Privilege Praxis

July 4, 2008

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

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , , , — quiteneil @ 10:13 pm

I have a love hate relationship with writing centers.  Generally placed in colleges and universities, they’re supposed to be places for writers/peers to collaborate rather than either a triage unit for “bad” writing or an American academic writing cupcake mold in which to pour people’s ideas.  I’m a tutor at the writing center at my college.  I’ve been preparing for a presentation at a conference for writing center folks, which involves examining tutor training texts, mostly books and articles aimed at tutors who are either just beginning their tutoring or are in a tutoring class.  Something just keeps sticking in my craw about the fictional representations of tutoring sessions.  Generally, they seem as if they’re stories that the director of a writing center is retelling from a tutor’s perspective, not stories directly narrated by tutors.  In the introduction of The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, three fictional students are presented to the reader.  First, there is the exchange student who comes from a repressive country.  Second, there is the truck driver who is going back to college for an engineering degree and is worried about his compositions skills.  The third student is quick to learn computer programming, but has trouble writing due to a learning disability.  The scenarios involving each of these students are incredibly problematic.


So, Darren and Yaroslav.  Yaroslav is “a Russian student…bright, articulate and highly motivated.”  Darren is presumably American.  The assignment is to write a “letter to the editor against changes in governmental policies.”  Yaroslav is have a lot of trouble writing it, and Darren patiently questions him until Yaroslav says, “In my country you do not write letters to the editor to complain about the government.  You could be imprisoned for such an act of defiance.”  Darren, however, as an American, understands democracy and acts of defiance, so he is able to gently lead Yaroslav to the American way.


To me, this is pretty racist, especially because I see this line of thinking applied to English as a Second Language students quite often.  In The Bedford Guide for Writing Tutors, tutors are urged to use a “nonevaluative approach…[for folks who are] unaccustomed to questioning authority (and to them, you are the authority in the tutoring session).”  First, the context of this paragraph makes all ESL students out to be Asian exchange students, as no other language difficulty is discussed besides the dynamic grammar differences between Korean and English.  Second, ESL students in both Bedford and St. Martin’s are presumably from non-democratic countries—and of course, the good old USA should be the gold standard for democracy.  Third, this plays into all kinds of racist assumptions that Asian students/tutees/folks are passive, particularly in the sense that the tutor becomes a figure of authority.  I’m sorry, but my coffee-swilling, pen-clicking, mis-buttoned shirtfront self shouldn’t be an (the) authoritative figure in any tutoring situations.  That the writers of Bedford assume so rings to me of a)  tutors are white, non-LD and able-bodied, young middle-class Americans who can and will play the academic writing game, and b) folks who are not those things will be tutees and will consider us authoritative.  That is bullshit.


More on the other scenarios later.  And authority.  And authority in the writing center.



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