Honest Conversations – How?!?!?!?!?!?

This final week’s readings are very interesting especially as two of the 3 texts pertain to my identities. Since high school, I have been learning about my gender and socio-economic identities. Going to a private high school with teenage boys that were both extremely smart and tremendous athletes, I couldn’t help but feel lesser in both respects. It was neither my teachers nor our Writing Center fixed either of these problems. Rather, it was more painful and awkward – it was through hard and often one-sided conversations with my male and often more well off peers. It was telling them that I could not go skiing during Spring Break because I had to work. It was telling them that I needed to wait until my birthday for new cleats to play soccer or that no, I couldn’t “just” play in my sneakers – I didn’t have multiple pairs of shoes. After these “conversations”, I would have to ask myself what Rihn and Sloan ask, “Is confrontation alienating? More alienating than homophobia?” but in my case more alienating than addressing their microaggressions?

Rihn and Sloan’s point on “curious silence” is a very interesting one that affects people across all identities. It’s the fear of the unknown that makes it easier to observe from a distance as a bystander instead of intervening/ speaking to the aggression marginalized people receive from others. Therefore, marginalized people must “come to tolerate and cope with [aggression] as a grudging cost of existing in an otherwise often hostile world,” when we should be striving to make our world accepting to all people. Instead of thinking about how to use the privileges we have to help others, we use our privilege to stay away from honest conversations that make us uncomfortable.

Bielski’s article hit many points that I would like to address about class consciousness here at the Colleges – sorry about the tangents. Earlier this semester I read a research paper by Annette Lareau (Here’s a link to her research paper: http://www.jstor.org/stable/3088916?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents) about ways in which class affects the child raising methods parents use. One child raising method, concerted cultivation, requires a lot of money and time on behalf of parents for organized activities to ensure their children learn valuable skills that will prove useful in adulthood, including prolonged discussions with their children to develop their opinions, judgments, and ability to express themselves. On the other hand, accomplishment of natural growth is centered around the notion that as long as kids have the basic needs met, food, safety, and love, they will develop well. While working-class parents would like to enroll their kids in organized activities, they simply do not have the time nor money to make sure their kids can participate in such activities. Working-class parents clearly establish that they are not to be questioned or challenged by their children and they do not engage in long discussions with their children that would develop their child’s ability to express themselves more clearly. Due to many factors such as language and education, many working-class parents pass onto their children their mistrust and sense of powerlessness towards dominant institutions like colleges and universities. Because my parents raised me using the accomplishment of natural growth method, regardless of the skills I picked up at my private high school – both academic and life skills- I will still lack some skills/ confidence/ knowledge that come to my middle/upper-class peers as second nature because of their upbringing.

Last year, when I was a freshman, Quest Scholars organized an event called Money Matters – a week-long campaign that encouraged all students to talk about class. Quest Scholars, a chapter of QuestBridge and a community of 1st gen and/or low-income student at Pomona, hosted different types of events for a week but only once did a few students who did not identify as low-income showed up. The rest of the events were filled with low-income students and you cannot have a fruitful conversation in an echo chamber. It was then that I realized that although Pomona and the other Claremont Colleges were fairly liberal and open to talking about race and gender, still tiptoed around conversations on class and I’m sure many other conversations. Being part of Quest leadership this year, I’m helping plan Quest’s Money Matters event in the Spring and the planning committee is stuck on Bielski’s advice on talking honestly about class. As I mentioned in class last week, you cannot have a conversation if the another party is not willing to listen or participate. So how do we start full conversations instead of one-sided conversations? How can we get people to go one step past curiosity and join the conversation? And, further, how do we get them to take action? What role can professors and the Writing Center play?

