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The Rhetoric of Remediation

Negotiating Entitlement and Access to Higher Education

Jane Stanley

Publication Year: 2010

American universities have long professed dismay at the writing proficiency levels of entrants, and the volume of this complaint has been directly correlated to social, political, or economic currents. Many universities, in their rhetoric, have defined high need for remediation as a crisis point in order to garner state funding or to manage admissions. Jane Stanley examines the statements and actions made regarding remediation at the University of California, Berkeley (Cal). Since its inception in 1868, university rhetoric has served to negotiate the tensions between an ethic of access and the assertion of elite status. Great care has been taken to promote the politics of public accessibility, yet in its competition for standing among other institutions, Cal has been publicly critical of the “underpreparedness” of many entrants. Early on, Cal developed programs to teach “Subject A” (Composition) to the vast number of students who lacked basic writing skills. Stanley documents the evolution of the university's “rhetoric of remediation” at key moments in its history, and the recent development of the College Writing Program which combined freshmen composition with Subject A instruction, in an effort to remove the concept of remediation altogether. Setting her discussion within the framework of American higher education, Stanley finds that the rhetorical phenomenon of “embrace-and-disgrace” is not unique to Cal, and her study encourages compositionists to evaluate their own institutional practices and rhetoric of remediation for the benefit of both students and educators.

Published by: University of Pittsburgh Press

Series: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Title Page

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pp. vii-viii

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pp. ix-xii

The idea for this book arose from a series of conversations with UC Berkeley’s Glynda Hull about the ways in which remediation might be reconceived in composition generally and at UC Berkeley specifically. This work is indebted to those conversations. An observation that David Bartholomae made helped the idea grow roots: No one seems to have meditated seriously upon the fact that anywhere from one-third (recently) to one-half (historically) of all students...

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INTRODUCTION: “To Embrace Every Child of California”

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pp. 1-19

Remedial writers, like the poor, seem always to be with us. It is more than passing strange, then, that programs and courses for these writers are almost always regarded as provisional by the institutions that offer them. With few exceptions, they are seen as special short-term measures to handle a crisis of illiteracy, or malliteracy, afflicting certain segments of the student body. The crisis, in fact, has shown itself to have such remarkable staying...

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CHAPTER 1: “The Honor of the State”

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pp. 20-26

In its early years, the Subject A requirement enabled the University of California to separate the sheep from the goats, English-wise, but the separation had more symbolic than practical use. The university was committed to granting admission to both the 50 percent who passed the exam in composition, and to their less proficient brethren,1 the 50 percent who...

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CHAPTER 2: “The Unfortunate, the Lazy, and the Feeble-Minded”

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pp. 27-33

The University of California may have been ushered grandiloquently onto the national stage by Charles Mills Gayley’s rhetorical tour de force in the Dial in 1895, but the work done behind the proscenium, in the classroom and examination hall in the two decades before Gayley’s arrival on the scene tells a compelling backstory. In 1883, Cornelius Beach Bradley took up a place in the classroom...

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CHAPTER 3: “They Can Neither Read Nor Write”

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pp. 34-48

If Hubert Howe Bancroft (188?) inaugurated California’s image industry with his Annals of the California Gold Era: 1848–1859 in the heady, brutal days of the gold rush, Southern Pacific’s Sunset Magazine surely inherited the mantle of leadership in self-promotion, and set about praising rural life in California. Established in 1898 as an organ of the Southern Pacific Railroad, Sunset wordsmithed tirelessly to represent...

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CHAPTER 4: “Beautiful but Dumb”

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pp. 49-60

Robert Gordon Sproul took over the presidency of the University of California at the beginning of the Great Depression. California’s economic health was already in weakened condition, and had been for some years, before the crash of October 24, 1929, so the shock waves from that economic implosion hit the state hard. In the 1930s, California still derived most of her wealth from agriculture. Then, as now, her agriculture was large scale, dependent on heavy...

