Session 5
Ethics in Writing Centres: Multiple Perspectives

  1. Barbara Rose, Brock MacDonald, Kathryn Voltan
  2. Tania Smith
  3. Jane Milton, Patricia Golubev, Victoria Littman

One of the central problems here is that all the language you can use to think about this process is overcoded with the history of colonial relations, cultural imperialism, missionary zeal and high-culture arrogance. All of it. If you are going to offer people the opportunity to move from a culture where they're likely to be victimized to one where they're less likely to be victimized, you enact your belief that culture B is "superior" to culture A. You cannot avoid it. I don't see any way to talk about that process without using E.D. Hirsch's language, the language of cultural imperialism. But it remains a fact that what a place like Woodsworth College DOES is serve that cultural hegemony--and in fact that's what everybody wants it to do. The alternative--well, I don't know. To argue that the disparity between (say) the culture to which the kid from Napadogan who shows up at STU in September brings with her OUGHT NOT to penalize & victimize her…is, really, to penalize & victimize her by leaving her where she is & decrying the situation. -- Russ Hunt

Student as patient looking for the diagnosis. -- unsigned

It struck me that what you need to do with these students who come with other "literacies is to teach them to "pass," that is, to act as if they are the right kind of student in order to eventually become the right kind of student. This might feel unethical but actually this is how mainstream students approach the university experience. -- Laura Atkinson

The tutorial provides something that the rest of the system doesn't provide, typically (a kind of supplement), but certainly the supplement is determined, shaped by the dominant culture.

Even our best efforts at helping students are really little more than cleaning up the mess in the aftermath. . . there's just GOT to be a better way. -- Marcy Bauman

If more instructors could see what kinds of conversations really occur in tutorials, they would realize how essential the services were.

Tania: Where to start? How would you feel is you hired someone for your tutorial service who'd hired a tutor to help prepare her resume? I guess the English professor does not want to give up the power of grading.

I think the profs who are upset about students' receiving professional tutorial help can only cry "unfair" (i.e. by giving only a 4/9 or a zero) if they are willing to provide such tutorial help themselves. Otherwise students who come in with any sort of "deficit" can never overcome this. It assumes that skills and strategies and vocabulary and idiom etc. are innate. -- Pat Sadowy

Dialogue seems a much better starting-point for a Writing Centre definition of literacy. Brock implied you have to be understanding while you help L2 students learn the rules and show them how to read and write. Don't you instead, as a tutor, have to begin by shedding your understanding of the "rules"? How else can you hear the strength of how your students actually do read and write, and learn from this something that helps your university complicate its understanding of itself? -- Michael Sider

Throw in the foggy line between tutor and mother/nurturer/nice person who really wants to help (as so many of us do), and opening a bit of help starts to resemble being a little pregnant.

Jane, Patricia, Victoria: A very nice demonstration of the need for tutors to do everything, and do it at the right time and in the right way: encourage without misleading, subvert without exposing the student to penalties, listen but guide at the same time, work on both argumentation and language. Amazing that what happens in most real tutoring sessions is so much better than what we saw here! --Margaret Procter

I have been struck by the fact that the majority of young women in my first-year B.Ed. classes this year will introduce a presentation of their work with openers like: "Well, I just did a collage, and…" "I made a poster and it's just about. . . " The self-devaluation shocks me. The young men and the few older women do not "come out" in the public space of the classroom in this way. -- Michelle Forrest

Because all of this tutoring isn't really about anything outside the process of writing for evaluation rather than writing for real and intrinsic social purposes. Over and over what I'm hearing is people playing tennis without a net and without an opponent/partner, and trying to "get better" at it without ever having experienced it - or without any experience of it imaginable to them. So of course it become a matter of fulfilling the forms - what else could it be? -- Russ Hunt

I detest tutoring when the students aren't in my own class. My stomach lurches when they walk into my office; I come close to heart palpitations. I don't know the students, don't have a context for advising them, don't understand - or completely agree with - the assignment they've been given. The students' quest to ferret out "what the instructor wants" is backgrounded for me by essay questions in which the instructor's expectations are not explicit, confusing, contradictory, unexamined, assumed. -- I don't know how you guys do it. -- Kenna Manos

Every single person at this Inkshed (and almost all at most of the others) is one of the "unmasked majority" - i.e. not a visible minority member. Even as we laugh (ruefully) at our own awful occasional, or constant faults of cultural omission and arrogance about students, we still share a culture and world view that support and cocoon us. How would these skits have "played" in a room with some visible minority or international students or teachers in it? Would the laughter have been the same? Would someone have been deeply offended? . . . This was a wonderful session because it made us - or should have made us - very uncomfortable. -- Ann Beer

Back to Inkshed XV program outline