BWe: Basic Writing e-Journal

Volume 3        Number 1        Spring 2001
                                       (Published March 23, 2001)

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

Basic Writing e-Journal

Table of contents

Editors' Page

Laura Gray-Rosendale
with Raymona Leonard
Demythologizing The "Basic Writer": Identity, Power, and Other Challenges to the Discipline

Marcia Ribble
Redefining Basic Writing: An Image Shift From Error to Rhizome

Book Review Section

Review of Acts of Reading
by Patricia Harkin
Reviewed by Gerri McNenny

Review of COMP Tales
by Richard H. Haswell and Min-Zhan Lu (Eds.)
Reviewed by Marcia Ribble

Review of Ways of Thinking, Ways of Teaching
by George Hillocks
Reviewed by Alan Meyers

Review of Rethinking Basic Writing
By Laura Gray-Rosendale
Reviewed by Cynthia Walker

Review of Literacy Matters: Writing and Reading the Social Self
by Robert P. Yagelski
Reviewed by Susan Loudermilk

Review of Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique
By Bruce Horner
Reviewed by Rachelle M. Smith

Basic Writing e-Journal

Editor's Page

       This issue of BWe: Basic Writing e-Journal marks the start of our third year of publication, with two interesting essays and six book reviews.  This issue also coincides with our annual workshop at CCCC, where we had the chance to visit with many of you.
       Most of our readers know that the Conference on Basic Writing has entered into an agreement with Bedford/St. Martin's to edit a collection of annotations that focus on basic writing.  We call this project The Bedford Bibliography of Basic Writing and many of you--our readers--are involved with it. 
       For those of you interested in numbers, as of this writing we have 45 books scheduled to be included in The Bedford Bibliography of Basic Writing, along with 185 essays.  Of the 230 entries (and we're always looking for more, so please suggest others), 89 are completed--slightly more than one-third of the total.  Therefore, we're sure that with your continued good help, we can meet our schedule--the book is scheduled for publication for next year's CCCC meeting.  Bedford/St. Martin's will make The Bedford Bibliography of Basic Writing available free, as a service to the profession.
       If you'd like to learn more about this project, information is available at our Web address:
       Finally, how do you like our "new look"?  Dan Royer and Roger Gillis were kind enough to suggest that we put our essays and reviews into "tables," to make them easier to read--so we've tried to do that, for this issue.  Comments?

Basic Writing e-Journal


Laura Gray-Rosendale
with Raymona Leonard
Northern Arizona University

Demythologizing The "Basic Writer": Identity, Power, and Other Challenges to the Discipline 

       This coming summer I will run the STAR Program (The Successful Transition and Academic Readiness) at Northern Arizona University, a five-week summer institute designed to aid first generation, low-income and under-represented freshmen students as they adjust to college life.  The STAR Program aims to provide a transition from high school to college and develops academic skills needed for college success.  STAR's mandate dictates that students in STAR are either from an ethnic minority (oftentimes Asian-American, African-American, Hispanic, Native American) or first-generation college students, or perhaps both. 

       As part of this work I have been constructing a new version of English 105, "Critical Reading, Writing, and Argumentation in the University Community", an entry-level composition course.  At Northern Arizona University STAR students are mainstreamed into English 105 classes rather than relegated to other, Basic Writing designated sections.  While this strategy does have some problems, sometimes not giving such students the support they may need, in the main it means that students who may lack some confidence and/or skills in writing are not further ghettoized by the institution's placement procedures.  This means that in any given 105 section there are also a number of STAR students.

       Northern Arizona University's English 105, serving a diverse population, aims to provide analytical and argumentative skills to all composition students, whether "basic writers" or not.  The typical version of English 105 involves a variety of assignments that center around environmental issues, asking students to do explication and summarization of texts as well as to utilize rhetorical analysis and argumentation.  Seeing these as valuable goals, but questioning the ability of the course to all sustain students' interest in environmental issues alone over the course of a semester, I have designed my particular English 105 around the subject of argumentation, a subject we address from a variety of perspectives.  Students read excerpts from Annette Rottenberg's The Structure of Argument along with my handouts on rhetorical analysis, various popular cultural texts they select, and argumentative texts of their own choosing.  I have chosen this text because I find Rottenberg's characterizations of argument reader-friendly while also being largely theoretically accurate, drawing from models offered by Stephen Toulmin and Kenneth Burke.  The book also encourages students' constructions of their own arguments and argumentative structures, something not always present in such textbooks.  Despite the fact that much of her text centers on how arguments occur in written texts, Rottenberg also has lengthy sections on using analytic and argumentative skills to read visual texts.  Where necessary I supplement these with Gary Thompson's Rhetoric Through Media.  I am still experimenting with these approaches and text selections. However, right now they provide a good starting point.  Over the next few years I will continue to examine which aspects of this course work well, which aspects need to be revamped, and the like.  But, I have chosen the argumentation focus because it introduces issues valuable to students throughout their academic careers and yet, if the assignments are rather open in their approach, also gives them a great deal of choice in the problems they address and how they decide to address them.  And, economics play no small part in my decisions to require such a textbook over the custom published book produced for typical Northern Arizona University Composition classes, a book that costs $40 as opposed to the Rottenberg's $15.

       While there are a number of informal writing assignments in the course, the major polished pieces of writing involve three assignments: 1) a rhetorical analysis assignment that draws from popular cultural texts, particularly advertisements that the students select individually, 2) an argumentative paper that draws evidence for its claims from the students' rhetorical analysis, and 3) an extended argument of the student's own choosing, drawing from outside sources of interest and relevance to the student's future academic studies.

       In this article I examine the work completed by one student, Rae, who came to my English 105 class right after her experience with the STAR Program.  In particular, I explore her written responses to a rhetorical analysis assignment and to an argument assignment, her thoughts about her written work, my responses to her written work, how her thoughts about her writing connect to her own socio-cultural worldviews, and Rae's challenges to my analyses of her work.  This paper is meant to be somewhat experimental, more of a dialogue between the two of us than an attempt on my part to analyze her writing alone or provide answers to writing issues or problems.  This text and our relationship are also very much works in progress.  While the English 105 course in which I taught Rae is now over, she is now currently taking an independent study with me in which she has decided to explore issues related to autobiography, narrative, and her experiences as a Navajo woman, particularly in the areas of sexual harassment and sexual violence. She has elected this route in part due to her final paper topic in the course on female high school students and sexual harassment.  In Rae's final paper for the course she began to explore such issues in detail after attending a panel about Navajo Women basketball players which inspired her to explore connections between Navajo culture, femininity, and violence. 

       Therefore, there will be much more that I can say about Rae and Rae can reveal to me about myself and my own presumptions in the coming months.  I intend to write more about my exchanges with Rae as they occur.  However, what I hope this preliminary paper exposes is the extent to which "basic writers'" interventions in our analytical processes will finally make our research stronger, and that perhaps this is a direction we should turn.  In offering my analyses of Rae's work I do not mean to close down other possible interpretations that other readers of BWe may have. Instead I welcome others to offer alternative interpretations of the student texts I discuss.  I also invite other Basic Writing teachers to undertake the kind of dialogue Rae and I have explored since it reveals a great deal about the gaps between our scholarship on "basic writers" and how "basic writers" view themselves and their writing.  In this sense this paper is meant to begin a conversation rather than rest with anything like the last word.  I see this as an important step in moving away from the task of defining the "basic writer" that has necessarily dominated our scholarship (see Shaughnessy 1977; Bartholomae 1986; Bizzell 1992; and Lu 1992 for the major trends in different definitions our discipline has offered; see Harris 1995 for a very useful synopsis) and in moving toward asking what "basic writers" themselves do and how they see themselves and their own writing (see Gray-Rosendale 1996 and 2000 for a more fully articulated version of one approach that attempts to accomplish this).

The First Assignment: Rhetorical Analyses of Advertisements

       I designed the first assignment, a rhetorical analysis assignment, in such a way that, I hoped, students from diverse backgrounds as well as writing interests and abilities might find crucial connections.  For a long time I have agreed with scholars such as James Berlin who have contended that if we bring "everyday" texts into the classroom as sites of inquiry, oftentimes students lacking confidence with argumentational strategies or techniques in rhetorical analysis might feel more comfortable with their writings.  For this assignment, students pick two to three print advertisements they encounter in everyday life, preferably magazines they might normally read, that catch their attention and create rhetorical analyses of them.  For many students, this can be an exciting opportunity to make the "everyday" a site of intellectual exploration.  While I talk a great deal more about the assignment in class and provide detailed suggestions about how to accomplish the goals of the assignment, I do supply an assignment sheet that lays out the parameters:

Assignment Sheet for Rhetorical Analysis Paper: 
In this paper you analyze a series of ads rhetorically.  A strong version of this paper will have two, distinct parts. First, very briefly, summarize the argument that your ad makes as clearly as possible.  Quote from the ad to support your assessments (1 to 2 paragraphs).  Also, refer to the visuals of the ad in detail to evidence your claims. State the claims, the support used, and the warrants (what you have to believe about the relationship between claim and support in order to believe the support backs up the claim sufficiently).  Second, and more importantly, analyze the ad's rhetorical features in as much detail as possible.  The paper should quote from the texts in question at each stage to support your assertions. Paper should be 3+ pages long. Attach the ad to your paper when you turn it in. Two copies of the paper should be turned in.

       Rae and I began meeting because she sought me out after class, during office hours, via email, and through her written work.  In the STAR Program Rae studied with one of my former graduate students, Larry Tualla. Rae often referred to her experiences with Larry in STAR as critical and formative ones in her desire to improve her writing.  Early on in her exchanges I did not imagine that I would be writing about her work or publishing my own research about it.  However, in meeting with Rae it quickly became clear to me that she had some critical things to teach me about the course I had designed, about Basic Writing research, and the like. Since I knew Larry well and Larry had mentioned me to her, Rae was perhaps predisposed to seek me out and ask me questions as well as to trust me.
Rae describes herself in a self-reflective paper for the course as a "Native American from the Navajo tribe from Lukachukai located on the Navajo Reservation, 45 miles from Chinle."  She characterizes herself as the second eldest child in her family with one younger brother and sister who live on the reservation.  Rae's older sister has a young daughter and is trying to get her associate's degree while also working at a local college in their payroll department.  Rae is the first person in her family to attend college, and she is majoring in Hotel and Restaurant Management. While both of Rae's parents received a high school diploma, neither had the chance to take college classes.  Rae's mother is a child care provider and her father is an ironworker.  Rae grew up in a Baptist home and considers herself a Christian.  Rae attends church regularly on Sundays.  Christianity is a large part of her life.  Her mother's parents, to some degree, live a more traditional Navajo life, though they are self-identified Christians, and speak very little English.  The only family Rae has known well are those family members who live on the reservation.  While some of her extended family members now reside in Flagstaff, Rae does not know them well and feels disconnected from them because their lives have been so radically different from her own.

       Rae portrays her high school writing experiences at Chinle High school with an Anglo teacher as "very easy" since she was never asked to "analyze texts" but rather to do "mostly freewriting, about our life experience, person who inspired us most, etc."  Rae also indicates that not much writing was required in her high school, and she feels as if she were not challenged adequately by her teacher.  This facet of her education bothers Rae, making her question why her teachers did not take her intellectual growth as seriously as she thinks it should have been.  In fact, as Rae reflected back upon it, she recalls writing only four short papers during the whole of senior English.  The rest of Rae's time was spent reading or learning vocabulary, which she found tedious.  Recalling this experience, Rae feels as if she may have been cheated. Rae adds, "It wasn't as challenging as I wanted it to be."  In contrast, Rae reflects on her STAR writing experiences as ones that prepared her quite well for college.  Rae believes that her writing "has changed dramatically" as a result.  One of the aspects of STAR that she found helped her the most has been peer group work or group study sessions. She states that "back in high school the teacher didn't allow us to work together because they thought we were going to copy off others."  The opportunity to work on her writing with other people, Rae indicates, has been a very beneficial change.

       Interestingly, from the very beginning of the course in which I taught her, Rae reveals herself to be a self-reflective writer.  She describes her own writing difficulties in detail.  Rae states that "I have a hard time with writing. It takes me a while to think about what I am going/wanting to write about.  Then when I have thought about what I plan to write about it comes easily to me."  Rae adds, "I can't say that I am an excellent writer or an excellent arguer but what I can say is that I am not bad at it as well.  This would be my goal in writing to become a better writer than I am now." Not only does Rae have a very particular view of herself as a writer.  Rae is also fairly specific about the areas of her writing that she thinks need work: "Improvements that I think my writing needs is in writing in an orderly way and that I don't repeat myself."  Rae adds that she is concerned about "improvement in my sentences, especially with run-ons and the word 'and.'"  Despite what Rae feels are real challenges for her as a writer, she remarks that she continues to "like writing" a great deal because "it allows me to write what I feel and build on my abilities at this point."  Her goals for English 105 are the following: "By the end of this class I plan to walk out of this class knowing more than when I came into this class.  Also to have more interest in writing."

       Rae made a particular point of seeking me out during office hours several times before this first major paper was due. After having been exposed to "rhetorical analysis" during the summer program, the terms were somewhat familiar to her, though a bit hazy. In office hours we went over the terms "ethos," "pathos," and "logos" and discussed issues of audience construction, intertextuality, and purpose.  The second time we met Rae brought in three advertisements for compact discs that intrigued her.  Together we went through each one and discussed how the texts worked as arguments: What claims did they make? What evidence or support did they use? What warrants were operating? What rhetorical tactics were being employed and how? 

Rae's Cover Letter

       All of the students in class are asked to turn in self-reflective letters along with their papers. Rae's own self-assessment may be useful to us as we read her work.  Rae comments on the value of having been exposed to rhetorical analysis in her STAR writing class.  She also reveals the value of class group work for her in improving her writing skills.  To Rae's mind, she has done a good job with deciphering the ads' main argumentative tenets, claims and support.  However, articulating where and how the rhetorical appeals are operating is a bit more complicated.  Rae specifically mentions that "logos" is confusing for her, despite the fact that she has a good sense of how logical argumentation operates.  Finally, Rae suggests that warrants are confusing to her.  She explains that "other than that I believe that I am doing well on the assignment," and that in "paying close attention" to what "is being taught" she believes she will be successful:

Dear Laura,

Through the period of time that I have been in your class, you have brought to my attention what I was taught this past summer in Mr. Beckmen's English class.  Working on rhetorical analysis is a great help.  The abilities that I learned over the summer have enhanced to a greater knowledge.  The ability of viewing my own writing with others in the class has given me the time to experience and find out what other think about my writing as well as me learning and helping them out with their writing. 

My strengths in the rhetorical analysis paper are explaining the claims and the supports, along with the visual and intertextuality.  I believe that those are my strengths in the form of writing a about advertisements in rhetorical analysis form. 

