By Phip Ross

From the Council on Basic Writing Blog “Towards a Position Statement on Basic Writing,” our NDEC folks began to explore the meaning of the five principles shared here at our October 2019 conference in Lincoln.

In small groups we discussed the implications of these principles and imagined how we might revise them for our own contexts—our state, our colleges, our classrooms. In one of our recent NDEC meetings, we challenged ourselves to revisit the discussion of these statements.

The prompt, specifically, is: What revision suggestion would you accept and what does the idea suggest as actions and standards for us as instructors/advocates of students and for our colleges and communities?

I volunteered to revisit the first principle listed. Please respond, add, question, and pick up one of the principles and write.

Principle No. 1:

Students who place into [developmental education] are intellectually capable, and we should recognize and value their humanity and individuality, including their voices, expertise, experience, languages, and identities.

From the photo of the annotated principle taped to the wall of our room at SCC, the edited and annotated principle reads:

Students are intellectually capable and everyone should recognize and value all humanity and individuality, including their voices, expertise, experience, languages, and identities.

What I appreciate in the edited version are several aspects:

  • Deleting “who place into developmental education” is necessary, I agree. Developmental education is about everyone in our building. Over-emphasis on any group may stimulate a bias against that group and actually counter-acting any positive action. It might also influence an individual’s bias against themselves as demonstrated in research on stereotype threat wherein the raising of consciousness of one stereotypical feature impacts performance. The modifier is essentially redundant anyway.
  • Revising “we” to “everyone” should recognize … suggests to me that not just we the dev-ed faculty but other faculty and staff.
  • The underlined words emphasize important aspects of the principle, in my interpretation. Value. Humanity. Individuality. Value in this sentence along with should recognize and value creates the call to action: How do “we” value others? Can we measure how we value others? I think we could create some metrics. How is this for starters in terms of objectively answering yes or no:
    • Are students’ names used by faculty and staff on a daily basis (not counting taking attendance, of course)
    • Does each student receive individualized instruction, such as specific comments on every page of an essay? An invitation to discuss their work?
    • Some kind of feedback on the progress of a project?
    • Is each student recognized for their positive contributions and efforts?

This discussion is about what it means to value another person, which gets increasingly difficult today when we are skimming text messages, websites . . . and I suggest people. Our depth of understanding, like our attention spans, are shrinking. Ultimately, the act of valuing may be unmeasurable and qualitative. Do you know when a person is being heard? When they’re being seen?

The principle goes on to reference aspects of individuality, such as voice, expertise, experience, languages, and identities. Recognizing how complex each human is, making that explicit in how we approach our shared experiences with one another requires us to be flexible, think-on-our-feet curious and surprised and build opportunities for students to use their “funds of knowledge” in their academic work.

Ultimately, the principle challenges us to be human first, an equal in an unequal world. “We have to slow down and take our time and be willing to consider the possibility that people are more complicated than we assume,” explains Malcolm Gladwell who wrote Talking to Strangers. It’s worth thinking and talking more about.

 

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An English teacher at Southeast Community College, Phip Ross is a teacher, writer, activist, and musician. To contact Phip, please email pross@southeast.edu