Listen and Talk to Each Other

Based off of Diab et al.’s article, it is clear that before any sort of anti-racism pedagogy or oppression fighting can begin in Writing Centers, Writing Center Directors and College Administrators needs to have a talk. This talk should also include some stakeholders such as professors and student tutors and tutees. It is clear that the mission and philosophy of Writing Centers are ever changing as new research is published and as the demographics of people the Writing Center helps also changes. So too does the mission of college and universities across North America. Through these conversations, the purpose of the Writing Center will be known to administrators, professors, and students alike and will likely align better with the mission of the college/ university. There will be less confusion about what the writing center does, when to recommend a student to got to the writing center, and reasons to make an appointment with the Writing Center.
Once everyone is on the same page, then Writing Centers can focus on a multidimensional pedagogy for racial justice and teach tutors to fight oppression during one-on-one meetings with students. Only then can such pedagogy be “processual and reiterative, reflective and attentive, and embodied and engaged” as Diab et al. suggests (p.2). Then, students and professors will also have clear expectations for the Writing Centers and there will be less time wasted on behalf of all parties.
As for ESL students, I liked that Moussu acknowledged that ESL students come from different backgrounds. Some students learned English since grade school in their home country and passed a test, others came to America to learn English, and still others have been taught to speak English in American schools but speak a different language at home. Moussu goes further when she says, “Factors such as affective variables, first language, age, language practice, educational levels, motivation, and sociocultural variables also in influence students’ language-learning skills, experiences, strategies, and attitudes toward writing, as well as their learning styles,” when she speaks to the diversity among ESL students (p. 57). I truly appreciate that she acknowledges that a one size fits all approach to ESL students in Writing Centers will not work. Going back to a point that I made last week, it seems that a good approach to ESL students would involve flexibility, both on behalf of Writing Centers and its staff and professors.
After reading this week’s readings, I am left wondering how writing centers and, more specifically, Pomona’s Writing Center plans on tackling such big issues. Racial justices, fighting oppression, and adding teaching methods for ESL students, not to mention the other things writing centers must tackle based off previous weeks’ readings. What can students do to help?

Flexibility – The Key Word

I’m going to start off by saying that I had no idea that there was this much discourse about peer tutoring in writing centers. I thought writing centers were all figured out and established, but Carino made it evident that writing centers don’t have one unified cookie cutter training or program.
On page 100, when Carino breaks down different scholars’ positions on writing centers and peer tutoring, he exemplifies the identity crisis writing centers have when it comes to their place in universities and colleges. Due to this lack of strong identity, many writing centers have opted to teach its student tutors nondirective strategies to use with tutees. Carino quotes Grimm when she wrote, “[Nondirective methods] protect the status quo and withholds insider knowledge” which in essence disadvantages nontraditional students – those who come from minority discourse communities – who might not know college-level writing expectations and need tutors to guide them.
Towards his conclusion, Carino establishes that he believes writing center tutors need to be flexible. That is, tutors need to know both directive and nondirective strategies so that they can use either strategy depending on their tutees’ needs. Additionally, Carino wants writing centers and faculty to work together so that faculty members have a clear understanding of what the writing center does so that faculty do not see the writing center as a place where plagiarism might occur.
The Oxford Guide draws a similar conclusion as Carino when it comes to the flexibility writing center tutors should have. The Oxford Guide thinks, however, that writing center tutors need to be flexible in order for work with tutees who have different writing processes. Therefore, besides needing to be able to gauge whether a tutee needs them to be directive or nondirective, they must also quickly adapt to their tutee’s writing process to better help their tutee. Furthermore, tutors, according to the Oxford Guide, must also learn to scaffold information to lead tutees to a conclusion instead of just fixing something for their tutee.
Carino and the Oxford Guide both have tall orders for writing center tutors and it makes me wonder why anyone would want to be a writing center tutor. There are so many things they must know and balance while also helping tutees who only want them to edit their papers. I’ve asked before whether writing center tutors should have a lot of responsibility/ authority when it comes to tutoring because they are still students and have not, by any means, mastered writing. So how are they supposed to handle all that Carino and other writing center scholars ask tutors to do? Do writing tutors consciously think about these things? Additionally, I am interested in learning if Pomona’s writing center has a tracking system for students that come for tutoring. I can definitely see the benefits of tracking progress or work, but I can also see why tracking isn’t necessarily something the writing center wants/ needs to actively do.

So what the heck is a Writing Center?

My high school Writing Center was a room filled with computers and occasionally an English teacher would be around but not offer much help. In college, my ID1 professor insisted that I went to the Writing Center for help. When I tried to schedule a meeting with my professor, she would first ask, “Have you scheduled an appointment with the Writing Center?” Of course, I hadn’t. I wanted to meet with her, thinking she could guide me to becoming a better writer more so than someone at the Writing Center.

Throughout my freshman year in college, I consistently heard my peers say that writing partners were not helpful. And before, I did not care. I had no particular stake in the success of Pomona’s Writing Center. Today, when I hear my peers speaking negatively about the Writing Center and its student employees, I have learned that I just need to adjust and/ or refocus their expectations. No, they are not copywriters. No, they will tell you which prompt to pick. But after reading the two articles, I’m even more confused about the purpose of a Writing Center and further, the direction Pomona’s Writing Center is going.

