"What we would perish without": Response and responsibility in developmental education

Elizabeth J Cantafio, University of Pennsylvania


The ways the literacies of students in developmental education have been defined and represented by others have often contributed to the marginalization of their experiences and to the devaluing of their roles as active participants in creating educational opportunities for themselves and others. Curriculum frameworks for developmental education have frequently been congruent with these definitions and have thus focused almost exclusively on students' so-called deficits, disabilities and disadvantage, and have emphasized the acquisition of skills, behavioral changes and academic enculturation. As more students seek higher education in community colleges and the percentage of entering students placed into developmental education continues to rise, there is a critical need to understand approaches to teaching that offer alternatives to deficit models and instead draw on students' prior knowledge and experiences as well as their cultural and linguistic resources. ^ Conducted over three semesters at an urban community college, this study explores what happens when students take an inquiry stance on their own learning by co-constructing courses in reading and writing that interrupt the common discourse and arrangements of developmental education. The methodology builds from inquiry-based pedagogy and my positioning as a teacher researcher. Data sources include student writing, audio tapes of classes, interviews, correspondence with college committees, program documents, and text and videotape of student collaborative presentations at conferences and college events. Narrative analysis draws on critical, feminist and African-centered approaches and privileges the meaning perspectives of student participants. The study utilizes a range of literary genres in order to represent the multiple subjectivities and discourses that inform and structure the analysis and interpretation of the data. ^ Drawing on their autobiographical inquiries, students elected to investigate the education and miseducation of students in developmental programs. In response to the College's self-study of its developmental program, the community of students used reading, writing, and speaking out to challenge the committee's assumptions, beliefs and conclusions and to propose publicly to faculty and peers their own frameworks for developmental education. The study illuminates the students' rich sources of knowledge and complex literacies and shows how they negotiate the arenas of social action and educational change. ^

Subject Area

Education, Community College

Recommended Citation

Cantafio, Elizabeth J, ""What we would perish without": Response and responsibility in developmental education" (2002). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3043855.