The areas of rhetorical analysis such as- ethos, pathos, and logos- I am having difficulties in this particular area along with warrants.  Warrants is hard for me to understand.  On the rhetorical analysis I understand a little about ethos and a bit of pathos, but what I have trouble with is logos.  I don't understand what it is actually about. 

I would like to know more about rhetorical analysis and warrants.  I mainly mean logos for rhetorical analysis.  Other than that I believe that I am doing well on the assignment.  As long as I pay close attention to what is being taught, I understand what is being expected and what is being taught. 


Rae's Response

       Rae had a great deal to say when we met in my office to discuss issues such as rhetorical appeals and construction of audience.  Rae clearly understands how rhetoric works in our daily lives.  However, at moments she appears to have difficulty articulating how to approach the assignment.  What follows is a copy of Rae's response to the assignment. Rae decided to do a rhetorical analysis of two advertisements that she found in a magazine for young Christian adults, Guideposts for Teens.  It is a magazine for which Rae is a likely audience member, making a critical rhetorical analysis of it perhaps all the more interesting but also potentially difficult.  The two ads that Rae selects promote two different musical groups and their compact discs. 

I choose two advertisements out of a magazine called Guideposts for Teens.  The magazine is basically a Christian magazine. But it doesn't pertain to Christians.  It is to everyone, who is a Christian or not a Christian. It has articles, tests, and advertisements about the situations that are in lives of teens and not only to teens, but adults as well as young children.  There are many interesting true stories about teens that face difficulties in life and how they change their way through Christ.  The magazine is just like the magazine Teen or Seventeen. It has similarities as other magazines for example how it is set up. Meaning with stories, articles, statistics, quizzes and advice. Only it is related to God.

It is published bimonthly for Guidepost.  This magazine uses scripture verses from the New International Version (NIV) Holy Bible, and Living Bible (LB). Unless otherwise indicated they may use different versions.  Advertising for Guideposts for Teens is handled through CCM Media Services. 

In the two advertisements, Compact Discs (CD) are trying to be sold to those who read the magazine.  In each of the advertisements a different kind of recording company is trying to sell their albums. 

The advertisements share their belief, passion, faith, and praise for God through the musicians' musical talents. The only difference is that each of them has their way of expressing themselves to God, by the different songs they sing. 

 Advertisement One, Phil Joels' upcoming album "Watching Over You" is very unique when I look at it.  The image it has is surprising.  It makes you think about how it is all set up.  The visuals are catching to the eyes along with the colors as well.  The colors are bright, like a garden of many different flowers. The visuals are like one visual on top of another and on top of another.  Which is like three different pictures put in one.  The full text of the picture is the same as the picture of the CD's cover.  The background of the visual has the color of the blue sky.

The claim of the advertisement is that they are trying to make is to buy the album by Phil Joel, and with the works "Presents" and Available Now" to help sell his album.  The purpose for all this is that it is "Available Now!"  The songs are his support; they are the reason he is trying to sell his album.  But the support as well as the claim is self-inferential. In other words, you have to be familiar with the songs to support the claim.  In the warrant, it is just basically the support backing up the claim.  The two websites and are a part of the intertextuality.  Another part of the intertextuality is the visual image.  The image is related to the Bible.  With the colorful trees, it is like Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden.  And there is a man kneeling down to another asking to be blessed. I am not quite positive, but it looks to me that it has scriptures written in the bottom portion of the visual. You can see that there is writing but you can't make out what it says. The picture of how Phil Joel has long hair and is looking upwards is in the form of Jesus. The advertisement can appeal to your emotions spiritually and can appeal to your character as a believer and having faith. 

Advertisement Two, Plus One is a group of five guys with their new album "The Promise" when I look at their advertisement, I see the sign of their group and it is +1, and the plus sign is a symbol to my of the cross.  What I also see are five young guys who are posing with a bit of a smile in them waiting to come out.  And that it would get girls to get their album.  In most cases, guys won't want pictures of guys on their CD's.  There isn't enough visual to explain about.  The only visual that there is, is the picture of the five guys. And the color is mostly black. 

The claim of the advertisement is that they are trying to make is to go out and buy the album by the group artists called Plus One, and with the words "In stores now!" and "Get their album now" to assist selling the album.  The purpose of the album is to remind people that with God you are not alone, it's you plus one. The title of the album, "The Promise" is the support.  It is saying The Promise of God. With the combined energy, music talents, and attitude of the singers it helps us to understand that they too have their faith and trust in God.  Which gives us a better understanding that they are firm believers and that they are not just singing for the profit the album will get.  There is not much of a support, but it is the support backing up the claim.  The intertextuality, is the website and the record company.  The advertisement can appeal to your emotions by feeling the passions for God, and can appeal to your character as having faith and being a believer in God. 

My opinion on the two advertisements is that I find it convincing.  As a Christian, with the information that is given and what it says about the album I find that I am about ready to go out and buy the album.  The ads work together hand in hand with the similarities of God in both and the passion of the artists in God. 

My Response to Rae's Response

       As I read through Rae's paper I was struck by a number of things.  She is able to point out the main claims that the ads are making and the kind of support that the ads are using.  Rae does an excellent job quoting from the text to support her own assessments.  Rae also has some sense of how the audience and purpose as well as the rhetorical appeals are being constructed in the ads.  Second, Rae selects two ads that captivate her attention and that she wants to write about.  However, this may also be keeping her from being able to answer fully how she, as a Christian consumer, is being targeted by the ad.  What needs, desires, wishes, fears, or anxieties are these ads probing in her in order to sell their product?

       Despite this fact, Rae evidences that she knows something critical is going on, that support for claims is being drawn from the community's values when she describes one of the ads as "self inferential."  Going for the term "self referential," Rae indicates her belief that the text references itself and its audience repeatedly as a form of support rather than offering cogent support that necessarily actually backs up the claims offered.  Third, Rae describes the ads in detail to provide the information necessary for the reader to believe that her claims are substantiated. At the same time, though, Rae has a bit of trouble contextualizing the ads she is analyzing.  Her descriptions of the ads, while vivid, don't discuss the placement or juxtaposition of visuals and texts in a way that makes the ads as clear to the reader as they might be.  Rae also seems to have a bit of trouble adopting a more distanced, analytical perspective on the ads in question. This understandably makes it a bit hard for her to determine what the reader already knows and how much additional information she needs to provide.  Fourth, Rae does a good job in places of quoting from the texts to support her claims, sensing that she has to provide adequate support for her assertions.  However, given how close Rae is to the texts in question, she may not be as clear as she could be about how the rhetorical appeals of ethos, pathos, and logos work strategically to sell the products.  This is happening despite the fact that she is clearly aware of how rhetorical appeals operate.

      At the sentence level some other issues appear to be surfacing. Rae's ideas are getting a bit confused, and she is revealing some of the very writing concerns that she herself anticipated. We might classify some of this as subject-verb agreement, incomplete sentences, comma usage, tense shifts, syntax concerns, proofreading, lack of explanation or elaboration, or the like.  These are the traditional markers that have landed Rae in Basic Writing classes in the past and may reveal some of the difficulties of moving between Navajo and English. Rather than trying to get at these sentence-level concerns through making marks on the paper alone (though I did do a bit of this), Rae and I have met to talk through some of these issues, particularly the peculiarities of how sentences work.  We began with discussing the skeleton of the sentence, the subject-verb-object, and then talked about how to add things onto that skeleton.  This seemed to make a great deal of sense to Rae, and she did this herself through speech with a lot of dexterity.  The issues I mentioned above were the ones I thought Rae could tackle as she turned what had been strictly an analysis paper into an argument paper, one in which she made her own argumentative claim and supported with the close readings she had constructed in her rhetorical analysis.

The Second Assignment: Argumentation Using Rhetorical Analyses

       Rae next takes on the challenges posed by the second writing assignment.  Now she is being asked to make an argumentative claim about the two ads and to support them with the rhetorical analyses of the ads that she did for the first assignment.  The paper assignment reads as follows:

Assignment Sheet for Argument Paper:
In this paper you offer an argumentative claim about the ads in question and support it with the rhetorical analysis you've done in the Rhetorical Analysis Paper.  Using Rottenberg's ideas about the "structure of argument," your paper should have: 1) An introduction in which you lay out your claim and explain how you will prove it, as well as provide a mini-outline of the points that will come in the next paragraphs (in order).  You want to hold your reader's hand through the whole paper so that you don't lose her.  2) A series of body paragraphs with sub-points. These are mini-claims that help to support the main claim. Remember, your sub-points must be supported by close, rhetorical readings of the ads in question, and 3) A conclusion in which you reaffirm your claim and suggest important questions for future study. Here you want to reassert your argumentative claim and remind the reader that you have proven it.  Feel free to be creative and imaginative in how you introduce the reader to the topics under consideration.  Paper should be 5+ pages long.
Rae's Response to My Response

       Rae takes up my suggestions and applies them to the construction of her second paper that builds on the first assignment.  Rae clearly incorporates my suggestions into her revision of this paper along with her peers', a revision that now requires her to make an argumentative claim and then support it with her close analytical readings of the texts:

The three advertisements came from the magazine Guidepost for Teens.  This magazine is a Christian magazine.  The magazine does not just pertain to Christians alone, but to non-Christians as well. In the ways that, the title of the magazine states Guidepost for Teens, and the word for Teens is not only saying that it is for some teens, it is saying that it is for all teens.  The magazine is open to different people who have the desire to open, read, and look at the magazine.  In general, advertisements are about compact discs (CD's), and the artist trying to sell their albums of Christian songs.  In this paper I will prove that the advertisements are appealing to ones character and emotions as a believer in Christ with desires, fears, and anxieties.  With desire to want to be along side Christ, the fears and anxieties to follow him. 

Looking at the advertisements, it makes me want to go out and buy the album.  The visual of Phil Joel's "Watching Over You" advertisement, it was catching to my eyes.  The picture of how it has a small visual of someone kneeling at God and the visual of the colorful trees and hills. Another thing that grab hold of me was the song titles. The titles of the songs don't just grab my attention, they interested me to think more about my surroundings. The title of the group singers Plus One with their new album "The Promise" imprisoned me to think about how it is not only myself, it is myself "plus one".  That "one" is God. The third advertisement was capturing in my mind and thoughts. The group artist ZOEgirl with the now album "I Believe" was breath taking.  To hear and say the word come out of my mouth was a great feeling. Telling me that I myself am a believer.  It was breath taking to me because it reminded me that I myself believe in Christ and reinforced my belief.   Their group title ZOEgirl was interesting.  The reason it was interesting was because the word ZOE is a Greek word meaning God-like of life. 

 In the advertisement of Phil Joel, his new album "Watching Over You" is very appealing to an individual in different ways.  In the ways the ad is different is that it appeals to an individuals character, by making them realize that they need to change their way a bit to please God, emotions, desires, fears, and anxieties.  To each individual, the ad appeals to their character traits in their own way.  The song "God is Watching Over You" explains that you are not alone in the world.  For some people it would remind you that someone is watching over them seeing their every move.  To other people it would tell them someone is watching over them.  With that in mind the ad will make people feel happy that someone is watching over what they do right and wrong.  And for other people it would give them the feeling of being scared or nervous to know that someone is watching over them.  And that they may not know that particular person is. 

 Phil Joel's ad will give you the desire to be a part of a community of other believers in Christ.  Letting you know that you are not the only believer, that there are many other believers out in the community. It could give you that desire to be a believer as an individual.  It reinforces the desire to attain his spiritual commitment.  His ad makes you want to know if you are a true believer or not. 

Believers in Christ you will have certain fears and anxieties.  As believers you get the fear of sinning in God's eyes and presence, which may take you off the path of doing "right".  As a believer you have fear about whether you are being a true Christian and whether you are having concerns for others that are above or below your social standings. 

The advertisement gives you the value of the Christian belief systems, the desire for fellowship, the commitment to faith and the trust in love.  It gives you the value of knowing that you have eternal life with God, spiritually.  All you have to do is believe, have faith, trust in him, and open the door to your heart where he stands knocking and waiting to see if you let him into your life. 

Advertisement Two of the group artist Plus One, and their new album "The Promise" is in different ways appealing to an individual. In those different ways the title of the album may appeal to the individuals character through their emotions, desires, fears, and anxieties.  For this particular ad, it appeals to one's character traits by the title "The Promise."  "The Promise" which is what God has to promise each individual. "The Promise" God has for us could be of many, but what he promises us all is eternal life with him through his son Jesus Christ.  And how he will always be there for us in any times of need. Along with the title goes their group name, "Plus One."  "Plus One" is a reminder that with God we are never alone.  It is always plus one, God. The advertisement gives you the feeling that there are times that it is not just single singers, that are believers, but a multiple of singers that are followers and believers in Christ. 

Advertisement Two gives you the longing to be a part of a community of other believers as a group in Christ. This group would be any who wish to attend Sunday school, or preaching hour. Not only as a group but, as believers individually.  It gives you the desire to attain his spiritual commitment.  The ad lets you know that through your spiritual commitment to him, he will guide you help you, be there for you, and he will always love you.  He will let you know through reading his words (Holy Bible), talking to him daily (praying), and singing praises to him. 

The fears and anxieties it gives you is the fear of sinning in God's eyes, going off the "right" path toward him.  With this in mind it allows you to ask yourself this question "Am I Being The Christian God Wants Me To Be? Or Am I Not?"  It gives you the fear of also asking yourself "What Would Jesus Do?" That is the biggest question to ask yourself before you do things that could cause you to have doubts on whether you should be doing it or not. 

Advertisement Two lets you value the Christian belief system, the drive for fellowship, the commitment to faith and the trust in love.  It gives you the value of knowing that eternal life is right there waiting for you to grab it.  Another thing it may give to you is the fact of knowing that there is nothing more blessed that being blessed from the one and only God. 

In the advertisement of the group singers ZOEgirl, and their new hit single "I Believe" appeals to the audience's individual character, emotions, desires, fears and anxieties.  Their self-titled debut combines high-energy pop with Christ-centered lyrics written from their own perspectives.  Knowing that they write their own lyrics makes the reader feel even better about their roles as Christians, and the degree to which they believe in Christ. 

In ZOEgirls ad, it gives you the desire to want to be a part of a community of other believers in Christ.  Making you want to know that you are a part of a community where other people believe in that fact that God's only son died for all of men, women, and children, good or bad. It also gives you the desire to be a believer yourself, and to attain God's spiritual commitment that he will always love you no matter what.  The ad allows you to want to follow Christ. 

Along with desires of their ad are fears and anxieties. Fear, concern, and worry of sinning in God's eyes, and of going off the "right" path.  It makes you worry almost all of the time whether or not you are on the path of eternal life with God. Also with this comes the fear of not being a true Christian.  If you do things the way you should be doing it, or if you are just doing it out of not knowing if it is wrong or right. 

Their ad reinforces the value of Christian belief system, the desire for fellowship, the commitment to faith, and trusting in love.  What you get out of it is wanting to believe with your heart and following God to a place where you will have no sorrows, pain, hurt, or worries. He will have a place where you will be happy, faithful, trusting, loving and caring.  That place is a wonderful place, like it says in the Holy Bible King James Version, the book of his words. Much information about that world and what is to come in the future is stated.

