Letter to David Brooks in response to NYT Editorial

Here's the letter I sent (via e-mail) to David Brooks at the Times in response to his column:

Dear Mr. Brooks:
I am a teacher of first-year writing (aka freshman comp) and of teachers who teach first-year writing. I’d like to invite you to learn more about how composition instructors at my institution -- in fact, at many institutions around the country -- are working to address the growing inequality that you discuss in your column of 25 September.

I teach at Eastern Michigan University, a school of about 25,000 students located 45 miles west of Detroit. Many of our students come from the “bottom half”to which you refer. For these students, as others, a college degree is increasingly necessary to be considered a legitimate participant in American civic life.

In first year writing classes like ours students learn that writing is the ticket to academic culture. They learn to analyze audience expectations and to meet them. But they also learn that there are a lot of audiences in college, just as there are before and after college. Just one way of writing won’t do it. So they learn to be flexible writers, to call on different approaches to writing. They learn that writing, like all language, carries cultural values. So they also learn to analyze: if I write like this, what culture am I joining? What culture am I leaving? What are the consequences?

First year writing is only a beginning. But our classes lay the cornerstone of a foundation that students need to participate in American culture, and to think critically about the class system reflected in and perpetuated by that culture. I welcome the opportunity to talk more with you about how our work tries to address the complexities of this growing economic disparity.

Linda Adler-Kassner, Ph.D.
Director of First-Year Writing
Associate Professor of English
Eastern Michigan University
Ypsilanti, MI 48197