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

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

Chapter 4
Collaboration, Conversation,
and Reacculturation
Ken Bruffee

Kenneth A. Bruffee is Professor of English and Director of the Scholars Program and the Honors Academy at Brooklyn College, City University of New York. He has been a member of the editorial advisory board of Liberal Education, and he was the first Chair of the Modern Language Association Teaching of Writing Division and the founding editor of WPA, the Journal of the National Council of Writing Program Administrators. His publications include Collaborative Learning: Higher Education, Interdependence and the Authority of Knowledge (The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2nd ed. 1999); A Short Course in Writing (Longman, 4th ed., 1992); Elegiac Romance: Cultural Change and Loss of the Hero in Modern Fiction (Cornell University Press, 1983); and a series of articles in Liberal Education, College English, and Change on collaborative learning, liberal education, and the authority of knowledge. The following selection is from Collaborative Learning.

Once upon a time, many years ago, a time when the youngest faculty member at most colleges and universities today had not yet entered puberty, a young assistant professor at one of those colleges was assigned a task that was in those days de rigueur for low level English Department types. He was asked to become Director of Freshman English. Feeling flattered, having a modicum of interest in teaching writing, but lacking even the most rudimentary sense of caution, and in any case not having a great deal of choice in the matter, he agreed. The year was 1971. The college was Brooklyn College. The young assistant professor was me. And at the City University of New York, of which Brooklyn College is a constituent campus, 1970 turned out to be the first year of open admissions.

In open admissions, some 20,000 new students, many of them lacking the basic skills of reading, writing and mathematics needed for college work, entered the City University of New York. These new students challenged the university's faculty in ways that often far exceeded the experience, training, and expectations of scholars and scientists bred in the quiet intensity of library carrels and research labs. To most of us it felt like a rout.

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