Re: http://studentactivism.net/2012/09/16/cuny-declares-war-on-rebel-english-department-day-two/

This began as an attempt to answer a single comment, but has grown a tad too large to reasonably fit there. SSS will return next Sunday, I promise. Please see the article and Reading Writer‘s first and second comments, as well as the response from CUNY Comp. Instructor.
When one notes the benefits of, “writing across the curriculum” it is critically important to note that these benefits are possible only because such a widespread impetus to write more often and more effectively is *extra*. Consider it the language arts version of taking vitamins. If you reduce someone’s diet to 800 calories a day and then suggest that we ought to look at taking vitamins as making up for it, you will receive the same bemused response from a dietician that you have heard from the CUNY composition instructors. In short: if we try to replace basic fundamentals with measures that were always intended to supplement those basics–we are going to run into huge problems in astonishingly short order.

Just to start with, the instructors in other departments likely have neither the training or the motivation to hold student work to the same minimum necessary standard, because their own education and efforts are focused on their own subject. Further, they are more likely to care primarily about getting students to grasp the topic they are teaching, which is difficult enough to do with native speakers with a vice-like grasp of general English and a decade or more of background in academic English.
I doubt very much that any instructor has even the barest fraction of a desire to hold any student back from the pursuit of learning about something they are interested in, no matter their language level. It is, again, a structural issue. If someone who is incapable of understanding the coursework and further is not capable of demonstrating mastery of the concepts because of communication problems, the result is a horrific bottleneck that the ‘streamlining’ only worsens. Giving instructors less time and less resources to do a tougher job with a wider variance in student ability and expecting it to work out because it looks pretty in Excel is not merely unwise but actively stupid, and destructive to the goal of any educational institution. Especially one whose responsibility is to students who rely on it to help make up for the opportunities they were denied in their youth.

To be a little more specific, this ‘streamlining’ attempts to get instructors to teach something they do not specialize in to people who do not necessarily understand the instruction and if they do, are not necessarily capable of proving that they are, in fact, learning with any degree of efficiency. The result is to force instructors to spend less of their time teaching–that is, less time preparing students to succeed in the modern economy–and proportionately more time providing remedial education that the instructors are not necessarily trained to provide; all while inside the context of a system where classroom time and supporting resources are steadily shrinking.

The result is that everyone loses. The professor has done a disservice to students by not conducting as thorough and informative a course as possible. The students who are at the minimum standard or beyond it are paying for their time to be wasted watching people play catch-up, and the people who are forced by circumstances that are more than likely not their fault to begin with to play catch-up are paying to play catch up in an environment not necessarily well-suited to maximizing their gains in performance and understanding. Everyone has less time, and spends less of that time doing what they intended to do.

The point is not, as you seem to think, “holding them back” until their ability is “where we would like it to be” but rather wasting as little time as possible in getting students who are operating at a disadvantage up out of the hole and maximizing their potential. No serious teacher at any level believes that an ESOL student is any less intelligent than a student who happens to speak English natively; the belief is that ESOL students are better served by a dynamic network of instructors and classes designed specifically to identify where they are on the path, help them move along it as rapidly as possible with targeted and specific instruction, and let them skip any steps along the way that their out-of-class experience has made redundant.

In short: they do deserve content, and they deserve people who care about getting it to them in a timely manner that respects their personal challenges and abilities. Simply tossing an ESOL student into the deep end and expecting it to work every time without involving the rest of the student body or instructional cadre is nonsensical. If anything, the answer is a series of partial-credit remedial courses designed with the express intent of using teamwork between ESOL students to promote confidence, communication, and learning and to replicate the content present in entry-level courses in a more measured way focused on developing subject-specific English comprehension and a grasp of fundamentals.*

Sadly, this sort of thing benefits students and massively increases efficiency; but alas, it is not conducive to maximizing profits. Ille equus mortuus percussus est.

 

*Obviously this is not my specific field, so I suppose I could be wrong.

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