“Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center” Response

Zach Spiegel

What are you looking for in your college education?  Do you want to have your current individual discourse and identity expanded and improved upon or would you like to be accultured as your unique perspective is discarded and you are assimilated into the majority viewpoint.  The problem with modern academic writing is that it often contains too narrow a scope, assessing issues as absolutes of black or white, but argument doesn’t work that way; there is a vast amount of factors that can contribute to an even greater amount of perspectives.  Anis Bawarshi and Stephanie Pelkowski “argue that writing centers with a current traditional or process orientation are in the business of acculturing student writers instead of fostering multiple perspectives…nontraditional students, upon receiving their first exposure to academic writing, often feel as if they are…giving up a level of complexity and an awareness of alternative perspectives in order to fit their ideas into the more rigid and acceptable modes permitted in academic discourse” (79-80).  At the forefront of this change is the modern writing center which has grown to become a station to prepare foreign students for the “front lines” or the accepted standards that academia has arbitrarily set before them.  The purpose and method of the writing center must be altered if it is to create an environment that both cultivates the benefits of diversity and engages the increasing variation of the contemporary student body.

Take my one of my students for example.  He is studying at the “Basic Writing” (80) level or as we put it here at Rutgers, Basic Composition and Reading.  His style of writing, which is nothing but intuitive and comfortable to him, does not appropriately respond to the prompt nor does it make an argument.  He has a tendency to draw from both sides of the fence, summarize or compare and contrast.  This type of writing has no place in “the rarified air of the university” (81) where you are expected to make an argument and defend your point.  As I understand it, my responsibility as his tutor is to change the writer by changing the writing but wouldn’t that mirror the example of “Derek, a mainstreamed African-American Basic Writer” (85) who gained academic acceptance by abandoning his former ways?  Derek’s case consists of conforming to the standards of the university by “using a formal language here which subordinates one idea to another to approximate his version of college-level discourse” (85) or in other words, creating an argument that both is up to the standards of formality and flows.  So what happened here?  Did Derek improve as a writer by altering his writing to be more like other college-level discourses or has Derek lost a small part of what makes him Derek?  I ask myself a similar question as my own student resists the university model of writing while I repeatedly urge him not to explicate both sides but to choose one side convince me of its superiority.  Is that the best that I can do for my student or am I causing him to lose some of what makes up his unique perspective, discourse, and identity?  If we knew the answer to these questions, than we would be in a better position to reconcile the “basic” and the “advanced” writers of the world.

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2 Responses to “Postcolonialism and the Idea of a Writing Center” Response

  1. Pingback: Uni Verse « Psychetymology

  2. Shanu Pandit says:

    I believe that student writing centers should be used as a way to enhance basic writing skills such as grammar, punctuation, and choice of words but at the same time not take away any unique ideas from the writing. I see this often in my students, they come to the writing center for help but many are forced to change their essays around to the standards of school but I believe they should have the freedom to write an essay in different styles, not just the way the school forces you to. Since we have to follow the standards of school we have to tell our students what is right to do to get them good grades in basic writing even if their work is well written.

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