In closing, I was simply trying to prove that the three advertisements were appealing to an individual character, emotions, desires, fears, and anxieties.  Each of the ads was about single/group artist singing to God with praise in their hearts.  As a consumer it got my attention that they had new albums coming out and that it pertained to Christ.   To the American culture it is difficult to understand the meaning of how much love God has for you, but in order to understand how much love he has, you will have to believe in what he did for you.  How he gave his only sons life to save yours.  In the Bible of the Old Testament, it reads how he loves us all, and how to get through the times of need, or even just to know that he is there with you. 

My Response to Rae's Argument

       As I read through Rae's new argument I was immediately struck by a change in tone that I saw in her language choices.  Rae is making much more assertive claims about what she is attempting to accomplish in the paper and why she is doing it: "In this paper I will prove that the advertisements are appealing to one's character and emotions as a believer in Christ with desires, fears, and anxieties.  With desire to want to be along side Christ, fears and anxieties to follow him."  Here Rae reveals the extent to which this is a paper in which she is going to persuade her reader to believe her position is valid.  Her second sentence exposes that Rae wants to elaborate on what these fears and anxieties might be and why Christians would be likely to have such concerns because of their relationships to images of God and Jesus.  While this sentence is not complete at this point, Rae's decision to put it there reveals her desire to elaborate and provide the context for understanding her claim that she believes her reader will need in order to find her persuasive.

       In her second paragraph Rae offers an overview of her whole argument by telling the reader the specific ads she will analyze.  Here she moves from what felt like a traditional academic argument to a more personal perspective on the texts in question. Rae suggests that looking at the first ad "makes me want to go out and buy the album," that the second ad led her to "think about how it is not just myself, it is myself plus one," and that the second ad "was capturing in my mind and in my thoughts. . . it was breath taking to me because it reminded me that I myself believe in Christ and reinforced my belief."  Despite this shift in tone and approach, one that makes sense given that Rae perceives herself as part of the audience the ads are addressing, Rae continues to support her claims about the ad with descriptions of the ad and why it is persuasive.  In part this occurs in a sentence fragment "The picture of how it has a small visual of someone kneeling at God and the visual of the colorful trees and hills." 

       Rae's analysis of the first ad selling Phil Joel's compact disk suggests how the ad targets the fears, anxieties, values, and desires of a Christian audience.  She does a very good job, I think, in revealing how the ad works to both target the reader's spiritual commitment as well as to use that spiritual commitment to sell the product over and against more traditional views of evidence.  In the places where Rae wants to further explain a point or clarify her ideas to a wider audience, however, sentence fragments seem to become more pronounced: "And that they may know that a particular person is" or "Letting you know that you are not the only believer, that there are many other believers out in the community."  All the same, Rae's analyses of the ads are more specific now and in line with her argumentative claim: "It could give you that desire to be a believer as an individual. It reinforces the desire to attain his spiritual commitment.  This ad makes you want to know whether you are a believer or not." Rae also talks about how the ad targets a Christian's fears and anxieties to sell the product, particularly ones about sinning before God and doing "right" as well as showing compassion for others.  She then shows how the ad does this by reinforcing belief systems that the reader already ostensibly has.

       In Rae's analysis of the second and third ads, she explains that they target many of the same desires, anxieties, fears, and values, but do so in a different ways.  This first of these ads makes its mode of persuasion clear, by titling the album "The Promise," evoking the notion of eternal life through belief in Jesus while the second of these ads reinforces the singers' belief in God by drawing attention to their roles as lyricists.  In this section of Rae's paper there are a few repetitive forms that came in the earlier sections.  We also notice that her description of the ZOEgirl ad is part paraphrase and part quote though Rae does not put quotes around what she cites.  Once again Rae stresses how the ads sell the products through reinforcing the reader's belief system.

       Rae's conclusion does what the reader might expect in reiterating her main claim.  However, Rae also decides to take a stand about her own belief system here, to make a secondary argumentative claim about the viability of Christianity: " "in order to understand how much love he [God] has, you will have to believe what he did for you."

       To my mind, Rae vacillates in these piece between adopting an objective identity or persona who merely reads the ads and offers analytic commentary about the fears, anxieties, desires, and values she creates and adopting an identity as a Christian, a believer, who wants to persuade others to become believers.  In the end it is hard for her to maintain either position fully.  Rae cannot maintain the first position alone since she identifies with the ads strongly and the ads defy and undermine the strictly academic nature of the assignment.  She cannot maintain the second position alone because she has learned rhetorical and argumentative tactics at this point that enable her and demand that she read texts critically and with care.  In some sense, then, the complexities that Rae is encountering in writing this text are due to the awkward rhetorical position in which she finds herself: both a distanced analyzer of texts and their rhetorics and argumentative tactics and one for whom the ads' own emotional appeals are extremely convincing and reinforcing of her own belief system.  To what degree the sentence-level issues still present in this text are a result of this is still unclear.  But it is curious that the sentence fragments do seem to emerge at the moments when Rae tries to contextualize her claims and analyses or to move between identities-one of the academic analyzer (outsider) and one of the committed Christian (insider).

Rae's Responds to My Analysis of Her Paper

       In keeping with my sense that this should be a dialogue with Rae, not just a monologue between myself and other members of the Basic Writing theory community,  I invited Rae to read my analyses of her work and offer me feedback.  Rae was aware that I would likely discuss her feedback in the paper itself and was very excited at the prospect.  Was my reading of the complexity of her rhetorical situation in line with what she was in fact experiencing? Did she feel at all split between an academic-type identity in this paper and her role as a believer in Christ? Did she feel that this complexity contributed to the kind of writing she produced in the Argument paper?  How so?  Why or why not?  How did she feel about her own writing and why?  How had her emergence in the STAR Program impacted this?

       After reading through my paper, Rae expressed that she really enjoyed reading it and felt that, for the most part, my readings adequately reflected issues in her writing that she was struggling with.  However, Rae was now willing to adopt a new identity with me as well, one that challenged the role of the "basic writer" more fully.  Instead, now Rae identified herself as a student-reader, one who could teach, me, the teacher, as well.  While I have discussed how students adopt such identities with each other in peer groups, Rae's choice to do this with me, her teacher, was a clear attempt to challenge the institutional power system that deems me "interpreter" and her "raw text."  Rae also wanted to subvert my readings and perhaps Basic Writing scholarship's assumptions in some important ways.  Though I had initially used a pseudonym in place of her name, after reading the paper, Rae requested that I put her real name in my text instead, wanting to be represented "as herself" within my text rather than as some anonymous student.  Having her own identity recognized in the article was critical for Rae, and it strategically undermined the tendency of our composition research to identify the students whose voices permeate our texts as some "others" we can appropriate or whose works we can simply use to prove our points.  It also further dismantled the binary.  As a result, we both became authors of this text.

Rae offered the following response to me about my own reading of her writing:

I read through what you said, and it made a lot of sense to me.  I enjoyed reading it and I don't have any changes to make to your analyses.  My experience of the rhetorical situation was in line with what you have been teaching in class as well as outside of class.  However, I did not have split feelings about the academic type identity in the paper and as a believer in Christ as you said.  Instead I felt that the complexity contributed to the kind of writing that I produced in the Argument paper. 

My participation in the STAR program this past summer I believe was an exciting experience that I have enhanced. With my participation in STAR, it has made my academic life one step higher than if I were to just start off here at NAU in the fall semester.  The STAR program had a lot to offer me while I experienced it. It allowed me to get familiar with the campus and what it has to offer. It gave me the chance to get ahead start with classes and life at NAU. STAR had a lot of support to offer me right there when I needed it, and with that in mind I found it useful to allow myself to take the support that was offered. 

I believe that my own writing is a gift that was given to me. It comes to me as a shock to read my own writing and have not as much markings as I had expected there to be when you turn my paper back to me.  And to me I honestly think that it could be categorized as "less than" rather than "lacking." I know Basic Writing scholarship is trying to define new ways to think about the kind of writing students like myself make.  I think that understanding my writing as "less than" is more in line with what my writing is. It is "less than" by a certain amount.  But it is not "lacking." Thinking of my writing as lacking is a problem for me. 

In this paper my beliefs in Christianity can be furthered by including my personal experiences as a Christian and other Christians' experiences that they have encountered as Christians.  There are times when it becomes hard to talk about my Christian life, like when I have to talk about a tragedy, death, bad feelings that I have had. It is hard to play my role and identity as a believer while I am encountering roles and identities of others as nonbelievers.  For me, this produces a lot of pressure. My life as a Christian is most of my life.  When I was born my mother was Christian, and so I have been going to church all my life.  There is a period in my life that my family had stop going to church.  But in that time period I was still praying and having a conversation with the Lord.  Then in November of 1998, we as a family started going back to church.  At this point I was saved again.  My family members are all saved, and it is a happy feeling knowing that your family is going to be with the Lord when he comes, or if it may be before he comes.  But if so they will be waiting for you when you get there. 

Being a Navajo Christian is somewhat difficult because there are Navajos that may tell you the ways, culture, of the Navajo and you are in the middle of being a Christian and a Navajo.  As a Christian, I know that I am a Christian and should not worship any other gods, but God himself.  He is the light and the way, the almighty one. My Christianity, then, is deeply connected to my life as a Navajo. 


       As I re-read Rae's response a number of things impress me. I relearn that I, and perhaps Basic Writing scholars as a group, may still have a great deal to learn.  We clearly need to continue our dialogues with students labeled "basic writers", perhaps having such discussions on more frequent and yet perhaps less comfortable grounds.  In doing so we will learn a great deal more about what students labeled as such think about their own writing, about Basic Writing as a discipline, and about the kind of scholarship we produce. In the Spring 2000 issue of the Journal of Basic Writing a number of Basic Writing scholars reflected our need to re-examine such issues.  Lynn Quitman Troyka contended that we need to find new and innovative approaches to our research, challenging the methodologies and approaches that have dominated our research historically.  Likewise, Susan Miller indicated the critical importance of examining the tenets of our discipline's allegiances as well as how we approach the reading of students and student texts, advocating a serious consideration of local contexts and issues.  Echoing their valuable critiques, while Rae's comments are in line with many of the comments I made, I am clearly overlooking other critical aspects as well, aspects that deserve attention.  I believe that Rae's response to my analysis of her work reveals the extent to which we must be open to how our students can teach us about their writing, can reform our theories and our practices, can reshape the identities our scholarship casts for them.

       First, I am encouraged by Rae's willingness to take issue with me and my reading of her work-as split between an academic identity and one as a believer.  Even though I am her teacher, a grader of her work, Rae risks telling me that I have it wrong.  In doing so, she undermines the power relationships that pervade the academy that deem me a credible analytical reader of her work while she may not be a credible criticizer of mine.  As we all know, this is a power relationship that still pervades much Basic Writing theory.  The Basic Writing students are too often the sources of our quotes and yet too rarely do their ideas penetrate and disturb as well as reshape our own.  While we often talk freely of the ways in which "basic writers" are institutionally marginalized, we speak rarely about how our research further marginalizes them by keeping them out of the conversations that promise to impact their intellectual lives the most.  As a result, I learn from Rae that she may indeed mean to keep that tension in play, that it's an important one for her and her writing.  For Rae this tension between identities seems to produce a "complexity" that may enhance her argument.  At the same time, Rae indicates that, for her, perhaps it isn't the main or only tension. Rae's comment serves to turn me away from the tension I constructed, the one of "academic identity" and "believer," to other tensions. I learn that perhaps my feeling of a tension in Rae's identities may be coming from somewhere else.  Rae offers two possibilities in her prose: Either it could result from writing about her beliefs in front of her peers and her teacher, some of whom she assumes are "nonbelievers," or it may be because she feels conflicts as one who is "in the middle of being a Christian and a Navajo." 

       Second, I discover that Rae has a radically different conception of her identity than much contemporary Basic Writing scholarship could account for.  Rae does not see herself as silenced or marginalized, a major way in which our recent scholarship has understandably described the situation of the "basic writer" (see Gay 1993; Horner 1996 and 2000; Lu 1992 and 2000; and Mutnick 1996 for useful texts that have taken this approach).  Nor does Rae perceive her writing as "lacking," a term that clearly bothers her.  Instead, Rae appears to be able to keep a number of aspects in play about her identity that our scholarship tends to resist. While her writing is not lacking, Rae asserts that her writing would appropriately be called "less than."  She's calling attention to the problems she sees within her written work, and she doesn't think that calling attention to them or the very fact of their existence are necessarily negative things. Instead, Rae sees room for improvement, but this does not mean that Rae sees herself as necessarily stigmatized as a result. As part of this, Rae expresses that she also does not feel that she was ghettoized by being placed within The STAR Program.  Instead, Rae views this as an entirely positive experience, one in which she found community, support, and encouragement for her writing.  While I might be tempted to look for the places where Rae reveals her own struggle with the academy as an institution, and maybe even to suggest that Rae fails to recognize her own borderland status and that this is due to the insidiousness of institutional marginalization, Rae clearly doesn't conceive it that way. Rae may produce writing that she believes is "less than," but Rae also believes she is in college to get better at it, and that there is no discernible margin where she locates herself because of her writing.

       Third, I learn even more the extent to which Rae's own Christian beliefs shape what she is willing to write about and how she writes about it.  In Basic Writing scholarship and in rhetoric and composition studies generally, we rarely ask questions about how the identities our students hold that may not be politically radical impact our students' work. Rae's Christian beliefs appear to shape her use of rhetorical appeals and her word choices as she becomes almost sermonic in places.  And, the tensions Rae experiences between these beliefs and the beliefs of potential "nonbelievers" or between her "Navajo self" and her "Christian self" may play into how Rae approaches the writing assignments and impact the kind of writing choices she makes, to some degree.  Any marginality that Rae feels would seem not to come from having been identified as a "basic writer," then. It might be self-centered of me or Basic Writing scholarship to assume that.  Instead, Rae's feelings of marginality, when she has them, might stem from the fears of marginalization within her own Navajo community because of her decision to turn from traditional Navajo ways and toward Christianity.  Oftentimes our discussions of student identity don't account for marginalization within already marginalized communities, especially those that fall outside the discipline's currently sanctioned leftist political leanings.

