By Jacob Deming
Upon first reading the article “Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center” I found myself locked in an internal debate over whether the concept of the “new” writing center was actually constructed to benefit the student and not just the university.
Many believe that the purpose of the writing center is to help students construct original ideas and enhance their current writing style, but, as Bawarshi and Pelkowski argue, this purpose is not entirely correct. Many of the students who walk into a writing center believe that they have just entered into an area separate from the university, an area where they can express themselves more openly while still gaining a tool that will help them with their writing. This too, however, is not entirely true. The truth is that the writing center is dependent upon the university as the university is the one who either approves or creates the center. In this way the goals of the writing center are tied to the goal of acculturation that is pushed forward by the university, the writing center helping to “initiate [students] into academic discourses” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 81).
This does not mean a sacrifice of personal or original thought, however, as both the writing center and the university understand the importance of creating new ideas and personal opinions. The purpose of the writing center, therefore, is to create individuals capable of discussing and describing their ideas more effectively. This is why writing centers focus so heavily upon discussion, as an environment that fosters dialog between individuals better helps those individuals form and articulate ideas. Universities and writing centers understand that this is the case and thus focus upon creating individuals who can formulate, analyze, and describe their own ideas and opinions with or without the aid of another. In this way the goal of the university and the modern writing center is not necessarily to acculturate an individual, but is instead to help individuals reach “critical consciousness”; the process of “both being critical of discursive formations and how they are in the service of reproducing certain power relationships” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 82). The goal of the writing center is not to acculturate or radically change the ideas of the individual, but is instead to foster those ideas and help the individual better articulate and form them.
The strange thing about writing centers, however, is that while they foster independent thought, they also subjugate their students to a certain style of writing. Say, for example, you are tutoring a student in Expository Writing and during your first meeting they hand you their first essay. When you first look down at that essay you expect to see an analytical essay, but instead you find yourself looking through what appears to be an opinion piece or maybe even a short story. You look back up at your student and tell them that they have to rewrite this essay; that it is in the wrong format. Your student becomes understandably upset when you say this and informs you that this is how he/she learned to write, that this style of writing is what comes naturally to them and allows them to best discuss their ideas. This fact may be true, creative writing may allow your student to better form their ideas, but that doesn’t matter. The true purpose of the writing center, as stated before, is not to cater to what the student is already comfortable with, but is instead to help “transform the student and his or her texts into the acceptable standard of the university” (Bawarshi and Pelkowski 85). This does not mean forcing the student to conform to certain ideas, but instead helping them to conform to the style of writing which is more acceptable in academics. The style itself may be restrictive, but it is a necessary restriction as certain writing styles are not acceptable in certain fields. It is the tutors job to first help the student understand this and then to help them through the change from one form of writing to another.