Privilege Praxis

July 29, 2008

Tutoring “Examples” in Writing Center Tutor Training Texts, Take Two

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — quiteneil @ 8:46 pm

“As you read these responses, think about the experiences that you bring to tutoring writing. From Jessi:


I remember when I was in fourth grade, I was singled out (I hate when teachers do that) to help a slow kid named Peter with his reading. We sat down during “quiet time” and I helped him go over the lesson we had learned earlier that day. Each day when we were alone, the teacher would give me a sticker, I assume as an award, that I had to wear on the front of my Catholic school uniform. She never gave Peter a sticker.

Today I am still undecided as to why I chose to help Peter. Was it because I had always been good at matters pertaining to English? Did the teacher think that Peter would benefit more from my help as a peer? Or was she just lazy and preferred to have “quiet time” to herself? I guess I don’t expect a sticker at the end of each of my tutoring sessions these days. I do expect tutoring to be a fulfilling experience for both myself and my students/classmates…”

The Allyn and Bacon Guide to Peer Tutoring, Gillespie and Learner, Allyn and Bacon, 2000 (emphasis mine).


As we saw last time with Darren and Yaroslav, privilege plays a key role within the texts used to train writing center tutors. In the St. Martin’s guide, they primarily rely on fictional representations of the tutoring session; Allyn and Bacon gets in the “tutor voice” by beginning their text with narratives from tutors reflecting on what brought them to tutoring. The above passage is the first narrative. Here’s a few things that are problematic about it:

1) As the first tutor narrative in a book whose audience is meant to be tutors and people in courses preparing to become tutors, it uses perjorative, ableist language to describe a tutor’s relationship with a situation that brought Jessi to the writing center.

2) It sets up that tutors will be rewarded for their ability to help someone who is not fitting an academic mold or standard, not a relationship between two people who want to examine ideas/context(s)/text.

3) Is Jessi a peer to Peter? Given that she was “singled out” (specially chosen) and given “a sticker” (rewarded) that Peter didn’t get, I don’t think that a peer relationship is what Jessi nor her teacher had in mind. I think it’s interesting too that she refers to her current tutees as students/classmates–especially when later Allyn and Bacon goes into such detail about why tutors are not teachers.

What I’ve learned so far from reading these guidebooks (we’re not required to read them to tutor at Agnes, but they’re around) is that their kind of peer tutoring isn’t actually peer tutoring. It’s semi-peer-tutoring. It’s about going to see a para-para-professor to clarify your ideas and get your paper in shape for academia. It is about instituing privilege into a tutor so that they have the upper hand in a tutoring situation. Consequently, tutoring guides don’t tell you how to deal with issues that tutors might have with their own race/class/queer/gender/ability stuff. It assumes that all tutors don’t have to worry about it and only tells you (sometimes) how to deal with someone else who has race/class/queer/gender/ability stuff.





Create a free website or blog at