       On the whole, reading Rae's papers, my comments, and her responses to my comments may be quite instructive on a number of levels.  Many "basic writers" don't see themselves as institutionally marginalized because of their writing, perhaps finding other areas in their lives where they feel a deeper sense of marginalization, or perhaps challenging their identities as marginalized altogether.  Oddly our Basic Writing scholarship has not yet anticipated or fully accounted for such possibilities yet, depending often as we do upon such argumentative strategies to gain funding and support for our programs.  And, yet perhaps it is toward "basic writers'" own language that they use to describe their identities and writing processes that we should turn as we think about ways to strengthen our Basic Writing theories and pedagogies.  To create dialogic research, we must invite "basic writers" into our conversations at all levels, and be ready to listen to the things they say that challenge the bedrock of our research, that interrupt our narratives, and that unsettle our presuppositions.  Likewise, and my own analyses here are clearly a case in point, it's obvious that our readings of student texts are to some degree often motivated by our own interests and may or may not accurately reflect what is happening for the student at the moment of composing (see Helmers 1994 for an insightful rhetorical reading of Basic Writing and composition scholarship's propensity to do this).  While it may be comfortable for us to maintain our "reading," silencing the multiple interpretive possibilities, especially our students' own interpretations, to do so will continue to undermine the value of our scholarship and our findings ultimately.  While many of our theories appear to be incredibly liberatory, in such cases they may end up being just as conservative in impulse as the "teach to the sentence" and "basic skills" models of yesteryear.  And, such a desire to cling to our interpretations runs against every theoretical model for critical pedagogy and theory that Basic Writing scholarship has embraced historically. Without greater student intervention in the creation of our scholarship, without enabling students to disrupt the power relations that dictate who speaks and who must listen, the scholarship becomes little more than a convenient rhetorical exercise, an uninformed one at that.  Finally, from this experience I think we can recognize that the process of scholarly inquiry into Basic Writing and the dialogue with our students can never be over.  From here Rae will read this document and give me additional suggestions and thoughts that may re-form my thinking on this issues raised. This will give rise to crucial additional research for both of us.  As we work together now on an independent study project, I will doubtlessly continue to learn more about how Rae perceives my scholarly attempts to understand her writing and be able to reform my approaches and analyses as a result.  As "basic writers" continue to adopt identities as "teachers" with those of us who teach them, we may also shift the power relations in ways that will reveal crucial problems in our analyses of students' work.  I see allowing "basic writers" clearer entry into our conversations as critical to the future of our scholarship in Basic Writing, to maintaining its integrity as a discipline where student voices are not simply mentioned but respected, a place where student intervention and query is in fact the very foundation of our scholarly inquiry.

Works Cited

Bartholomae, David and Anthony Petrosky. Facts, Artifacts, Counterfacts: Theory and Method for a Reading 
       and Writing Course. Portsmouth, NH: Boynton Cook Publishers, 1986.
Berlin, James. "Rhetoric and Ideology in the Writing Class." College English. 50 (September 1988): 477-494.
---. Rhetorics, Poetics, and Culture: Reconfiguring College English Studies. Urbana, IL: NCTE, 1996.
Bizzell, Patricia. Academic Discourse and Critical Consciousness. Pittsburgh: U of Pittsburgh Press, 1992.
Burke, Kenneth. A Rhetoric of Motives.  Berkeley: University of California Press, 1969.
Enos, Theresa ed.. A Sourcebook for Basic Writing Teachers. New York: Random House, 1987. 2-15.
Gay, Pamela. "Rereading Shaughnessy From a Postcolonial Perspective." Journal of Basic Writing. 12.2(1993): 
Gray-Rosendale, Laura. Rethinking Basic Writing: Exploring Identity, Politics, and Community in Interaction.
       Mahwah:  Lawrence Erlbaum Publishers, 2000.
----. "Revising the Political in Contemporary Basic Writing Scholarship." Journal of Basic Writing. 15.2(Fall 
       1996): 24-49.
Harris, Joe.  "Negotiating the Contact Zone." Journal of Basic Writing. 14.1(1995): 27-43. 
Helmers, Marguerite. Writing Students: Composition, Testimonials, and Representations of Students. Albany: 
       SUNY, 1994.
Horner, Bruce. "Discoursing Basic Writing." College Composition and Communication 42(1996): 199-222. 
---. and Min-Zhan Lu eds. Representing the "Other": Basic Writers and the Teaching of Basic Writing. Urbana: 
       NCTE, 1999.
Lu, Min-Zhan. "Conflict and Struggle: The Enemies or Preconditions of Basic Writing?" College English. 54 (1992): 
Miller, Susan.  "The Future For The Vanishing Present: New Work For Basic Writing.." Journal of Basic Writing.
       19.1 (Spring 2000): 53-68.
Mutnick, Deborah. Writing in An Alien World: Basic Writing and the Struggle for Equality in Higher Education
       Portsmouth, NH: Boynton-Cook Publishers, 1996.
Rottenberg, Annette. The Structure of Argument. Third edition. Boston: Bedford St. Martin, 2000.
Shaughnessy, Mina. Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing. New York: Oxford
       UP,  1977.
Thompson, Gary. Rhetoric Through Media. Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1997.
Toulmin, Stephen. The Uses of Argument. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1957.
Troyka, Lynn Quitman. "How We Have Failed the Basic Writing Enterprise." Journal of Basic Writing. 19.1(Spring 
       2000): 113-123. 

Basic Writing e-Journal


Marcia Ribble
Saginaw Valley State University

Redefining Basic Writing: An Image Shift From Error to Rhizome

What Is Basic Writing?

       In her germinal work Errors and Expectations Mina Shaughnessy argued that there is a group of writers she defined as basic writers who stand out from other writers by the number of errors they produce.

  Basic Writers tend to produce...small numbers of words with large numbers of
  errors (roughly from 15 to 35 errors per 300 words) that puzzle and alarm college
  teachers when they see them for the first time.  (Shaughnessy 139)
       This definition was picked up by many composition teachers who found themselves similarly confronted by what they saw as an overwhelmingly large number of errors in the students Shaughnessy had labeled basic writers.   Today many teachers still accept error as the defining characteristic of basic writers and focus on error as though it tells the entire story about basic writers.  But even those compositionists and rhetoricians who have argued against the focus on error offer few alternative ways to theorize or articulate basic writing, even when they claim that basic writing is not just about students who make a lot of errors in their writing (Lunsford and Sullivan).  Although some have offered hints about what basic writing might be if it isn't solely about the number of errors a specific group of writers make, no one has fully answered the question, if error isn't how basic writing can be identified, how can we identify what basic writing is? 

      My own experiences have substantiated that assessment of the inadequacy of our definition of basic writers, but from a different perspective.  A few years ago I was teaching a course in basic writing and had a student (Carl- a pseudonym although he's given me permission to use his name) who, on initial observation, I had decided was incapable of successfully completing the course.  His papers were so full of errors in spelling and grammar that I was quite convinced that I would have to fail him.  Rereading Shaughnessy did little more than confirm what I already knew.  This student made many, many errors and he didn't seem able to correct them even when they were pointed out to him and explained.  But then something quite unexpected happened, purely by happenstance, by serendipity, that threw my analysis of his writing into question and forced me to begin to redefine basic writing.

Basic Writing Can Be Good Writing 

       I gave my students an assignment to write a two page story based on the frame "Two people go into a haunted house, but while inside something frightens them and they leave."  I was simply trying to encourage students to write more concretely by asking them to tell me details of the event, but Carl went way beyond my expectations.   His first draft was seven typed, single-spaced pages long.  And it wasn't finished.   He asked for an extension so he could finish writing the story.  An extension I gladly granted. 

       Prior to this he had fit into Shaughnessy's definition, handing me short papers with few words and many errors.   But his final draft was 15 pages of typed, single-spaced creative, and beautifully controlled short-story writing.   It still had many errors, as you can see below in this first page from Carl's story which is reproduced below exactly as he wrote it, so there are quite a few errors in that text, beginning with the spelling of Autumn. 

                                                  "A Mid-Autum's Nightmare" 
The funeral went good, as to be expected.   Meaning to have one someone had to die.  So why did that someone have to Dad.   A couple of nights before Holloween, Dad was working late in his office.  He was some executive in charge, of the legal mumbo jumbo.  On his way home he was hit head-on and killed.  The rest we learned latter, from the investigating officer.

Officer: It appeared that when Mr. Sheraton left from work at 3 a.m. in the morning.   A local Holloween party at the establishment of Jay's Bar and Grill was letting out at the same time.

One of its patrons was too drunk to leave.  In the confusion of everyone leaving, the proprietor's
security failed to notice him getting into his truck and proceeded off the primacies. 

On Main St. Mr. Smith then turned left onto First St., where Mr. Smith then ran a red light, while turning right onto Jefferson Ave.   Mr. Smith then swerved over the center line and hitting Mr. Sheraton head-on.  When the paramedics arrived Mr. Sheraton was already dead.  The paramedics said, "The blow upon impacted killed him instantly."

On the eve of my father's funeral I went to church to pray, for some answers but none were to come.  On my way out I was stopped by Father Tucker.

Father Tucker: I'm so sorry to hear about your loss.  If there's anything I can do for you or your family, don't hesitate to ask.

Mark: Sure Father, bring my dad back and kill the man who killed him!

Father Tucker: My son, you know as well as I do that these things I cannot do.   Even if I could, it is not my place.  For you see the Lord does these things for a purpose.

Mark: You mean to tell me that this guy who drove drunk and killed my father is free to live, whole mind you that the only thing my father was guilty of was working late, was punished for it, with his life.  Tell me Father, where is the purpose, the justice in that!

Father Tucker: I do not know all the reasons.  Nor do I claim to know why he does all the things he does.  I assure you they are all done for a higher reason.  We must all still keep faith.

Mark: Faith...  Faith wont bring my dad back.  Faith, wont stop the hurting that I feel inside.  Father, I gave up on faith at four in the morning.   When the police came knocking at our door telling us that my father was killed.

Father Tucker: Precisely, why you should believe now, more than ever.   My son don't let anger shroud your judgment.  Faith and the truth are the only things that keep us spiritually together.  Anger only clouds them, especially now.

Father Tucker was going on about something, as I started to leave.  I did not turn around to listen.  I just kept walking, never to return.

I was vegging out, in front of the t.v. watching some old boring Holloween show for the  umpteenth time, saying to myself.  "Their has to be something more to do, like egg a few houses, t.p. some trees, or just go around the neighborhood letting the air out of tires."   That always seems to put me back into the Holloween spirit.

So grabbing my coat from the back of the kitchen chair, I make my way past the fridge grabbing a couple dozen eggs.  Yelling at mom.

Mark: I'll be back in a couple of hours!

Only to be reminded at the door by my mother's heeding words.

Mother: Be back at a half way decent time and don't do anything stupid!

Mark: Yeah right, what ever!

       Carl, the writer of this story, is a mid-twenties young man who can reach back into his teenage years and recreate a teenager's innocence and demands for justice, anger with injustice, but real confusion about what place spirituality has in one's life at the same time.  Carl takes Mark through a fight against the power of Satan, while introducing him to a good witch who is fighting against the evil Mark accidentally sets free.  Along the way Carl has Mark quote Zen Buddhist sayings like "The truth is realized in an instant; the act is always practiced step by step!"

       What a paper!  I have read in the neighborhood of two hundred or more responses to this assignment which I had used for a number of years.  Even the best of them had fallen into the standard haunted house genre, with many focused on gory scenes with chopped up bodies.  A few were clever about it, bringing in surprise endings, unusual settings, or other elements, but they stayed within the category as it is normally practiced in the media, or encountered in local haunted houses. None of them had demonstrated anything even remotely close to the creativity I was witnessing in Carl's paper. 

      My background had not prepared me to deal with a writer who makes so many errors but simultaneously evidences a surprising emotional and intellectual and spiritual maturity as a writer.

      When I recognized that what I believed about basic writers and the making of errors might be wrong, the balance shifted, and errors lost their overarching importance to me in terms of their analytical and predictive power.   Suddenly, the story took first place in determining my response to the student's work, and to the student, himself.    Suddenly, instead of thinking about failing him I was thinking about which literary magazine he might submit his story to, after some revision and surface editing. 

      Right before me the terms good writer and basic writer were being united in a way I had never seen articulated.   Before one was a "good writer" or one was a "basic writer," but it was impossible to be both at the same time.  However, here I was reading proof that one could indeed be both.   How on earth was I going to be able to articulate that sudden insight?  How could I theorize a basic writer such that also being good writer could be an integral aspect of that writer's reality?   How could I define basic writing in such a way that being a good writer at the same time was logically possible?   As I searched through the readings in my graduate courses, I did not find a satisfactory answer to my question.  .

The Field's Reliance on Error

      In 1990 Lunsford and Sullivan asked "Who Are Basic Writers?" in a chapter in Moran and Jacobi's book about basic writing research.  Together they reviewed the thinking from Mina Shaughnessy until that time and agreed that despite work demonstrating that basic writers can not be solely defined by error, many people in the field and outside of it still fall back on error and use it to define basic writing and basic writers.   Although it seems that an alternative definition would allow us to give up that inaccurate definition, Lunsford and Sullivan did not offer one, and argued that one is needed. 

       For my student, the struggle to tell his story was far more pressing than getting the words right, the grammar perfect, the spelling accurate.  He was dealing with much higher order mental tasks in the storytelling process that could only be satisfactorily completed with him totally focused and giving all his immediate attention to the content of his writing.  He was creating characters, putting them in motion and making sure they behaved and talked "in character."   He was setting a plot into action and he needed to control all the steps leading up to the crisis and to make them, to at least the degree demanded by the genre, believable.  He was dealing with his character's typical young person's faith and its vulnerability to challenge by the ordinary and extraordinary events of life, but also dealing with a young man who despite his wavering faith responds to the crisis of the story with heroic valor, basing his response on the young man's idealistic demand for a more just world.  Few of even our greatest fiction writers could do all of those higher order tasks and attend to grammar and spelling at the same time.  And many of them consulted with others on the content as well.

Semiotics May Offer Us Insight 

       What that indicates to me is a fundamental and pretty field-wide lack of understanding about what writing is in the first place.  Because most of us have come to teaching composition from a literary background it is not unusual that we might think in terms of literary analysis, of a search for perfection, and of a rejection of error.  But what would happen if we designed a metaphor for writing in which errors were to be expected?  Our contemporary philosophers do not expect perfection in language.  They would argue that even considering such a possibility is folly.  What is language after all?  An arbitrary system of signs.  And what is written language?  An arbitrary system representing an arbitrary system. At least two steps removed from "reality."  And what is a text?  A partial construction of an arbitrary something, representing an arbitrary system, representing an arbitrary system.  A something full of holes, a something so full of holes that error can creep in willy-nilly.  Actually, error not only can creep in, it almost always does creep in, either in the writing of the text or the reading of it.  And it creeps in for the lowly, but it also creeps in for those in more lofty spaces. No one has a lock on errors in writing.  We all make them.

       What is writing then, if we all make errors in writing?  Depends on who you ask, but, it is carnival (Barthes), desire- fulfilled or not- (Kristeva), play (Derrida, Landow), master narrative (Foucault), spectacle (de Bord), open space (Eco), sexual displacement (Lacan), or social/ economic/political agent (Spivak, Smitherman, Freire).   Or it is my personal favorite the rhizome (Deleuze and Guattari).  Each of those philosophical ways of visualizing language suggests that language is anything but stable.  Each of them suggests myriad ways in which the expected stability of language can be disrupted, disengaged, thrown into confusion, or transformed.   But we, as a field, are still often talking about the writing process from a modernistic stance where language was expected to mean what it meant, to perform in logical ways, to conform to our expectations for it.  And, instead of saying that's how it always works when we encounter writing problems, we say it's the writer's fault that sometimes the language simply doesn't hold still long enough to control it.  We engage in the illusion that writing can always be controlled, when language is inherently so random, chaotic, and difficult to pin down that few writers can control it without a great deal of hard work and revision.   But do we expose the illusionary nature of this belief in an easily controllable language to our students? 

