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Diving in or Guarding the Tower: Mina Shaughnessy's Resistance and Capitulation to High-Stakes Writing Tests at City College.

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Author(s): Molloy, Sean

Mina Shaughnessy continues to exert powerful influences over Basic Writing practices, discourses and pedagogy thirty-five years after her death: Basic Writing remains in some ways trapped by Shaughnessy's legacy in what Min-Zhan Lu labeled as essentialism, accommodationism and linguistic innocence. High-stakes writing tests, a troubling hallmark of basic writing programs since the late-1970s, figure into conversations involving Shaughnessy and her part in basic writing administration as today we continue to see their effects. This article explores how Shaughnessy shaped the rise of such tests at City College, and asks whether they also shaped her. Relying on archival sources, and using Shaughnessy's 1975 "Diving In" speech as a framing lens, I examine the diving-in pedagogy that was developed in the City College SEEK program where Shaughnessy taught from 1967 to 1970, and which formed the foundation for her open admissions basic writing program starting in September of 1970. Next I trace the roots of the first high-stakes writing test at City College and Shaughnessy's conflicted responses--from 1968 when Shaughnessy mocked traditional essay exams as "attic furniture," to November 20, 1972 when she embraced this high-stakes test as a valid measure of her basic writing program and the abilities of its students.

ERIC Descriptors: Basic Writing; Writing Tests; High Stakes Tests; Writing Instruction; Educational History; Undergraduate Students; Teaching Methods; Achievement Tests; Writing Achievement; Remedial Programs

Publisher: Kingsborough Community College City University of New York. Available from: Boyd Printing Company, Inc. 49 Sheridan Avenue, Albany, NY 12210. Tel: 800-877-2693; Tel: 518-436-9686; e-mail:; Web site:

Source: Journal of Basic Writing

ERIC Citation: v31 n2 p103-141 Fall 2012

ERIC Number: EJ1053240

Peer reviewed

Record Type: Journal

Pages: 39

Abstractor: As Provided

ISSN: ISSN-0147-1635

Publication Type: Journal Articles; Reports - Evaluative

Education Level: Higher Education; Postsecondary Education

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No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Article Details
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Author:Molloy, Sean
Publication:Journal of Basic Writing
Article Type:Report
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 22, 2012
Previous Article:Beyond the Bridge Metaphor: Rethinking the Place of the Literacy Narrative in the Basic Writing Curriculum.
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