After reading North’s article, I totally agreed that Writing Center should make better writers, not better products, despite how frustrating that can be for students and possibly professors. Tutors are responsible for meeting tutees where they are and working with them to “improve” –meaning change in order to be able to work within a rhetorical context- their writing process whether the student is “talented”, “average” or “other”.

Bawarshi’s critique of North’s article was a complete surprise to me. Bawarshi asks, “Is the change the writing center produces in writers and their “rituals,” especially basic and other marginalized writers, a positive change?” Bawarshi goes on to claim North’s argument is a very colonialist idea and is not the way Writing Centers should be headed. But I don’t completely understand how Writing Centers can be “a place in which different discourses grapple with each other and are negotiated,” if students just want help with papers and not have identity crises or conflicts. Bawarshi goes on to clarify:

Not only, then, should the postcolonial writing center aim to demystify writing processes by giving marginalized students insight into why certain conventions exist for certain discourses; it should also aim to equip these students with the skills necessary for analyzing conventions so that they can translate their knowledge into successful writing practices beyond the university community.

Her comments about different discourse communities coming together make more sense, but I am still left wondering if this should be a task given to Writing Center tutors. Should a tutor have a role in instructing me on how to work within a specific discourse community while also instructing me on how to weave my experiences into my writing? Does this mean that my professors help me enter academic discourse communities while my Writing Center should help me find my authentic voice and put my family’s discourse community together with academic discourse communities?

So, I sit in front of computer confused as ever about the purpose of Writing Centers wondering where along the readings does Pomona’s Writing Center lie.

“Come See Me”

For my first paper of my sophomore English class in high school, my teachers wrote, “This is kindergarten writing. Come see me.”

Much like Winalski, I believed a wrote an A worthy paper. I would have never thought that my paper would be so bad that the teacher would not even grade it. Her comment is one I will always carry with me for the rest of my life. While in high school, my English teachers’ feedback system was somewhat different from what Sommers described yet it garnered the similar results that Sommers describes. My teachers would do the common marginal notes and edit grammar mistakes but would also encourage me to meet with them. While meeting with them, they would treat me more as a person and address me as me instead of addressing my paper. During these meeting, my teachers would explain their comments to make up for the vagueness in the margins. Through these meeting, comments did not “become the only place for writing instruction” rather I would learn a lot during these meetings and, to address Rutz’s point, the connection of real writer and real readers was definitely made. With these real connections, Sommers idea of “partnerships” came to fruition because I understood the dynamics between being a student writer and addressing my audience, my English teacher. Despite this meetings, however, I still felt like I mastered the rules and how to meet expectations instead of learning how to write.

Throughout these readings, I kept coming back to the idea to first order thinking vs second order thinking. Student writers should not need to focus on grammar first but, instead, they need to just get content out that they think help answer the prompt. After ideas on paper, then students can finesse their “products” and look for grammar mistakes, flow, and punctuation.

Winalski and Sommers agree on the point of content vs process when it comes to teachers grading essays. Winalski says she observes that “what [she] wrote was much less important than how [she wrote],” making it obvious that her teachers value content over process. Additionally, Sommers writes, “the comments suggest to students that writing is just a matter of following rules,” suggesting that rules seem to be more important than the idea presented in the paper. Therefore, students end up learning the system that is writing such as grammar and punctuation instead of actually learning to write.