       The first thing we should teach our students is the inherent instability of language, the enormous difficulty that attempts to communicate have to surmount for meaning to be encoded, expressed, sent, received, and decoded accurately.   We should show them all the places where error can creep in, what the instability can do to the best intended messages.   The fact is, we should tell them, it's lucky we are ever understood at all.  Because error is such a normal part of the process of sending and receiving messages, no one who has error creep into their message can possibly be considered abnormal or inferior.   The process of message transmission itself is responsible for the fact of error.   That is a very different understanding of the writing process than the one compositionists are normally familiar with.   And it is why I like the idea of using Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome metaphor to describe the place of error in writing. 

The Metaphor of the Rhizome

       As a metaphor, the rhizome already has a place for error to be considered a normal everyday part of the process of writing.   The rhizome is by its nature an irregular form with the potential for error integral to its being.   If writing was metaphorically represented by the rhizome, an easily visualized metaphor, we could inherently understand the writer (all writers) as located in a position of struggle against a most crabgrass like opponent, trying to hold language in check as it slithers under fences and over barricades erected in attempts to control it.    The gardener may wish to eradicate the crabgrass, much as writers struggle to eliminate error, but both are ingenious foes. 

       The minute we attempt to gain complexity in our writing it is so easy for comma splices and run-on sentences to crawl into our carefully pruned paragraphs undetected, and then bring in their friends to go on to savage our meaning with fragments and shifts in tense.   We look at error as a wicked, wicked weed in our essay garden.   No essay is safe from its encroaching sprawl.   And even the most fastidious writer can find herself faced with its malingering presence.   Only constant vigilance can even hope to root out error before it strangles any hope of making sense.
But the act of writing is more than just the struggle to find and eradicate error, although the potential for error always exists.   The act of writing itself is an act of struggle to force language (and I use language here in its broadest possible sense) into compliance so as to obtain a  desired meaning both for oneself and for one's reader.  How does the rhizome offer us a way to account for error, but also understand the process of writing as inherently and always potentially flawed?

      Deleuze and Guattari's rhizome metaphor offers us that benefit.   Using the rhizome there is no space for differentiation that suggests that some writers make errors and others don't. Using the rhizome, writing is the same for everyone, just as no one's garden is immune from crabgrass.   It allows for my student Carl to be both a good writer and a basic writer, because the presence of error can be explained as a normal function of the process of writing, not an indication of the inability of the writer.   The process of writing may still be able to be divided into relatively discrete although recursive stages, but it is in the actual carrying out of those stages that error becomes a factor that affects the outcomes.   As a way of thinking about it we could consider DNA and its relationship to the intricacies of bits and pieces of the human body.   It is really quite a simple process, but there are 3 billion base pairs in one strand of human DNA, and thus billions of opportunities for error to occur.    Using the rhizome to explain writing, there isn't a question of whether or not error will occur, only a realistic understanding that it will occur somewhere, sometime, no matter how prepared (or unprepared) we are to wage war against it. 

       The rhizome, as Deleuze and Guattari and as horticulturalists explain it, is a growing, living system whose connections ramble around underground, occasionally sending up shoots above ground.   Interestingly, writing is similar because many of its actual workings take place out of sight as the writer is constructing a message.   On the surface it looks fairly simple, but the task of attempting to control so many occurring-all-at-once-aspects of writing is daunting even for experts, and beginners can be overwhelmed by the complexity.   Using the rhizome as a metaphor for writing can at least reassure writers that it is not them, but writing itself which is causing the hardships encountered.   What a difference it might make, if students didn't have to feel like failures due to the errors in their papers, if we focused on teaching students to not only "compose," but to also search for, find, and control error in their messages. 

       The four principles of the rhizome capture what I believe must be incorporated in any reasonable metaphor for describing writing.   Connectivity, heterogeneity, multiplicity, and asignifying rupture are the four principles and each helps us to understand the fundamental complexity of the writing act.   To put it very simply, we write to connect to one another, and yet, because we are heterogenous, we interpret messages differently, leading to multiple meanings, chaos, confusion, and even the best attempts to control writing can be fragmented by asignifying ruptures of meanings when we do not intend them (error).   Deleuze and Guatteri, however, say it ever so much more elegantly than I just did.   According to them, 

A rhizome ceaselessly establishes connections between semiotic chains, organizations of power, and circumstances relative to the arts, sciences, and social struggles.   A semiotic chain is like a tuber agglomerating very diverse acts, not only linguistic, but also perceptive, mimetic, gestural, and cognitive: there is no language in itself, nor are there any linguistic universals, only a throng of dialects, patois, slangs, and specialized languages.   There is no ideal speaker-listener, any more than there is a homogenous linguistic community.  Language is, in Weinrich's words, "an essentially heterogenous reality" (7). 
       Besides automatically including error in their envisioning of language, Deleuze and Guattari acknowledge that language, and thus writing, is both individually cognitive and social, personally perceptive, imitative (Aristotle's imitation of an imitation, Poetics), visual as well as oral, and it is messy, without any absolutes as it mixes from all the possible linguistic pools available to any writer- which all make the process of writing even more inherently capable of error- I use the word "process" here in a systems theory sense of the word, not in the more limited cognitive process sense.   In a systems theory sense of process, writing must be seen as ecologically embedded in the entire span of human experience, but also in the natural ecosystems we inhabit, not in that hierarchical sense of human dominance over other aspects of the ecosystem, but in the non-hierarchical sense of co-inhabitance and interdependence. 

       The principle of multiplicity increases the complexity of writing.   Because, as Deleuze and Guattari tell us, "A multiplicity has neither subject or object, only determinations, magnitudes, and dimensions that cannot increase in number without the multiplicity changing in nature" (8), the number of ways we can conceptualize writers is limited in quantity, so a writer is a writer.   But writer as a category is always already a multiplicity within itself.    That means a writer can be basic and creative, pragmatic and scientific, simple and profound, elegant and clowning,  plain and sophisticated without creating a new category of writer because all of those possibilities already exist in the word "writer."  This renders the definition of "writer" and of "writing" as fluid, changeable.   Writers writing are, as Deleuze and Guattari describe, "defined by the outside: by the abstract line, the line of flight or deterritorialization according to which they change in nature and connect with other multiplicities" (9).    The fact of a writer, not only complex and multiple, but also connected to other multiplicities such as family, community, government agencies, and all the other social/cultural, as well as natural facts in their individual and group environments, helps to explain why things outside the student can affect any writer's writing.   Writers are not independent of those external factors in their lives.   Because the rhizome is a living ecosystem this metaphor can allow us to see writing as fitting into but also affected by any physical, emotional, cognitive, social, or cultural realities it encounters. 

        The principle of asignifying rupture suggests that in the struggle to overcome error in writing, error "may be broken, shattered at a given spot, but it will start up again on one of its old lines, or on new lines.   We all have tendencies to spell certain words incorrectly- like the there, their, they're and the two, to, too families of complications even when we are absolutely aware of their different meanings.   And that doesn't begin to enumerate the number of places where error can creep in.  Every rhizome contains "lines of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialization down which it constantly flees" (Deleuze and Guattari 9).   The very complexity of language itself, with its words, phrases, sentences, and creative manipulation of those elements to make meaning creates a constant potential for asignifying rupture to occur.   Therefore, we can never gain full enough control over writing to eliminate error, whether we are the newest kindergarten student or the most advanced practitioners of writing.   We all face the fluidity, the malleability of the words which are our essential building materials for writing. 

       The principle of asignifying rupture helps us to explain why the same person who learned to read and write in grade school will need to learn to read and write again when we take away their picture books, and again, and again, as the circumstances and purposes of their writing tasks change.   In kindergarten, and the first and second grades, the students learn to hold the pencil, write in large lines with big letters, and then the size of the letters decreases, so the little fingers have to gain increased control over the pencil as those manuscript letters and their curves and straight lines form a message.   Only shortly thereafter, the students learn to write cursive and they have to learn to write all over again.   Then the simple forms of writing give way to the more complex forms for junior high and high school.   The notion that one is taught reading and writing once and that will suffice for the whole of one's life is certainly a ludicrous expectation.   Learning reading and writing are lifelong processes to which the asignifying rupture of the rhizome of writing adds great probability that something will go wrong. 

       As Deleuze and Guattari explain asignifying rupture, a rupture that disrupts signs and signifying, they describe it and the language it disrupts as operating like a and connectable to all of its dimensions; it is detachable, reversible, susceptible to constant modification.  It can be torn, reversed, adapted to any kind of mounting, reworked by an individual, group, or social formation.  It can be drawn on a wall, conceived as a work of art, constructed as a political action or as a meditation.   Perhaps one of the most important characterizations of the rhizome is that it always has multiple entryways (12).
       Deleuze and Guattari also envision the brain as operating similarly.   Their vision of the process of brain function rejects older notions of brain function as arborescent, tree-like, with a linear and clearly defined and linked movement between the synapses.  That model stood for years until the invention of positron emission tomography (PET),  magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and other kinds of brain observation techniques demonstrated that the brain can chemically and electronically activate whole regions simultaneously in response to a stimulus. 

       The old model stood from the time of Plato and Aristotle until the mid 1980s, so it is little wonder that we are still sometimes likely to think in terms of hierarchical structures for information processing of any kind.   Umberto Eco was still talking about the tree structure of information processing in his book The Open Work in 1989.   The rhetorical division of writing processes into pre-writing, invention, drafting, writing, revision, editing,  etc. comes from that hierarchically organized way of thinking about the brain and how it operates.  But the metaphor of the rhizome is more suited to how the brain actually operates.   Faced with a writing task the brain electrifies large portions of several regions simultaneously and the individual is bombarded with images occurring in disorganized fashion, pulling information, not from a neatly organized and nicely alphabetized file of remembered data, but from the rhizome and who knows what will pop up and who knows where it will pop up.    "The brain itself," Deleuze and Guattari tell us, "is much more like a grass than a tree...[with] networks of automata in which communication runs from any neighbor to any other, the stems or channels do not preexist, and all individuals are interchangable, defined only by their state at a given moment" (16-17).

Reclassifying the Category Writer as State, not Trait 

       If the writing process is rhizomic, that is also true of the ways we define writers.   We have created categories of writers such that one can only be one kind of writer at a time.   I see nothing inherently wrong with the categories, basic, practical/rhetorical, analytical/evaluative, creative, but Carl was simultaneously a basic and creative writer.    For that one piece of writing.   Whether or not he would be a basic writer or a creative writer while composing his next piece of writing is uncertain.   For that next piece of writing the demands might call upon him to switch gears and be a more rhetorically oriented writer.  Or just a practical writer, getting done what needs to be done without much analysis or political consideration.  The classification of writers should be based, not on any suggestion of permanent status which is theirs indelibly and permanently, but on "their state at a given moment" (Deleuze and Guattari 17).   At a given moment all of us can become, are, or have been basic writers.   We are always and everywhere in a state of flux as writers, expert at one moment in time, basic at another- always in a state of indeterminacy, expert when faced with a familiar writing task, basic when faced with a new task, context, or other new and significant factor, creative when we ask ourselves to let go of the familiar to allow the brain's ramblings to produce new connections, rhetorical when we take political or economic realities into consideration.   Sometimes we fit into several categories at once, like my student whose self as a writer was too large to fit neatly into only one category. 

       Deleuze and Guattari's model of the rhizome creates a space in which those categories do not have to stay put as human traits, but can be thought of instead as temporary states of being which are called on to meet specific purposes, or as responses to certain conditions, always evolving and in transition. 

It is a question of a model that is perpetually in construction or collapsing, and of a process that is perpetually prolonging itself,  breaking off and starting up again.  No, this is not a new or different dualism.  The problem of writing: in order to designate something exactly, anexact expressions are utterly unavoidable.  Not at all because it is a necessary step, or because one can only advance by approximation:  anexactitude is in no way an approximation; on the contrary, it is the exact passage of that which is under way....(20-21). 
      To put that in plain language.   The problem of language: it is impossible to use the representation of language to exactly represent something which is not language,  because of how language, and thus writing itself, works in the process of attempting to represent, a process which is ongoing.   One of the best explanations of language's ability to construct and demolish and reconstruct meaning comes from Foucault's work in Discipline and Punish, particularly his understanding that as our language changes our world view changes with it, the thinkable becomes unthinkable, the unthinkable becomes doable, and the process of transformation and change never stops. 

The Rhizome and Writing in Cyberspace 

       We need this expansive definition of the writing process, with its rhizomic qualities not just to help us to better define basic writing, but to be able to articulate the new pedagogy that is demanded of us as hypermedia and multimedia applications become part of the work of the writing teacher.   These new applications go beyond the explosion of issues that occurred when print media came onto the scene with the invention of the Gutenberg printing press.   Today our "writing" includes words in print, or spoken, sound, video, and graphics which are linked via computer to one another and to sites throughout the world.   When, in the early days of writing, pictures were introduced into texts, they were distinguished as separate contributions, author's and illustrator's.  But today, when the same person brings together all the multimedia and hypermedia elements of a vastly expanded concept of  "text," a modernist concept of text and of author doesn't suffice for the complexity introduced into what we now call "writing."    The same author brings together audio, video, and verbal elements to the point that the composing process includes non-verbal, sound and pictorial elements, all of which are considered writing.   For example, we "write" web pages no matter how many different senses are called upon to read them.   The rhizome can create a space for that sort of process, with its connections and heterogeneity, its multiplicities and asignifying ruptures, where meaning comes together and is pulled apart in kaleidoscopic progression. 

       And reading is another place where the rhizome comes in handy for definitional purposes.  The old texts were largely linear, but the new texts of the net are not.   The net is a place where linear thinking, with one correct way of processing information, and a certain set format, are disrupted by the unending flow of creativity and play that allows access from multiple points and links to multiple points.   Only a model as complex as the rhizome allows for the almost dizzying movement as students today connect to and disconnect from, overlap and layer images, shift back and forth from word processing to the Internet, a web page, a CD burner, a scanner, all while listening to their own CD's and keeping one eye on the football game on TV. 

       Only a metaphor as complex as the rhizome can handle the multitasking our students are born into as writing itself morphs into another vision of reality.   We need a way to articulate that complexity as colleges across the United States are revamping their curricula in ways which have the potential to shake our departmentalized institutions at their cores, by suddenly removing boundaries once thought to be inviolable, boundaries that have become increasingly unstable.
Today we have the choice to lead those changes or to simply follow them.    To lead the changes we must have a metaphor with which we can engage the hearts and minds of those in positions of authority, an image which arouses their, as well as our, imaginations and pushes them and us in new directions. 

