Dissertations, Theses, and Capstone Projects

Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name





Sondra Perl

Subject Categories

Education | Rhetoric and Composition


CUNY, basic writing, pedagogy


Perhaps nowhere else in American society is the ideology, theory and politics of language literacy so emphatically revealed than in the hopeful and daunting attempt by Basic Writing students to leap-frog their way over the real socio-cultural, linguistic and/or politically constructed remedial barriers and into the mainstream of college life. This dissertation documents and analyzes a Basic Writing classroom at the City College of the City University of New York in the final year that the college offered Basic Writing to matriculated students. This project details the lived experience of a single Basic Writing course and the lives of the students and instructor who meet there, as they attempt to create all sorts of texts under all kinds of internal and external impulses, restraints, demands and distractions. In separate chapters that use distinct methodologies, this dissertation uncovers the history of the debate over Basic Writing and its connection to admissions at the university, provides full-length classroom narratives and commentary, offers close readings of informal and formal student texts, and critiques the impact of testing on the nature and practice of the writing course. These data and analysis chapters lead to a final chapter that "talks up" from the classroom to the theories and politics of language learning and literacy debates, which too often present Basic Writing in simplistic, universalized and static terms. My claim is that the Basic Writing classroom space needs to be represented in all of its complicated, messy and uneven practice, before we can theorize it and generalize from it, before we can create meaningful and useful pedagogical, curricular or administrative reform, and certainly before we should instigate large-scale change at the institutional level that greatly influences the lives of tens of thousands of students.


Digital reproduction from the UMI microform.