The Politics of Remediation: Basic Writing Beginnings

Basic Writing at CUNY

Basic Writing and Maintaining Standards

The Politics of ReMEDIAtion: Evolving Standards and the Politics of Curricular Change

Development of a Multimodal Standard

Politics and Ideological Clashes

The Politics of ReMEDIAtion Meets the Politics of Remediation: Basic Writing in the 21st Century Academy

Staking our Claim






The Politics of ReMEDIAtion: Evolving Standards and the Politics of Curricular Change

A skills-based literacy crisis is more than enough to raise the ire of faculty, legislators, and the general public, but with emerging definitions of literacy in the twenty-first century, understandings of what it means for literacy to be in crisis in the twenty-first century are changing rapidly. Trimbur's (1991) second narrative of literacy crisis discourse suggests the real possibility of "cultural lag," where the demand for particular literacy practices shifts (p. 284). In short, relying on technological and economic advancements to redefine literacy ensures that regardless of how many students from socioeconomically and culturally diverse backgrounds enter and complete college, a measure of literacy that stratifies (Carter, 2008) will remain.

The term "remediation" usefully bridges the gap in literacy practices. Bolter and Grusin (2000) define the term “remediation” first in a way that is common in educational settings, “as a euphemism for the task of bringing lagging students up to an expected level of performance” (p. 45), a definition familiar to basic writing teachers and scholars that fits with the discourse of a skills-based literacy crisis. Bolter and Grusin take their use of the term further, however, and connect "remediation" to new media in order “to express the way in which one medium is seen by our culture as reforming or improving upon another” (p. 17). If we apply the latter definitions of remediation and a progress-based literacy crisis to composition studies, one need not look far to see that the remediation of our field is well underway. Courses that were once charged with the task of teaching students to compose words, sentences, paragraphs, and essays using pen and paper or basic word-processing tools are increasingly also charged with the task of teaching students to compose in multiple genres and across multiple modalities (see the Composition Program at the University of California, Irvine and Boise State University, for example). These expectations reflect a change in standards that has the potential to create the sort of cultural lag that Trimbur warns will invite a narrative of literacy in crisis.

Before considering how these changes might play out in a basic writing class, I will first examine the changes in standards and expectations that new media—and the idea of composing with new media—bring to our work. To that end, I offer a brief history of NCTE position statements on new media, taking 1970 as a point of departure. To this history, I add an overview of several influential publications that also served to push conversations about multimodality and new media into the mainstream. I conclude this section by considering how, although these robust national conversations are taking place regularly, attempts at introducing multimodal projects at local levels must align with institutional expectations and faculty perceptions regarding the type of “composing” that is acceptable in a college writing class.