       The pedagogical realities of the 21st Century are demanding new ways of framing writing.  Last week, I went into my English 112 lab ready, I had thought, to teach writing.   In the lab were newly placed digital cameras atop the students' computers, peering down at my students like electronic eyes in white cue balls.   They do not yet talk and fly like the flying balls in the Robin Williams version of Flubber, but that will not be long coming.   Before class had even started, some of my students had already figured out how to operate them.    Did, I the "writing expert" know how to use them?  Nope.   And I will make more errors than many of my students will as I learn how to use the cameras.   Our metaphors for writing instruction must include a vision wide enough to allow for the cameras atop our computers, the wireless laptops, and all the technological advances of contemporary America.   I believe the metaphor of the rhizome can provide an image which is fluid enough to adjust as those new developments enter into and affect writing in the 21st Century.    Perhaps that is why it has become a favorite of many of those who currently are writing about writing and electronic technologies like Stuart Moulthrop, Arthur Kroker, Victor Vitanza, and George Landow.   They have seen its potential utility, its ability to provide an image which can transmit the broadened understanding of writing to the imaginations of the students, teachers, researchers, and college administrators of the 21st Century.   I believe we would be wise to emulate them and use Deleuze and Guattari's metaphor of the rhizome in redefining basic writing. 

                                                  Works Cited
Deleuze, Gilles and Felix Guattari.  "Introduction: Rhizome." A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism
       and Schizophrenia.  Minneapolis: U of Minnesota P, 1987: 3-25.
Derrida, Jacques. The Post Card.  Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1987. 
DeBord, Guy.  The Society of the Spectacle.  New York: Zone Books, 1994. 
Eco, Umberto. The Open Work.  Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1989.
Foucault, Jacques. Discipline and Punish. Trans. Alan Sheridan.  New York: Vintage, 1995, 1977. 
Freire, Paulo.  Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Trans. Myra Bergman Ramos. New York: Continuum, 1996.
Kristeva, Julia.  Desire in Language.  Trans.  Thomas Gora, Alice Jardine and Leon Roudiez.
       New York: Columbia UP, 1980.
Kroker, Arthur.  "Deleuze and Guattari: Two Meditations," in The Possessed Individual.
Lacan, Jacques. "The Subversion of the Subject and the Dialectic of Desire in the Freudian
       Unconscious," in Ecrits: A Selection.  Trans. Alan Sheridan.  New York: Norton, 1977. 
Landow, George P.  Hypertext 2.0: The Convergence of Contemporary Theory and Technology.  Baltimore: 
       Johns Hopkins UP, 1997.
Lunsford, Andrea and Patricia Sullivan.  "Who Are Basic Writers?"  Moran and Jacobi 17-30.
Moran, Michael G. and Martin J. Jacobi, eds.  Research in Basic Writing: A Bibliographic Sourcebook.   New 
      York: Greenwood P, 1990.
Moulthrop, Stuart G.  "No War Machine."  April 1995 
--- .   "Rhizome and Resistance: Hypertext and the Dreams of a New Culture."  Landow 299-322. 
Shaughnessy, Mina.  Errors and Expectations: A Guide for the Teacher of Basic Writing.   New York: Oxford 
       UP, 1997. 
Smitherman, Geneva.  "CCCC's Role in the Struggle for Language Rights."   College Composition and 
       Communication 50 (Feb. 1999): 349-376.
Spivak, Gayatri.  "The Problem of Cultural Self-Representation," in The Post-Colonial Critic.  New York: 
       Routledge, 1990.
Vitanza, Victor.  "Of MOOs, Folds, and Non-Reactionary Virtual Communities," in High Wired
        Eds.Cynthia Haynes and Jan Rune Holmevik. Ann Arbor, MI: U of Michigan P., 1998: 286-310. 


Basic Writing e-Journal

Book Review Section

Review of Acts of Reading
by Patricia Harkin

Reviewed by Gerri McNenny

       Many of us in Basic Writing struggle to integrate reading instruction with the teaching of writing. Again and again in professional journals and listservs, the challenge of introducing students to a meta-cognitive understanding of how they construct readings and thereby interpret them in writing reappears.  Juggling reading selections with writing instruction can be a daunting task, involving not only the search for appropriate texts that engage readers but also those that demonstrate the variety of reading strategies they can call on. Patricia Harkin in her Acts of Reading has compiled just such a textbook for undergraduates--a startling variety of engaging texts and effective commentary that leads students to explore the interrelationships between their own constructions of texts and their written responses. In effect, Harkin attempts to demystify the process of reading by dispelling disabling preconceptions of what the reading process is all about. She does so by inviting the reader to experience those mental acts that we all engage in when we read-acts that empower us to read for difference while at the same time acknowledging shared text conventions.

       Harkin has organized Acts of Reading to reflect these competing claims on the reader by dividing it into two parts. The first section, "First Acts: Entering the Text," examines how the reader constructs texts according to those predispositions the reader brings to the process: "personality, culture, habits of speech, values, expectations, and assumptions-all of [these] play into how that reader reacts [to what she or he reads]" (xvii). As Harkin explains in her introduction, "readers make meaning. Acts of reading differ as persons differ, because of their race, gender, economic or social class, because of their regional, religious, or cultural background; or because of their sexual orientation or other, even more subtle, kinds of diversity" (xvii). The difference here lies in the ways in which difference is foregrounded as a legitimate factor influencing one's reading. Harkin's use of provocative texts and follow-up questions enable students to focus on the ways in which their positionality contributes to their reading. Unlike most textbooks on reading that fail to acknowledge these complexities of reading, Harkin's invites readers to identify the ways in which their various locations contribute to the richer possibilities of texts and the reader's ability to relate to them. 

       Her choice of texts provides ample grounds for exploring constructions of readings affected by difference. In the section on "How Readers' Diversity Leads Them to Make Different Meanings," for instance, we read a short story by Robert Frost, "Home Burial," in which a couple struggles to come to terms with the grief over a recently deceased baby in a conversation clearly coded with gendered role expectations. After reading the text, students are asked to paraphrase the story, writing as much as they can. Then, working in groups, they read their paraphrases to the group, noticing differences in the retelling and working to discover and describe as a group the ways in which readers' feelings and responses vary. Harkin then goes on to include a series of readings centered on war, all effective in drawing readers into conversations about how their situatedness affects the ways in which they read and respond to texts. Selections like Wilfred Owen's "Dulce et Decorum Est," Rupert Brooke's "The Soldier," Richard Lovelace's "To Lucasta, Going to the Wars," Amy Lowell's "Patterns," Helen Sorrels' "To a Child Born in Time of Small War," Luigi Pirandello's "War," Hemingway's "In Another Country," e.e. cummings' "I sing of Olaf glad and big," Margaret Atwood's "The Loneliness of the Military Historian," Adrienne Rich's "Dien Bien Phu," and Maya Angelou's "Martial Choreograph" all provide rich ground for exploring the ways in which feelings and one's own positionality ultimately influence a reading. Harkin instructs students in the dynamics of constructing themes and explains the subjective nature of doing so effectively through these and other texts. 

       "Part Two: Second Acts" discusses those textual guidelines that cause us to read texts in ways that we share with others, despite the differences in our cultures, genders, and racial backgrounds. Here Harkin points out those textual conventions that cause us all to take our cues from the text and thereby construct culturally shared readings. In Chapter Four, "How Language Guides Us to Configure Meaning," Harkin explores the ways in which tropes affect our understanding of texts. Here, Harkin illustrates the occurrences of metaphor, metonymy, synecdoche, and irony using the trope of the rose as it occurs in fairy tales, poetry, and narrative parody. "Intertextuality: How Texts Keep Going and Going and Going" leads readers through layer upon layer of textual constructions. Especially laudable is Chapter Eight, "Conventions of Shared Readings: How Readers Talk with One Another about Texts." Here, Harkin introduces readers to the academic conversations that go on in reviews and literary criticism. Using David Mamet's Oleanna as a jumping off point, Harkin first leads students to construct their own reviews of the play and then shares with them reviews by Elaine Showalter, John Lahr, Deborah Tannen, and others, in both formal and informal contexts. Readers can then go on to write their own reviews. 

       What really distinguishes Acts of Reading is the accuracy with which Harkin has chosen already engaging texts to enable readers to experience the various aspects of reader-response theory, a la Wolfgang Iser, around which the book is built. Selections vary from a collection of some wonderful biographical accounts and poetry that take as their topic Marilyn Monroe as a cultural icon, from Norman Mailer, Gloria Steinem, David Halberstam, Andy Warhol, and others, to reviews and responses to David Mamet's Oleanna. Harkin also introduces scores of exercises that enable the reader to experience the bases for so many of the tenets of reader-response theories. The characteristic of reading for gaps in literature, for instance, is illustrated through the use of a common news story on Thurgood Marshall's death by transforming it into a poem. By using the poetic format and contrasting this with the expectations readers bring to a typically written news report, Harkin invites readers to experience the gaps that characterize literature. 

       Most significant is the structure that Harkin sets up that opens readers up to the many strategies we call upon to read texts. Taking Wolfgang Iser's work and Kenneth Burke's rhetorical terms from A Grammar of Motives, Harkin then translates these for the undergraduate reader with clear explanations and accessible, high-interest readings. For example, after introducing readers to the hypothetical world constructed in Ursula Le Guin's "The Ones Who Walk Away from Omelas," Harkin leads readers through close readings, inferences, and extensions of the text to their own worlds, asking them to identify scapegoating from their own frame of reference, to describe and explain how the mechanism of scapegoating functions according to their readings of society. 

       The one shortfall of this text is that so many of the selections come from literary fiction. Readers are not really given enough experience reading non-fiction texts or the opportunity to apply reader-response repertoires to other genres. And while those that are chosen are enticing in their subject matter and variety, it seems that undergraduates would be better served with more opportunities to engage in non-fiction reading and to experience those texts through the critical lens that Harkin's reading theories provides. 

       Overall, though, Harkin's Acts of Reading is an excellent introduction to the subtle ways in which academia asks us to read differently. In reading and responding to these selections, we experience the psychological reality of Iser's reader-response theories and thereby acquire those repertoires of reading that give us a more critical awareness of the ways in which we buy into the worlds constructed by texts and yet are able to resist them through the experience of our own positionality and difference. As such, Acts of Reading offers an enriching introduction to the experience of college-level reading and joins it nicely to an awareness of how reading and writing can work together. 

Review of COMP Tales
by Richard H. Haswell and Min-Zhan Lu (Eds.)

Reviewed by Marcia Ribble

       Richard H. Haswell and Min-Zhan Lu add yet another important text to a growing literature in composition and rhetoric.   The connection between the personal and the political is explored most powerfully as composition practitioners tell profoundly moving stories of their lives in the classroom.  In this enticing volume of stories about the profession, Haswell and Lu expand the professional tales of the field like those in Duane H. Roen, Stuart C. Brown, and Theresa Enos' Living Rhetoric and Composition: Stories of the Discipline.   Rather than focusing on the larger stories as Roen, Brown, and Enos and their contributors  have, Haswell and Lu shift the light of importance onto the small tales, the little occasions, the minor keys of everyday life in the profession.  And in doing so, they create a space for more of these small stories to be valued and told.  Lu notes in her afterward that 

Several contributors risk revealing aspects of self and work which defy dominant notions of what college writing teachers and the teaching of writing should be like.  Together they pose diverse, innovative ways of addressing the challenges of writing down an oral tale against the grain of dominant networks of power, concerns, and desires" (207). 
      Reading these stories of life in composition,  what stirs me most deeply isn't the politics of composition, but the humanity of both the scholars and their students.   It is the most "real" set of stories about the profession that I've encountered in over fifteen years in the classroom.   Suddenly I am face-to-face with my own emotions, emotions often dismissed as unprofessional, but basic to any assessment of what really goes on as we teach composition.  Those emotions not only betray the mythos of self-confidence that often convinces us that we dare not tell our stories because we're supposed to always know what to do and how to do it, but connect us to the story-tellers at the same time.   They are, quite amazingly, us with our egos and secrets exposed. 

       Tale 1 begins that unravelling of myth when Georgia Newman acknowledges how shocked she was to discover that in her class one student was prisoner, another his jailer, and they were working together on the class' writing assignments (5-6).   Hers was not the "civilized" writing class of our imaginations, with its students who come with a love of writing and who are already engaged in learning to write, but a jarring introduction to the students we encounter who resent the required aspect of composition classes at many colleges and universities.   This is not a book about abstract theories of composition, but a clear mucking about in the everyday digs which attempt to discover truths about the archeological construction of knowledge.   This everyday practice of our professions is not a-theoretical, it is clearly theory in practice with muddy feet peeking out from beneath academic robes. 

       We can see the unwashed nature of many comp tales in Dawn Skorsczewski's tale in which her teachering preparation hasn't prepared her to involve her students.   She does all the things her education has prepared her to do, while the students sit, disengaged and bored.  I could feel her need to find something-anything-which would interest her students, along with her relief when her students finally respond to the readings through her use of a different teaching strategy.   I felt enormous empathy with her statement that "I learned it was me, not my students, who had the most to learn in basic writing" (12).  I too have been in that classroom of non-responsive students, struggling to find a way to break through to them.   And I have spent troubled, sleepless nights asking myself, "What on earth will work with these kids?" 

       A few pages later, I am suddenly with U of Michigan grad student Kenneth Davis as he faces a classroom of students at Jackson Prison in Michigan.   "I found myself faced by two dozen inmates," he tells us, "all convicted murderers, rapists, armed robbers, all in drab prison uniforms, all in the bizarre haircuts, beards, and tattoos that you find only on cons and ex-cons" (18).   I imagine my fears in that position, my lack of knowing a way to communicate with people I can't profess to understand.    I laugh nervously with him at the assignment he gave which didn't make any sense to those prisoners; and feel his sense of relief when the prisoners laugh, too, instead of doing any of the things one might imagine them doing.   Not only does Davis become human to me, those prisoners suddenly become students who want to learn to write, perhaps more than our more privileged students do. 

       Davis' story takes me back to my own first days of teaching, the remembrance of sweat slithering down my back as I feared alternatively that I would not be able to speak and that I would not be able to stop talking.  And I, too, have felt as Traci Augustosky  did, fully understanding her later statement that "I think some of us approached teaching with the expectation that we would have a class full of ourselves- you know, students who thought, acted, and performed as we did when we were Comp 101 neophytes" (20).   I remember all the implications that emotional response brings.   I recall many teaching seminars where we discussed the nuts and bolts of teaching, the assignments, the grading, the texts and readings, but almost never the students.   No one raised the issues that interacting with real human beings will force us to deal with.   No mention was ever made of the three large men in the back of the class practicing teacher baiting on a female graduate teaching assistant weighing all of ninety-three pounds.  Or the suicidal student.   The student with cancer.   The student coming out as gay.   But Haswell and Lu's book prepares you
for the unexpected. 