Cultural Capital & Writing

The readings on theses were interesting because I have never before questioned the fact that all my papers must have a thesis. It’s what I’ve been doing since the 3rd grade. As I kept reading through Berggren’s article, I found myself thinking “like yeah why do we write theses?” and “Yeah! They do limit my discussion!” and so on. I liked how her article really touched on my concern, which I’ve throughout this course, about voice and how theses restrict voice by limiting discussion.
Upon reading Quilligan’s piece: Putting on the Sunglasses, I knew concern popped into mind. When discussing better ways to teach students analysis, Quilligan suggests that teacher use “the innate cultural knowledge that the incoming students have.” At face value, this comment makes a lot of sense, it’s better to teach students new tools using materials they are used to working with. Under the assumption, however, that all students have worked with the same materials. While I could write a whole separate paper about cultural capital and its advantages in college, I will choose to stick with cultural capital and writing, something that we have not really talked about in English 87.
Throughout the course, we have discussed what college level writing should look like, but we haven’t really taken a moment to acknowledge the amount of privilege and cultural capital it takes to be able to a) attempt to learn and b) question college level writing.
In 2002, Annette Lareau in her research paper, Invisible Inequalities, studied the effects of middle-class parenting styles on middle-class children in schools. Middle-class parents engage in prolonged discussions with their children to develop their child’s opinions, judgments, and ability to express themselves. Although this training is not something that schools can necessarily do anything about, this conditioning provides advantages that allow middle-class children to be able to more easily understand a certain aspect of writing and thesis making. Additionally, a politics professor of mine loved to draw analogies between Shakespeare’s many works and the political theorists we had been discussing. Only because I had previously read Macbeth, King Lear, and Hamlet did I understand what was going on in class. So when it was time to write a paper, I used my cultural capital to write a paper using Shakespeare’s works because I knew my professor liked Shakespeare and I had the prior knowledge of reading Shakespeare’s works. I was fully aware, however, that not everyone in the classroom was comfortable or even familiar with Shakespeare’s works. I was advantaged and other were disadvantaged because they lacked previous knowledge that I gained in high school, not because they were bad students or bad writers.
While we can be critical of the pedagogy behind theses, analysis, and other elements of academic essays, it’s important to remember that many students cannot be as critical because they do not have such privilege. They do not have the sunglasses necessary to know how to “[use] evidence, [quote] from sources, or [synthesize] information.”

Where’s My Voice?

On the first day of class, I came in with one goal: Learn how to maintain my voice in my papers while also writing at a college level, while also incorporating authors from my readings, while also catering to my audience: my professors. In response, Young would tell me I could find and maintain my voice by code meshing. Gaipa would tell that I need to figure out a way to add to “critical communities” within academia to find my authority and therefore my voice. Along the same lines, the authors of They Say/ I Say conclude that whether I agree, disagree, or a combination of both with others, I need to “demonstrate that [I] have something to contribute” and my contribution is my voice.

The very act of me formally typing up a reflection is not a loss of my voice, but the editing and “polishing” of my reflection results in the loss of my voice. As part of my writing process, I first need to discuss my ideas with my friends. The discussions about the readings are in a language that is a combination of Spanish and English that my Latino friends at Pomona have adopted. The next step is to put my conversations with my friends in writing. As part of my writing process, I employ first order thinking with past conversations in mind. Once I finish my first order thinking, I put on my “academic writing” hat. This hat, also known as second-order thinking, is one that filters my plurilingualism and replaces it with the “hegemonic” English I’ve been taught since I was 6 years old. Young accurately explain my second order thinking hat when he says, “Grad students also be tryin too hard to sound smart, to write like the folk they be readin,” which is exactly what I try to do when I actively use second-order thinking. Knowing that my peers will read and critique my words and ideas furthers the pressure I feel to sound smart which advertently means I have to ascribe to standard English and, therefore, lose my voice.

I may be going too far with my claim that I lose my voice by writing in standard English even though the ideas I present in my papers and in this reflection are my own. My papers simply do not sound like me and, therefore, I feel they are not me. They are a version of me that entered a “black box” and came out in standard English. So I am left wondering is my voice in my ideas or in the words that make sentences that construct my ideas? In all three articles, the writers emphasize that communicating your ideas in order to contribute to a conversation is in some form or another one’s own voice. If voice is effectively communicating between people, then I do not see why standardizing English is “choppin off folks tongues” if it would allow folks to share ideas effectively. If voice is the way your words and accents from your discourse community are used to communicate with people from other discourse communities with different ways of expressing their ideas, then I can see why standardizing English could harm different discourse communities across the world.

Going back to an earlier article, Elbow writes, “Every definition of true college writing will exclude some other kinds of excellent writing,” a line that has stuck with me throughout this course because the act of defining or standardizing something is limiting that something at the expense of the diversity within that which is standardized. As a participant in higher education, I understand that I have to ascribe to standard English and to “college-level” writing so that I could keep up with the status quo at Pomona, but I did not know that these standards would limit my voice. My limited voice is now one that is inaccessible to people like my parents but is easily accessible to my peers and my professors. I have entered a new discourse community that I am still learning to navigate and still do not know how to code mesh within it making me feel like I have no authority and no clear sense of my own voice.