James Degan contends that Winkelmann's "tone (and focus) wavers between sociopolitical jargon . . . and a more engaging, lyrical narrative voice. At times, it is moving, powerful narrative; at other times it comes off as undigested polemic" (33).  He is also critical of Winkelmann's description of Sheila as an icon and cyborg, and critical, too, of Winkelmann's role as a teacher and researcher who carefully controls the class and the research.  Dixon responds to Degan in one of her two inter-views:  "Standing in-between, I read [Degan's] outburst as the response of a humanist literary critic--with perhaps a bit of the New Critical--to the work of deconstruction" (44).
        Dixon and William Archibald note in the introduction that "we expect this text will give rise to at least as much discomfort as it purports to analyze within its pages" (xiii).  This exchange certainly fulfilled the expectations of the editor.  I struggled to remember that the goal of the text is not to come to any conclusions, but to share disparate perspectives and experiences in order to interrogate the politics and power relations involved in those different views.  As the editor notes, outbursts may be progressive or regressive or both; the point is not to evaluate the outbursts but to "study the conditions of the outbursts and their consequences so that we can patch together a public rhetoric for our times" (xiii).  Readers are encouraged to read the often hotly contradictory perspectives in the collection and reflect upon their own positions to the outbursts analyzed and generated in the text.  My own critical, sometimes angry, often uncomfortable responses to selections did lead to reflection on my own political position with respect to these outbursts, and thus one of Dixon's and contributors' goals seems to be met.
        Many of the rest of the pieces in the volume offer more stories of often painful outbursts and often uncomfortable reflection and response.  Barbara Quevedo Davis' critical exploration of conference attendees' responses to her critique of the term "macho" and its use brings up questions, for respondants John Schilb and Dixon, about our willingness to self-censor some culturally insensitive expressions and not others; Dixon's analysis of gender and class in classroom outbursts and Jacqueline Anderson's descriptions of deaf students' resistant outbursts lead Patricia Bizzell to consider whether all outbursts are potentially productive and whether we, as teachers, might best use authority to redirect or suppress some outbursts. In what may be the most hopeful article in the collection, Scott Lyons explores outbursts in a Native American composition section and ultimately suggests one way that we might use the energy devoted to outbursts productively:  "We should encourage  students not to 'compose identities'--they do that on their own--but rather to create space where they can examine the histories, power relations, and rhetorical play of Indian and non-Indian discourses, relationships, comminglings, and conflicts in what is already a mixedblood world (albeit one that thinks itself a 'fullblood'). . . . We must develop and promote a language of mixedbloodedness" (107). Finally, Deirdre Glenn Paul's often angry description of the outbursts of her students, her colleagues, and herself as she struggled to create a space for herself as an African American female professor in the academy prompts Stephen Dilks to respond sympathetically to her "occasionally raw prose":

            institutional assumptions about what it means to be professional lead
            us to blame her [for perceived failures]: she is too idealistic, to reductive,
            too sophomoric, too angry. . . . [But] if education is to remain central to
            our institutional practices, we need to figure out how to read an essay
            like Paul's without resorting to clichés about diplomacy, maturity,
            and decorum.  (161)

        Perhaps Dilks' response is also advice for how to read and productively use the outbursts in this volume--or those that happen in our own classrooms, academic conferences, and communities.  Dixon says that the goal of the text is to encourage "an audience of progressive teachers" to become more critically self-reflexive about themselves as "political actors" (xi).  The contributors to this volume show us how difficult it can be to do this work of self-reflection, and provoke us to question how such reflection can lead to useful action on our parts.  Outbursts in Academe is a provocative contribution to an important discussion.

 Works Cited
Connors, Robert J.  "Teaching and Learning as a Man."  College English  58 (1996): 137-57.
Dixon, Kathleen. "Gendering the Personal."  College Composition and Communication 46
        (1995): 255-75.
Ewald, Helen Rothschildand David Wallace. "Exploring Agency in the Classroom Discourse
        or, Should David Have Told His Story?" College Composition and Communication 45
        (1994):  342-68.
Miller, Richard E. "Fault Lines in the Contact Zone."  College English 56 (1994):  389-408.

Review of Fieldworking: Reading and Writing Research
by Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater and Bonnie Stone Sunstein
(Prentice Hall, 1997)

Reviewed by Peter G. Shea
Saint Leo University

        I first learned about ethnographies and ethnographic research when I was graduate student in rhetoric and composition. While taking a course on composition research, I was required to read Stephen North's The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field which explains the important role that ethnography had played in advancing our understanding of what happens when writers write.
        The importance of ethnography in composition studies has become even greater since North first published his germinal text. That's why a textbook like Fieldworking: Reading and Writing Research is so valuable to anyone beginning ethnographic research. It's an extremely useful step-by-step primer on researching and writing ethnographies.
        One of the things which makes this text so refreshing to read is the thoughtfulness and care which the writers, Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater and Bonnie Stone Sunstein, have used to anticipate the needs of their readers (both teachers and students) who are new to ethnographic research. For example, for the course instructor unaccustomed to teaching ethnographic fieldwork, the book opens with a question and answer section which addresses such issues as: can an entire semester course be taught around ethnographic fieldwork, and whether any supplementary texts are necessary for such a course.
        For the student, each chapter explains basic ethnographic concepts such as "stepping in" and "stepping out" of a culture or group being examined. Each chapter also provides exercises which enable the student ethnographer to practice the research procedures being explained. And to illustrate the process and product of ethnographic writing, various models are provided (from both student and professional writers). Finally each chapter provides a glossary of "fieldwords" such as positioning, reciprocity, and triangulation as well as a list of recommended further readings.
        One of the things I particularly liked about this text was how it emphasized the importance for fieldworkers to constantly reflect on how their values influence their interpretation of what they see and hear. The special responsibilities of the ethnographic fieldworker are set forth by Chiseri-Strater and Sunstein in a section entitled, "Fieldwriting: The Grammar of Observation" :
As a fieldwriter, your job is to describe your site as accurately as you can, combining your informants perspectives with your own . . . the fieldwriter has a double responsibility. You must represent your own perspective at the same time you are representing your informant's perspective of the field site. And, through reflection, you must discuss your role as constructor of this double version of reality. (163)
        The last chapter of the book ("Fieldwriting: From Talk to Text") focuses on the process of writing the ethnography. Sage advice on the various stages of writing is provided by such distinguished writing teachers as Peter Elbow, Donald M. Murray, and Anne Lamott.
        The only flaw I could find in this otherwise excellent introductory text was the absence of any discussion centered around observing virtual communities in cyberspace. Given the ever-increasing importance of the Internet and its denizens in our lives-and the special difficulties involved in "observing" behavior in a virtual environment-I can only hope the future editions of Fieldworking deal with this issue.
        All things considered though, Fieldworking is a valuable and highly readable introduction to ethnographic research and writing.

Basic Writing e-Journal

Click here to go to the Conference on Basic Writing page

Please send any questions or comments to either Linda Adler-Kassner or Greg Glau