       Going back through the book, I examine my own marginalia, and realize how much the book  makes me feel connected to others who have struggled to grade papers, deal with resistant students, or explain what it means to teach writing.   Duane Roen told someone, "'I direct the Writing Program at Syracuse University'" only to have the person reply, "'Do you use the Palmer Method?'" (104).   With me they usually say, "Oh, I guess I'll have to mind my grammar," as though I were a member of the grammar police. 

       In some essential ways, Haswell and Lu's collection of stories answers the questions most grad students ask about whether they really belong in composition.   That question is resolved when students realize that the writers of the anecdotes are expressing pretty much the same emotions they've felt under similar circumstances. Comp Tales reassures students that, yes, comp professionals care about what happens to their students.  Comp professionals worry about the consequences of their teaching decisions.  And many comp teachers feel that the teaching of writing is not only a contractual obligation, but also a profound moral and social obligation which can create a lasting impact on students' lives. 

       Anne Herrington's assessment later in the book that "this collection invites critical re-examination of the stories we tell and retell" (177) also pushes me to ask what stories we never valued, never told anyone because we didn't think they were important or interesting to anyone else.  Perhaps the most important contribution of this seemingly little book of little stories is to suggest that many more stories of the day-to-day life of practicing compositionists are valuable and interesting than are told, particularly in print.  Because they valued those small stories Haswell and Lu have opened the door to more of them and they did it in a particularly useful way, including the stories of graduate students, part-timers and less well known practitioners as well as those whose names are already familiar to composition students.   By doing that, they have acknowledged that all of us who teach composition have important stories whose telling enriches the field. 

       In some fascinating ways, Haswell and Lu's Comp Tales hearkens back to the early days of Peter
Elbow and others who argued that one of the primary functions of teaching writing is to open writing to the voices of those who have previously been marginalized and therefore unheard.   It picks up a familiar claim in the work of Mina Shaughnessy which is still being given articulation in the work of people like James Berlin, Ira Shor, and Victor Villanueva.   But Comp Tales doesn't simply theorize about opening the forum of the written text to the marginalized; it also actively sought  out the stories of marginalized members of the composition community.  And it published them, not in the spoken for and anonymous representation of an  ethnographic account, but in fully self-representational acknowledgment of their unique human selves in their own words. 

       Recently, compositionists such as Deborah Mutnick and Marilyn Sternglass have argued that we need to move toward the practice of autoethnography and its ability to make spaces for our adult basic writing students to speak in their own names and with their own voices.   That movement received a huge vote of encouragement from Haswell and Lu's Comp Tales which follows the literary rather than sociological model of representation.   In the autoethnographic literary model of representation, the writer speaks for herself, telling her own story.  In contrast, in the ethnographic model of sociology the storyteller is never allowed to simply tell his or her own story, but must always be represented by an autocratic outsider other/observer whose analysis of the storyteller is given authoritative supremacy.    That is not to say that autoethnographers do not critically analyze those stories. Haswell and Lu do construct analyses of the stories they have collected.  However they don't speak for the storytellers as is done in the ethnographic model.  Instead they allow the storytellers to speak, uninterrupted until after their stories are told.  Only at the end of chapters and in two chapters following the stories do Haswell and Lu discuss and analyze the stories told.    Theirs is a model of respect for one's subjects in action, a highly ethical treatment of the lives and stories of others.

       I highly recommend this book for all graduate students in composition as a model of inclusionary
writing practices, as a model for theorizing composition from practice, as a model of emotional response to one's work, and as a model of respectful and ethical autoethnographic representation of subject positions.   I also recommend it to those who have taught for years and who will recognize themselves in many of the stories as they deal on a daily basis with the complex and often unanswerable questions we ask on our professional listservs. 

       But I especially recommend Comp Tales to those who have reached the stage of skeptically asking themselves why they ever bothered to make the teaching of composition their life's work- in these stories they will rediscover their younger selves and perhaps find the will to recommit themselves to work they, at least at one time, loved. 

Review of Ways of Thinking, Ways of Teaching
by George Hillocks

Reviewed by Alan Meyers

       Few researchers or theorists have influenced our views of teaching composition as profoundly as has George Hillocks, Jr. of the University of Chicago. In his landmark Research on Written Communication (1986), which presents a meta-analysis of the 75 most important studies, Hillocks contends that the most effective approach to writing instruction is through what he terms an "environmental approach" that actively engages students in processes of discovery and collaboration. And in his Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice (1995), Hillocks offers a blueprint for actually implementing the environmental approach.

       In his latest book, Ways of Thinking, Ways of Teaching (1999), Hillocks examines-literally-the philosophies and practices of real classroom instructors. Or, to put it in terms of the book's title, Hillocks explores the relationship between how an instructor thinks and how she teaches. Is the instructor optimistic or pessimistic about her students' abilities? Does she believe that students learn best as they discover for themselves or as they take notes in a classroom lecture? When a lesson fails, does she revisit her assumptions, adjust her approach, or simply blame the students? These are the kind of questions that many of us have been addressing over the last two decades. John N. Gardner, for example, states in a recent interview that the focus in writing instruction has been shifting from "what do I want to teach?" to "how do students learn?" and "what do they need to learn?" (Spann 23). 

       Not surprisingly, Hillocks finds that the most successful teachers are optimistic, flexible, and discovery-oriented. They foster a "constructionist" environment in the classroom, in which learners relate what is new to what they already know, thus constructing their own meanings and practices. The teacher as facilitator oversees group work or leads discussions in which she asks "authentic" questions, prompting students to explain and explore their own ideas. Conversely, for Hillocks, the least successful teachers are pessimistic, rigid, and presentation-oriented. They take an "objectivist" view of learning: that knowledge is objective and should merely be conveyed to the students. The teachers convey that information through "declarative" activities-that is, explaining things-in a "frontal" approach, lecturing to students and asking "inauthentic" questions, to which the teachers have preconceived answers (17-20,28-29, 43-45, 76-80).  I suspect that few of us will disagree with Hillocks's assessment.  And most of us will find his classifications provide a useful vocabulary for identifying classroom activities. 

       The most persuasive parts of Hillocks's book, however, reside in specific illustrations of these classifications.  Hillocks profiles actual teachers: eight or nine of them in-depth and numerous others in small vignettes.  He transcribes their classroom presentations, their interchanges with students, and their discussions with interviewers prior to and following the classroom visits.  And, of course, he comments on these transcriptions, contrasting the good with the bad and the ugly.  To gather these profiles, Hillocks conducted a two-year study of twenty teachers: one from a high school and the other nineteen from a large urban community college district.  Further, he codifies and quantifies their activities in charts, statistics, and other data about the type and duration of activities in the classroom.  The result is a specific and meticulously documented argument.

       Only two of the instructor profiles ("Mr. Gow" and "Mr. Green") demonstrate exemplary classroom performance-while the performance of the others ranges from competent, to adequate, to somewhat incompetent, or (in the case of "Professor Dobbs") to downright scary.  The exemplary profiles inspire us; the others distress us, and distress Hillocks as well.  He concludes, therefore, that the outlook for change in our profession is gloomy:

Change will be a matter of far more than learning new methods of teaching or instituting a new curriculum for teachers to follow. Teachers who have adopted an objectivist stance and who are not optimistic about their students will have no reason to change. Because they so seldom engage in reflective practice, they have little evidence of any need to change. (134)
       That's what Hillocks says in this book, and one must applaud his scholarship and fervent commitment to improving our profession. But Hillocks doesn't tell the whole story. 

       How do I know?

       Because I participated in the study. 

       No, I am not the subject of one of the profiles, but, from first-hand knowledge, I can offer some criticisms of what Hillocks presents in the book. And I'll start with the most important criticism:  The study is eleven years old. 

       In 1987, nineteen English instructors from seven urban community colleges were invited to enroll in Hillocks's course in the teaching of writing, in exchange for which they agreed to be observed and interviewed prior to and after their participation in the course.  The study concluded in 1988, more than a decade before the publication of Hillocks's book.  While the lag in publication does not obviate his point about the traits of effective and ineffective teaching, it cannot purport to describe the state of the profession today.  I can only speculate about the reasons for the protracted delay: Complications in collating and analyzing the massive amounts of data?  Other projects intervening?  Difficulties in finding a publisher?  Whatever the case, the study must be viewed in its proper context: as a snapshot of teachers in the early stages of a developing profession.  In 1987, research on effective practices was somewhat fragmentary and not broadly understood (indeed, Hillocks's own Research on Written Composition had been published only the year before). 

       Which leads to my next criticism of the study: Although Hillocks purports to examine the practices of "composition" instructors, most of the participants were not teaching freshman composition.  We were teaching courses labeled English 98 and English 100-in other words, Basic Writing.  Somewhat blindly, or with Mina Shaughnessy as our beacon, we directed our attentions toward the correction of error.  Thus with the best of intentions (at least I would hope) many of us gently, kindly, stressed form over content.  Our portraits from that time may not be attractive, but were they really out of step with the era?  Were we true transgressors, incapable of redemption? 

       I think not.  Let me cite as evidence, for example, the confession of no less a reformed sinner than Patricia Bizzell, from the Spring 2000 issue of JBW.  Two decades ago, she says, many teachers regarded basic writers as "cognitively deficient" people who "could not write Standard English correctly and who were unfamiliar with academic discourse forms."  Even a decade later, she admits, the progressive researchers and theorists (herself included) defined basic writers "by the seemingly obvious fact that they do not produce Standard English and traditional academic discourse."  The progressives viewed this inability of BW students to produce the standard forms "as a problem that needs to be remedied." (4-5).   But that was then and this is now. So while Hillocks's portraits of ineffective basic writing instructors may still be recognizable today, I suspect they occupy a small part of a more attractive picture. 

      Yet another criticism I wish to make goes to the heart of the book's central thesis: that most bad teachers suffer from a negative attitude.  Of course, many unsuccessful teachers lack talent and vision, but-and more importantly-they probably also lack proper training.  Everyone learns from models, so when the models are imperfect or misleading, the learners will either follow them unquestioningly or seek their own alternatives.  We participants in the study, literature and journalism majors all, had been schooled largely in "presentational" methods of instruction.  Yes, most of us carried the appropriate reformer credentials of the 1960s when we entered the teaching ranks.  We rebelled, we experimented, we used the Macrorie method, we read Jonathan Holt and James Herndon and Postman and Weingartner.  Nevertheless, what was most familiar to us was what lecture-discussion, skill-and-drill, search and destroy errors.  Peer groups, process, and portfolios loomed over the horizon, but they still were not clearly in our sights.

       Let me make one final, and, I think, significant criticism of Hillocks's work: It does not report on the original goals of the study.  As the project was described to the participants, the primary measure of our methodology would be the performance of our students.  That performance would be measured though pre- and post-test instruments, in this case, fifty-minute impromptu argumentative papers incorporating data supplied in the prompt.  Nowhere in Hillocks's book, however, are these results tabulated or even alluded to.  Perhaps he omitted the data because he found the individual portraits more compelling; perhaps he discovered that the performance of the students did not vary significantly, irrespective of each teacher's approach. I, for one, found no correlation between these impromptus and the goals of my English 100 course, which did not include the writing of argument.  So I suspect that my students probably did not fare well.  Whatever the case, though, any of Hillocks's claims about the traits of successful teaching must ultimately regarded as unproven. 

       That doesn't mean I think Hillocks is wrong.  In fact, I can provide some recent performance measures to substantiate his claims.  Here are a few of last semester's statistics from my department's end-of-term writing sample.  The sample attempts to assess our performance in achieving the stated goals of English 101: that students can engage in a writing process which produces a coherent essay in response to a reading.  To that end, we allow each student three hours to compose and revise an impromptu essay, either by hand or by computer (the latter of which most students choose).  I'll begin with the results of one of the teachers ("Professor Kramer") profiled in Hillocks' book.  He characterizes her as a competent and optimistic instructor of English 98 who combines "formal discourse knowledge, for example, the characteristics of "a good paragraph" with concern for what students are trying to express (103).  Hillocks offers no data on her effectiveness, but I, as her department chair, can supply some compelling statistics: in her two 101 classes last term, thirty-seven students passed and one failed.

       Now, I'll contrast Professor Kramer's results with those of another colleague ("Mr. Green") portrayed in Hillocks' book.  It is Mr. Green who receives the greatest praise from Hillocks, for Green's use of the story workshop approach in an English 100 class yields remarkable results-at least in terms of observable classroom behavior, if not in the actual writing of the students.  Hillocks commends Mr. Green's "positive attitude toward his students," his "decisions to develop what they say" that make "the students' thinking a crucial part of the knowledge-building process," and his ability to make the students partners in the teaching and learning process. Hillocks concludes: "In a very real sense, teacher and students are constructing knowledge together." (86).  Having worked with "Mr. Green" for over three decades, I concur that he is indeed a master of the story workshop approach.  When observing his creative writing class, I was mesmerized by the intensity of observation, precision of language, and brilliance of insight that he is able to elicit from his students.  As evidence of his success, I can cite the large number of students who have published works they produced in his creative writing classes.

       However, I cannot cite any data on end-of-term writing samples from Mr. Green's English 100 or English 101 from last semester, or, for that matter, from any semester in the twelve years following his participation in the Hillocks study.  The reason is simple: throughout that time, Mr. Green has not chosen to teach either of those courses.  And it is this fact that I regard as most troubling.  Throughout academia, how many Mr. Greens, despite their abundant gifts and breadth of knowledge, have refused to teach the at-risk students who most clearly could benefit from these talents?  These senior faculty have abandoned that role to the few dedicated Professor Kramers, but more often to the teaching assistants and to the overextended adjuncts who patch together five or six courses per term at several colleges in a geographical area. 

       As a teacher of basic writing, ESL, and first-year composition, I am grateful for the contribution George Hillocks has made to our profession-and, on a more personal level, to his contribution to my own personal growth. But, unlike George Hillocks, I am not gloomy about the prospects for change in teacher attitude toward their writing classes.  I am gloomier about the prospects for institutional change, change that will put our most gifted teachers into these same classes and reward them with full-time jobs and a modicum of professional respect. Hillocks does not address that issue, which today I regard as the most important one. 

Works Cited

Bizzell, Patricia. "Basic Writing and the Issue of Correctness, or, What To Do with the 'Mixed' Forms of Academic 
       Discourse."  Journal of Basic Writing 19.1(2000): 4-12
Herndon, James. How to Survive in Your Native Land. Bantam, 1971.
---. The Way It Spozed to Be.  Bantam, 1965.
Hillocks, George, Jr.  Research on Written Composition.  NCTE, 1986.
--- Teaching Writing as Reflective Practice. Teachers College Press, 1995.
Holt, John. How Children Fail. Dell, 1964.
---. How Children Learn. Dell, 1967.
Macrorie, Ken. Telling Writing. 4th Edition. Boyton-Cook, 1985. 
Postman, Neil and Charles Weingartner.  The Soft Revolution.  Dell, 1971.
Shaughnessy, Mina P. Errors & Expectations. Oxford, 1977.
Spann, Milton "Bunk." Rethinking Developmental Education: A Conversation with John N. Gardner. Journal of 
       Developmental Education 24.1 (2000): 22-29.


