Beyond Johnny can't write: Tracing the identification of basic writers as deficient, disabled, and foreign others in developmental composition textbooks



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The purpose of this study is to explore how contemporary composition textbooks employ writing pedagogy that stigmatize students and their writing as deviant and inadequate. Specifically, writing textbooks are often founded on a romanticized view of writing instruction, a desire to return to a simpler time where students were excellent writers who adhered to writing conventions. As used within a university, textbooks attempt to bridge the gap between students’ lack of understanding of the subject matter and the instructors’ familiarity with the educational material; however, textbooks may inadvertently perpetuate long-standing assumptions of basic writers’ abilities and limitations of basic writers themselves.

Such beliefs perpetuate assumption of literacy--an unwavering belief that one’s acquisition of western forms of literacy can successfully correctly social and economic equalities. As a consequence, a student’s inability to write is perceived as an indication of his or her in ability to follow coded rules of “good academic discourse.” However, the assumption that writing is the end result of adherence to the “rules” is categorically false. Rather, this inherent disconnect between student’s inability to write and an instructor’s desire to teach reflects the inherent complexity of writing. The study concludes with teaching suggestions that better target student writing issues.



Composition, Textbooks