Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center
Anis Bawarshi and Stephanie Pelkowski
In the article “Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center,” Anis Bawarshi and Stephanie Pelkowski discuss the differences between the “old” and “new” writing centers and the role of acculturation in these writing centers. Stephen North describes the old writing centers as places where the focus is on changing the text and the new writing centers as places where the focus in on changing the writers. However, in both kinds of writing centers, Bawarshi and Pelkowski argue, there is a lot of acculturation; students and their texts are required to fit certain academic standards, leaving little room for different “styles, processes, and perspectives” as the article’s abstract states. On pg. 87, Bawarshi and Pelkowski write: “A change in style can thus suggest a change in thinking.” This change in thinking is important because it shows that a writer can think outside the box of standard rules. Sometimes conforming to certain styles limits a writer’s expression of ideas, making acculturation a limiting and negative thing. “The writing center has traditionally been and continues to be generally unconcerned with critiquing academic standards,” they write, “only with facilitating student’s participation within them” (85). They use the example of a student named Derek to propose questions about the process of acculturation. When complimented on his use of formal language that “subordinates one idea to another to approximate his version of college-level discourse,” Bawarshi and Pelkowski wonder what Derek has been “unwittingly” asked to do, how his cultural identity may have been transformed and if he has been “forced to accept uncritically a different epistemology, a different way of experiencing and making sense of the world” (85). These questions introduce a problem with some writing centers. Are writing centers these days, regardless of whether they stick to the old or new traditions, forcing students to accept a certain writing process and style instead of allowing for multiple and unique perspectives? Bawarshi and Pelkowski argue that Derek doesn’t simply learn better ways to write, but that his own ideas are being altered because of the way he is being taught.
Bawarshi and Pelkowski present the problem faced by writing instructors. Many fear that if students don’t accept acculturation, if they don’t conform to standard academic writing styles and processes, they will not survive as writers. Because of this, the instructors think they are choosing the lesser of the two evils by simply encouraging the conformity. The third option that Bawarshi and Pelkowski present, “mestiza consciousness,” is crucial to keep in mind as a writing tutor. Similar to the previous articles we’ve had to read, such as Muriel Harris’s article on the cultural conflicts with ESL students in the writing centers, it is important to consider different students’ perspectives. Instead of forcing students to conform to an academic standard of writing, we as tutors must strive to help students to become better writers without sacrificing the influence of their cultural backgrounds. Being a good writer is all about finding ways to express different ideas, not changing ideas for the sake of writing a good paper. As Bawarshi and Pelkowski write, “Derek can learn how to perceive his experiences differently within different discourses, can learn, more specifically, how his version of reality is shaped and enabled by the discourse in which he tells it” (91). Different modes of writing, therefore, should encourage new perspectives, but should not completely change a student’s ideas. Students should not be taught that there is a universal academic standard of writing, but rather, they should be taught about why there are different modes of writing and when and where they would be more effective. That way, they can make their own decisions in regards to methods and styles rather than conforming to a single standard that may alter their thoughts and thereby reduce multiple perspectives. This manner of teaching would help the students to better understand writing instead of blindly following a colonizing power that imposes its writing process on them.