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CHAPTER 5: “The Hordes . . . Invade the Campus”

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pp. 61-74

Born so soon after California’s crippling general strike and her first (but certainly not last) Red Scare, this new system of regional colleges, rechristened “state colleges” in 1935, was assigned heavy political duties. According to the State Board of Education in 1939, “The state colleges more than any other group of institutions in California, face the task of interpreting democracy to society . . . [The state colleges] are qualified to...

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CHAPTER 6: “The Decencies of English”

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pp. 75-91

Clark Kerr was the somewhat unlikely appointee for chancellor at Berkeley. Indeed, Sproul did not appoint Kerr as soon as chancellorships were created; he retained his close control over Berkeley for another year. Kerr, as an early and vocal opponent of the loyalty oath, but one who eventually signed, was acceptable—albeit reservedly—to both faculty and regents. Arch-conservative Regents Ahlport and Neylan abstained...

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CHAPTER 7: “The Tides of the Semi-literate”

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pp. 92-104

The first Tuesday of November 1957 was a great day for California Democrats. Edmund G. “Pat” Brown was elected governor, and for the first time in a hundred years, Democrats held the majority in both houses. Governor Brown was to prove himself an excellent friend of higher education, and a staunch supporter of Clark Kerr in times of trouble. Kerr had accepted the regents’ offer of the presidency of the University of California...

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CHAPTER 8: “Viewed as Disgraceful by Many Scholars”

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pp. 105-116

It was not just the protestors who were pathologized in the second half of that volatile decade at Berkeley. Students who failed the Subject A exam were, once again, submitted to a range of diagnoses. In 1965, Chancellor Kerr had proposed that the Subject A course be dissolved and these students be admitted into a “writing clinic.”1 He had earlier proposed alternative...

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CHAPTER 9: “The Technically Qualified”

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pp. 117-124

A survey published by the Office of Student Research showed that between 1970 and 1980, the UC Berkeley campus experienced a 74 percent increase in the number of immigrant and refugee students.1 This was a national phenomenon, but New York’s and California’s higher education systems felt the effects most strongly. Articles in both the New York Times and the Los Angeles Times reported on the rising numbers...

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CHAPTER 10: “Bonehead English”

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pp. 125-132

In June of 1989, on the Berkeley campus, yet another task forcewas assembled to review Subject A. It was chaired by Professor Charles Faulhaber, of the Spanish and Portuguese Department. Predictably, the task force was charged with considering whether Subject A and SANSE were “optimally conceived . . . to bring students up to the level of competence [necessary for] entering the freshman composition sequence.”1 The committee was...

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CHAPTER 11: “Below Acceptable Levels”

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pp. 133-137

In 1995, Hull succeeded Arthur Quinn as College Writing Programs director, and immediately began her considerable efforts to move composition instruction in from the periphery of the academy. During her four years as director, she guided a succession of proposals for upper-division writing courses through a chilly and occasionally hostile course-approval procedure. Course approval is, and should be, a rigorous process of...

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CONCLUSION: The Disdainful Embrace

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pp. 138-142

So, after this excursion through UC Berkeley’s long engagement in the rhetoric of remediation, I have to ask: What do I have to show for my travels? What stamps are on my passport? As I wandered through the archives, eavesdropping on long-expired conversations, I heard so much about the Eden of Proficiency, that lush and ferny place in the university’s past where...


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pp. 143-160


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pp. 161-170


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pp. 171-180

E-ISBN-13: 9780822977377
E-ISBN-10: 0822977370
Print-ISBN-13: 9780822943860
Print-ISBN-10: 0822943867

Page Count: 192
Publication Year: 2010

Series Title: Pittsburgh Series in Composition, Literacy, and Culture

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • University of California (System) -- History.
  • College freshmen -- Rating of -- California.
  • English language -- Remedial teaching.
  • University of California (System) -- Admission
  • English language -- Study and teaching (Higher).
  • Students with social disabilities -- California.
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