Friday, September 14, 2007

Public Comment to the Commission for a College Ready Texas

From: L. Lennie Irvin

Assistant Professor of English, San Antonio College
1300 San Pedro Ave., San Antonio, TX 78212

My name is Lennie Irvin, and I have taught Community College English in Texas for 18 years. I am the Co-Director of the San Antonio Writing Project, the local site of the National Writing Project, and the author of the 1996 textbook Writing Skills: Preparing for the TASP Test published by Harcourt. I speak before you today as an experienced college writing teacher, as a scholar in Composition, and as an advocate for the Neglected "R"—Writing and its importance as a means for learning within our schools across all disciplines from Kindergarten through College.

I would like to offer for your consideration two definitions of college readiness in the area of writing:

From my experience in the classroom, students ready for college are students with substantial experience reading and writing. The marginal students who place into remedial English classes or flounder in Freshman Composition classes tend to be the ones who say they hardly ever read and they didn't write much in high school.

Lee Ann Carroll in her 2002 book Rehearsing New Roles: How Students Develop as Writers based on a longitudinal study of students' writing development over their college career defines college writing more explicitly:

What are usually called 'writing assignments' in college might more accurately be called 'literacy tasks' because they require much more than the ability to construct correct sentences or compose neatly organized paragraphs with topic sentences…. Projects calling for high levels of critical literacy in college typically require knowledge of research skills, ability to read complex texts, understanding of key disciplinary concepts, and strategies for synthesizing, analyzing, and responding critically to new information, usually within a limited time frame. (3, 4)

Her definition, I think, captures in a nutshell the type of writing and intellectual tasks college students need to be prepared to embark upon when they come to college.

I applaud the efforts of this commission, but I want to close with a word of warning. I am deeply skeptical of this Governor's motives in pursuing his recent educational agenda. I worry about the framing of our current situation as a crisis and the rhetoric of "the imperative of change" if it solely focuses blame for the situation on teachers, labeling them as incompetent practitioners. Stephen North warns of a virulent conservative model in these situations that positions non-Practitioners—in this case Scholars, Researchers, private educational companies posing as experts—as the sole possessors of knowledge and answers. He particularly warns of this conservative perspective because "it establishes what amounts to a science/technology relationship, with [teachers or] Practitioners cast …as technicians: the inquirers [or non-practitioner experts] find out how the world works, and then they tell the technicians, who behave accordingly" (331). Education is not a science, and our schools are not factories. We must honor, foster, and empower the practical wisdom of our teachers who work so hard every day in the classroom to educate our children—not demean or demonize them.

Thank you for this opportunity to express my views.

Works Cited

Carroll, Lee Ann. Rehearsing New Roles: How College Students Develop as Writers. Urbana: NCTE, 2002.

North, Stephen. The Making of Knowledge in Composition: Portrait of an Emerging Field. Portsmouth: Heineman, 1987.