Mestiza in the Classroom: Student in the Borderlands

For the “basic” (developmental, transitioning, remedial—make sure you use the terms of the institution that you apply to) writers, one element that may not be initially apparent to a composition instructor is the issue of spatial relation and tensions that Deborah Mutnock and Stever Lamos explain in “ Basic Writing Pedagogy.” They use Bartholomae’s criticisms about the location of basic writer within academia. He states that these programs stress the differences between basic and traditional students and continues the marginalization or outsider status that basic writers experience from other institutions and suggests revamping or dismantling current programs to better address these students’ needs.
A helpful image when trying to understand the position of these students is Gloria E. Anzaldúa’s concept of the mestiza—one who exists in the borderlands or intersections between gender, ethnicity, culture, and institutions. This process of delineation is played out upon the basic writing students because they exist in on the “other” side of the “ borders are set up to define the places that are safe and unsafe, to distinguish us from them” (Anzaldúa). One might believe that Its Shor’s claim of “academic apartheid” is an exaggeration, but the students who are basic writers are generally students of color from lower economic brackets and are first generation college students. They are set apart from a traditional college experience while they participate in the basic writing (and for that matter, math) programs due to the location of these classes within the institution. For example, remedial classes are generally do not grant college credit, but the grades affect their GPA and the course cost the same amount as other courses. I met an instructor from a community college who claimed that the basic writing and math classes were held in portables at the edge of campus.
Question: In what ways does the basic writing student function as a mestiza (mestizo)?
Question: How can the composition instructor straddle the border? To extend the metaphor, how does the instructor operates as a guide, a board enforcer, a coyote, or as another traveler?
Question: The qualms against dismantling existing programs are valid because these courses are under attack (Mutnock and Lamos 26). I know this is an extremely large question (s), but what would you do reorganize a basic writing course along Bartholomae’s ideas? How would you address institution concerns? Political concerns?


One thought on “Mestiza in the Classroom: Student in the Borderlands

  1. “How can the composition instructor straddle the border? To extend the metaphor, how does the instructor operates as a guide, a board enforcer, a coyote, or as another traveler?”

    The simplest way I can think of is to be a writer right along with them. A voice from the secondary world, Penny Kittle ( advocates for the teacher to be writing alongside their students, showing them the process and modeling risk. Her book Write Beside Them: Risk, Voice, and Clarity in High School Writing models what this looks like. I started to incorporate this into my own teaching after discovering this book and several other practical resources while taking the Summer Institute of the Northern Plains Writing Project (The National Writing Project: and our local Writing Project:

    A start at least…


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