Review of Rethinking Basic Writing
By Laura Gray-Rosendale

Reviewed by Cynthia Walker

       Laura Gray-Rosendale, in her book Rethinking Basic Writing: Exploring Identity, Politics, and Community in Action, offers readers a history of Basic Writing Scholarship, followed by a focus on Basic Writing students themselves, and, finally, explores areas of future practical and research interest in basic writing studies.  By moving from the theoretical to the personal, Gray-Rosendale provides a voice for Basic Writing students nationwide, putting in written form their concerns, their maneuvering through academic writing, and actual examples of the students' writings.

       Her major concern is what can Basic Writers do?  Instead of trying to identify "who" is or "who" is not a Basic Writer, Gray-Rosendale shows how four basic writers: Malika, Chantal, Becky and Ted are placed into a situation and encouraged to empower themselves and develop "their own voices (which likely involved coming to grips with issues of ethnicity, race, gender, and class) as well as perceptions of their audience" (60).  By following these students throughout the six-week Summer Institute program at Syracuse University, Gray-Rosendale demonstrates how the use of oral composing activities - brainstorming, freewriting, mapping, and reading groups - are as integral to the writing process as student's written text and peer revision.

       While only three chapters in length, Rethinking Basic Writing follows the usual dissertation format.  Chapter One deals with a history of written and spoken discourse, noting the separate domains each has been relegated to within the context of language research.  Following this, she provides an analysis of the research dealing with Social Constructionist Theory in both the written and spoken language.  This analysis provides a stepping stone for Gray-Rosendale's research, proving the need for researchers to adopt a new analytical framework which draws "parallels between their [basic writers] written products and their oral interactions" (53).

       By applying the analytic framework developed in Chapter 1, Gray-Rosendale moves into Chapter 2, a study of the progress of "Basic Writing Students' oral competencies and their sustained work in constructing conventions within their everyday speech" (56) and the ways these oral competencies and conversational structures "inform their writing choices" (56).  Her integration into the chosen group of students that she studies allows the reader a very clear picture of the actual oral presentation of students within the context of their producing written text, noting that these interactions are probably not natural occurrences for students who are classified as Basic Writers.  These transcripts are interrupted by analysis which seeks to "elucidate alternative models for examining Basic Writers' progresses" (72), fluidly moving through the interaction of students on Stage 1 drafts, Stage 2 drafts, and Portfolio drafts.

      Gray-Rosendale draws several conclusions that need to be evaluated by all instructors of Basic Writers:

1. The Value of Peer Revision Groups for Basic Writers
2. How Conversation Makes Certain Writing Choices Possible
3. The Conversational Structures in Writing
4. Challenges to Scholarly Identity Constructions: Constructions of New Identities Through Speech and 
5. Challenges to Institutional Constructions of Basic Writers Through Speech and Writing (148-52)
      These conclusions encourage each instructor involved with Basic Writers to rethink current pedagogies and practices, challenging us to listen to our students and what they have to say about themselves and their literacy.  We need to "design more courses in Basic Writing that do not talk down to students who participate in them . . . this will mean that we enable these students to look at the scholarly and rhetorical written work about them and their lives . . . we need to allow students to see the ways in which our scholarship represents them . . . [and] allow students a way to challenge this scholarship and have a greater say in our scholarly work" (Gray-Rosendale 167).

      These conclusions force us to examine how institutions work with Basic Writers and evaluate new theoretical models that will analyze the joining of written texts and the conversations of Basic Writers.  This idea is the focus of Chapter 3.  Discussing implications for Basic Writing Programs, classes, and assignments, Gray-Rosendale provides some direction for developing pedagogical practices that will prove beneficial for Basic Writers while not "dictating the exact nature of those pedagogical practices" (165).   This book is a must read for all instructors committed to the teaching and advancement of Basic Writing pedagogies.


Review of Literacy Matters: Writing and Reading the Social Self 
by Robert P. Yagelski

Reviewed by Susan Loudermilk

       I am sitting in my den reading Literacy Matters: Writing and Reading the Social Self by Robert P. Yagelski.  On the television in the background is continuous coverage of the Olympics and all the commercial opportunities that come along with such an event.  One commercial catches my attention.  A girl-from-the-local-area-made-good appears citing a litany of one-liners about the power of education.  The power of education she tells the audience, is "the opportunity to follow your dreams . . . the ability to choose the path you want . . . stronger than gangs and drugs . . . a fair chance to compete for jobs."  This is the promise of the power of education, or in other words, what literacy will buy you these days.  This, I think to myself, is a perfect example of what Yagelski wants us to become aware of. 

       Yagelski takes us into many of his own pedagogical experiences-as a son, student, teacher, parent; as a teacher of high school and college students, and prison inmates; as a trainer of other teachers and a contributor to theoretical discussions in the field of rhetoric/composition-in order to illustrate how limiting our beliefs about literacy are and how those limitations affect our students.  He is very concerned with what our views of literacy lead students to believe about themselves and our culture and how our views of literacy, much like those espoused by the young girl in the commercial, "limit" our pedagogical practices, and as a result limit student learning. Yagelski points out that our democratic ideals that lead us to believe in individual opportunity and self reliance as the keys to literacy and education are in fact "limiting," and the ways we try to teach in terms of those ideals are "full of inherent contradictions." He says of his experience teaching prison inmates, that "even as I struggled to teach some of the men about sentence boundaries, I worried that the lessons I offered them only reinforced the ways in which literacy continued to marginalize them."  Yagelski reminds us that "literacy is not about equality," and there is where the myths of our democratic ideals break down for so many students. 

       The book is seemingly a response to the statement by one of Yagelski's students, Abby, who "doesn't believe she matters."  In spite of being told that she can make a difference if she learns to read and write and voice her opinions through our democratic system, her reality tells her differently.  She, like many of our students, deals with so many other factors that contradict these lofty promises that we often parade in front of our students.  Yagelski proceeds from this "dare," in one sense of the word, to show Abby that she does matter, and that "a critical understanding of literacy" (emphasis my own) can help her to succeed if she can find a place of agency for herself within those discourses that she functions both through and against.  His view of literacy is a poststructuralist analysis that explains literacy as a "local" act that students engage in in order to "claim agency for themselves." 

       As I read Yagelski's book, I experienced several "Yes" moments, especially as I read his discussions regarding how we measure student learning based on our beliefs about literacy.  One of these yes moments came early in the book when Yagelski explained what he would discuss in Chapter 2 of the book, the "contradictions" that literacy myths create in the curriculum of our schools.  He says that "to continue to understand literacy primarily as basic skills that reflect individual cognitive abilities simply cannot lead to curricula that will enable students to develop the kind of understanding of literacy and the writing and reading abilities" that truly represent literacy.  "What's more," he continues, "these simplistic beliefs about literacy can be downright destructive.  Because they ignore the complex and ambiguous nature of literacy and its social and political uses, they can result in . . . oppression" (emphasis my own). One implicit message of Yagelski's argument focuses on a very important issue-how we measure literacy.  He argues for changes in our view of literacy that will cause a change in the way we structure the school curriculum, to change "the narrowness of the implicit conception of literacy that drives the curriculum," including the testing measures built into the curriculum and the meaning of and  decisions attached to those test results.

       In the state of Texas where I live and work, testing literacy is an often debated topic as we sink further and further into the trap of objective measurements of learning, while at the same time espousing subjective beliefs about how students learn.  In my own recent pedagogical experience, I had to conduct a workshop for future teachers to try to help them pass one such objective test, one gate set up by the gatekeepers to keep non-literate individuals out of the classroom.  The introductions to the test go on about how we want our classrooms to be student centered, humanistic rather than positivistic.  Yet in order to be a teacher, the real message given by the test is that you have to perform not as an individual subject, but as a "normed" object that (and I purposely use that rather than who) possesses the basic skills that all teachers must have.  Yagelski's argues that "the infuriating paradox" in such instances, "is that students are assessed as individual writers, as individuals possessing certain 'basic' literacy skills, yet those literacy skills are conceived and assessed in such a way as to allow for virtually no individuality or variance related to an individual student's experiences and background." The definition of literacy that drives most of the curriculum in place in the schools today, focuses on "traditional school literacy activities."  It is such a focus, Yagelski argues, and I heartily second, that can prevent us as teachers from giving our students the experiences they need to become literate individuals who can function beyond mastering "traditional school literacy activities." 

       Yagelski's conception posits literacy as always being "local" in the sense that each of our students bring "unique" experiences when they come into our classrooms.  Yagelski expands on his definition by taking us into his "local" experience with student writers in order to play out his definition of literacy.  The writing samples he shares from his students are not that much different from writing that most of us have probably encountered in our teaching experiences.  However, the lens that Yagelski places over these situations helps us to see those local realities in the writing that we may have been unaware of for so long.  He also asks us to examine what we believe we are doing when we teach writing, to examine the "classroom activities" that we use, and to ask ourselves whether we reinforce the "myths" of literacy and thus create an environment for our students that becomes "oppressive" and perhaps even "destructive."  Yagelski points out that even those social/cultural factors that we may pride ourselves in acknowledging in our teaching-gender, race-may limit us from understanding the "local" situations of our students, because even within these categories, students have different "local" experiences that shape the reading and writing discourse communities they encounter in our classes.  He also discusses the effect that "new literacy technologies" may have on our definitions of literacy and warns us not to develop a "limited" view of literacy technologies that is driven by the larger "limiting" literacy myths. 

       In his discussion, Yagelski seeks to answer questions he poses in Chapter 1 as he tries to prove to Abby that she does matter.  Questions such as, "What does literacy mean to Abby as she enters this often frightening world?  How can literacy help her make sense of and negotiate-and change-that world?"  Literacy, Yagelski reminds us again and again, is not about equality; critical literacy is, however, about finding agency in one's local scene in order to have a chance to achieve an equality that empowers the subject of the agency.  We must think of our students not as objects of instruction but as subjects of their own local situations so that they can create a place of agency for themselves in their worlds. 

       In the end he comes back to where he started-knowing that "ambivalence" exists between what we know we want literacy to accomplish for our students, and also knowing that the contexts within which they exercise that literacy, the "local," can also compete against those goals. By changing our understanding of literacy, by embracing the idea of a critical literacy, we can provide opportunities that will give students a better chance at understanding and functioning within those competing discourses.  The importance of this book is that we get this message out to the larger community in order to effect a change in beliefs about literacy that will result in changes in school curricula.  This is not an easy task, but perhaps Yagelski's book, and many others that present equally impelling calls to take note of literacy issues, will draw us closer to beginning those discussion

Review of Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique
By Bruce Horner

Reviewed by Rachelle M. Smith

       For those of us who absolutely love theory, Bruce Horner's new book Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique is a delicious read.  I read the book in small bites over the course of six successive trips to Denny's, my favorite hangout to work away from the distractions of home, especially since they are so good about keeping my coffee cup filled.  In this engaging critique, Horner identifies six keywords-work, students, politics, academic, traditional, and writing-as sites for "competing constructions of Composition's identity" (xv).  These terms serve as chapter titles, allowing Horner to group ongoing debates in composition, such as whether or not we should teach explicitly 'politicized" courses, the social equity of basic writing programs versus "mainstreaming" remedial students in composition courses, or our ambivalence toward professionalization versus teaching in composition.

       Horner's critiques are as satisfying as a hot fudge sundae.  I found myself smiling with self-recognition as I read his dead-on analysis of how differently we academics view "our work," the scholarly production we engage in, versus the other "work" we do, such as grading student papers (5-7).  What made the moment particularly ironic was that I myself had just finished grading a stack of persuasive essays written by my Honors Composition II students.  Filled with the self-congratulation of the righteous, I had no sooner packed away the students' papers than I pulled out Horner's book.  I had begun to read chapter one, "Work," with somewhat guilty pleasure, despite feeling vindicated because I had done my grading and could now turn with a clean conscience to "my own work."  Imagine my chagrin when I realized it was this very practice that I had just enacted that Horner addresses first in this powerful materialist critique of composition.  Any text that can provide us with such clear insight into our everyday academic lives is a must for everyone engaged in teaching, especially in the university. 

       Yet even those among us for whom 'theory" is a dirty word, who run screaming from works where such terms as "teleological," "elided," and "reification" appear, will nonetheless find Horner's book an indispensable addition to their knowledge of the field.  In the above example, Horner places the "work" we do back into its social and historical context in order to reveal such activities as grading students papers as real labor, labor that is central to our role in the university and therefore on par with scholarly publication. Although we already know this to be true, and recognize how unfair the academy often is to both teachers and students for not valuing more the hard work that goes on in the classroom, Horner's critique reveals aspects of the situation not previously considered.  Horner argues that compositionists have responded to this devaluation of teaching, as opposed to scholarship, by either confining their knowledge-producing activities to their experience in class, or by seeking to distance themselves from the classroom to the point that they no longer even teach composition (15).  According to Horner, however, both positions in this often-bitter debate ignore the material social conditions that ground composition.  Those who choose to focus on the classroom risk ignoring "the wide range of writing practices outside the academy" such as "community writing groups, literary clubs, lyceums," and other non-academic sites for composition (17).  Yet those who choose to focus on professionalization, claiming for themselves "expertise" in composition studies, run the risk of having the "work" of teaching composition placed squarely back on their own shoulders by non-composition faculty (17).  For Horner, the solution lies in our resistance to the academy's commodification of our intellectual labor.  He argues for a simultaneous and individual, institution by institution, negotiation of both working conditions and the value placed upon the work produced under those conditions (26-29).  Theoretical critique, when it is done as well as Horner does it here, is worth the occasional struggle with terminology. 

       Terms of Work for Composition rewards the average composition teacher and scholar who reads it with perspectives on a wide range of topics in the field.  Horner turns his powerful gaze on issues that are both enduring and timely, from the definition of academic discourse to potential problems for those who teach online courses. Want a new perspective on why you feel so cheated by the university, even after tenure?  Read chapter 6, "Politics."  Do you long for someone to explain to you why, despite all those frustrating hours spent trying to untangle freshman prose, you nonetheless look forward to next semester's Composition II course?  Read chapter 4, "Academic."  Do you secretly pray for the opportunity to teach something other than the same old research assignment semester after semester?  Read chapter 6, "Writing."  While I may disagree with some of Horner's conclusions, he does get to the heart of many of our conflicting attitudes and practices in composition studies.

       Bruce Horner's Terms of Work for Composition: A Materialist Critique is not an easy read.  It does, however, reward even the most jargon-phobic with a dense, rich critique of discursive constructions of composition.  The benefit?  Truly new ways of viewing ourselves, our students, and the work we do each day.

       This is a smart book.  Read it.


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