fox and li

Nothing is “basic” about Tom Fox’s article on basic writing. While initiation theory attempts to bring students of all kinds into one homogenous group, it ignores the cultural differences of students and promotes a single-minded approach towards writing. This rings of the ethnocentrism attitudes that Xing Lu described where the dominant group (in this case, the university) undermined the intelligence of the minority, deeming their skills “basic” as though they show no indication of deeper understanding. Furthermore, issues of culture, gender, and class invariably tie to basic writing since these groups lack the same privileges as middleclass male Americans. Unfortunately, these three qualities separate individuals like the Caucasian males at Hawthorne from students like Leon—lower class African Americans. Even though the term “initiation” can be synonymous with acceptance, Fox clearly illustrates that initiation becomes domination because the majority always remains stable and expects the minority to conform to its values. In other words, under this theory, the minority has nothing to offer the dominant group. Reflecting on my tutoring experience in secondary education, I find this strikingly true as I witnessed students who wrote compelling accounts of their lives around gangs. Despite showing the stark contrast between cultures (coded as races) and social class, their work was considered sub par or “basic” because it contained spelling errors, syntactical mistakes, and mechanical problems. Of course, these issues should be addressed but to labels these students remedial undermines their rhetoric skills. Xiao-Ming Li’s experience at a Shanghai middle school also mimics U.S. secondary education. I wasn’t surprised that Li had to collectively read texts aloud, individually memorize poems, and analyze the stylistic structure of texts. While these activities do assist students’ memory skills and to some degree their analyzing abilities, Li shows the formulaic rigidness of secondary education in China. The practice of teaching-to-the-test abounds in both China and the U.S., which on the one hand assists students to pass an entrance exam but fails to adequately prepare them for university writing. One student brashly remarks, “High school writing is not real writing” and another says, “University writing enforces rational thinking…whereas high school writing emphasizes feelings and intuition” Obviously, these students should have practiced writing that emphasized logic, deductive reasoning, and “rational thinking”. The two essays in Li’s article testify to these students’ statements because they are filled with historical references (probably through rote memorization), clichés, and sanwen or the appeal to ethos. If this wasn’t similar enough to U.S education, Li mentions the eight legged essay students rely on. Certainly this reminded me of the five-paragraph essay that my own teachers told me to follow. Again, I believe this provides a good starting point for learning structure and order, but that’s it. Instead, I regret not being taught more critical thinking skills, forming arguments, and maybe even touching on theory—briefly. In fact, I know of one high school teacher who does skim over theories such as feminism to inform students of its implications in texts. While this instructor doesn’t expect students to completely integrate theories into their paper, he does have success with students making connections to texts. Evidently, high school students can handle these complex issues.

Leave a Reply