Mina P. Shaughnessy: Her Life and Work
Even before the publication of her pioneering work, Errors and Expectations, Mina P. Shaughnessy was recognized as the leading figure in the field of basic writing and as a devoted advocate of Open Admissions. Her career at City College and the CUNY Instructional Resource Center spanned the turbulent years of Open Admissions, and throughout the late sixties and seventies she worked with a commitment and intensity to her students that was unparalleled.
As Adrienne Rich has said, Mina Shaughnessy knew "that education was not only a means of access to power, but a form of power in itself: the power of expression, of language." Author Jane Maher has recaptured that intensity in her account of Shaughnessy's remarkable personal and professional life. As a result of her work, Shaughnessy came to realize that "the open admissions experiment, wherever it has been seriously undertaken, has yielded a few truths that I . . . would walk the plank for—and one of them is that the young men and women we call remedial have the capacity (by now the proven capacity) to become competent writers and to do so, if everyone works very hard, even within the harsh limits imposed by the college timetable."
Although Shaughnessy's career was relatively brief—she died in 1978 at the age of 54—her work as a teacher, a scholar, and an administrator has had a profound and permanent effect on basic writing as a discipline and on the education of underprepared students. As she herself said, "Open Admissions is forcing the real question—not how many people society is willing to salvage, but how much society is willing to pay to salvage itself."
From her roots in South Dakota to her professional life in New York City—expertly chronicled here by Maher—Shaughnessy won international recognition fighting for the rights of those students who had been denied for so many years the right to a college education; in addition, she helped teachers of basic writing realize, through her writing, through her speeches, and through her examples, that teaching these students to write well "is not only suitable but challenging work for those who would be teachers and scholars in a democracy." ISBN 10: 0-8141-5029-2; ISBN 13: 978-0-8141-5029-0.