Dialogue on Writing: Rethinking ESL, Basic Writing, and First-Year Composition

By Geraldine Deluca; Len Fox et al. | Go to book overview

Part I
Teaching Writing

Who are our students? When they enter our classrooms, what do they need from us? When we read the newspapers on the state of education in the United States today, we often get a sense of disaster. The gap between the rich and poor is widening. The college students of the affluent come from private schools or well-funded suburban public systems, and they are receiving ever more elaborately enriched educations. At the same time, the poor and working class barely get by, often holding jobs for many hours per week and trying to squeeze their classes and their studies into the few precious hours left. Conservative commentators say these students are not ready to be in the university. But if the public schools and their communities have failed them, or if they are members of a different culture, speakers of a different language, and we bar the doors, then what happens? Our politicians declare that every young person should have the chance to go to college. If this is something we really believe, then how do we go about making it happen? And once they are there, what do we teach them?

As Mike Rose demonstrates in his introduction to Lives on the Boundary, our sense of disaster may rest on flawed memories of a better age—an age that never dreamed of educating so many people on such a large scale.

In 1890, 6.7 percent of America's fourteen- to seventeen-year-olds were attending high school; by 1978, that number had risen to 94.1 percent…. In the 1930s “functional illiteracy” was defined by the Civilian Conservation Corps as a state of having three or more years of schooling;…by 1960 the Office of Education was setting the eighth grade as a benchmark…. In the United States [in 1989] just over 75 percent of our young people complete high school; in Sweden 45 to 50 percent complete the gymnasium (grades 11 to 12); in the [former] Federal Republic of Germany about 15 percent are enrolled in the Oberprima (grade 13). In 1900 about 4 percent of American eighteen- to twenty-two-year-olds attended college; by the late 1960s, 50 percent of eighteento-nineteen-year-olds were entering some form of postsecondary education. Is

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