Thursday, April 12, 2007

Redefining literacy and changing attitudes about Basic Writing

Jerrie Cobb Scott complains of “the recycling of deficit pedagogy in basic writing,” citing two key factors: “traditional, technocratic definitions of literacy” and “attitudes that pervasively but persistently resist change” (205).

According to Scott, diversifying our definition is imperative if we are to successfully improve basic writing pedagogy. For Scott, literacy is ultimately dependent on context, cultural or otherwise. In these terms, no basic writer enters the classroom wholly illiterate. Every individual is literate in their own way—even it if is only within one’s own family or perhaps revolves around a personal interest or hobby. This can be very important to remember when planning lessons and interacting with one’s class. I’m afraid teachers of writing suffer from an especial tendency to be naturally pretentious upon entering a classroom, imagining their position to be one of omnipotence and quite simply forgetting that the students might serve as authorities in other areas of which the teacher is his- or herself essentially illiterate. In other words, because one’s students have been labeled illiterate in the context of academic discourse, they are by no means ignorant in all fields. Scott encourages the reader to consider his definition of literacy: “ways of knowing, accessing, creating, and using information” (207). (Notice that ways is plural.)

As for fixed attitudes, I think Scott has helped the readers of this article take the first step toward confronting this issue in their own classrooms simply by making the readers conscious of their own attitudes and helping them begin to think about how and why changes in those attitudes need to be made. Scott seems to recognize that so much of what teachers think they believe about their subject area or how a class should be taught is less a matter of personal philosophy than tradition or habit. (I think this is one reason why so much time is spent in the College of Education working on the concept of one’s philosophy of education—a document that is written and revised numerous times over the course of attaining one’s degree.) Getting teachers to simply stop and ask themselves not only “what” they believe, but also “why” they believe it, will often cause significant changes to a teacher’s approach. In some sense, by merely reading the article the reader has begun the “deep restructuring…not only at the level of content, but also at the level of attitudes” (208).

Scott, Jerrie Cobb. “Literacies and Deficits Revisited.” Landmark Essays on Basic Writing. Mahwah: Erlbaum, 2001.


Gabe Isackson said...

Agreed, Scott believes everyone is literate in their own. When aproaching basic writing with this attitude it allows many possibilities as opposed to "deficit" learning approaches.

bluegypsy said...

You've cleared up the article for me. Thanks!

Viking Girl said...

I think that basic writing teachers are becoming increasingly less "omnipotent" in the classrooms and are doing so by opening up the course to a variety of writing types and subjects. When we tell a student to write what interests them, we are allowing their unique literacy to show through. I think this is a step toward what Scott sees as ideal; a safe place where students can show off their "other literacy" without being penalized.