Reading Moussu’s piece made me think about how I would react if my Spanish professor tried to critique the content of something that I wrote without giving me suggestions to improve my grammar. I’m taking a Spanish class because I want to learn how to communicate in Spanish, not because I would like to learn how to structure an argument. Because what is the point of learning the latter if my argument is incomprehensible or unclear? At the end of the day, the biggest obstacle in the way of communicating in a language that one is not proficient in just might be something lower down on the writing center’s hierarchy.
Moussu speaks of “the ‘cultural’ gap that existed and still exists today between practices in ESL programs and those in writing centres.” I think this gap is important to point out because it indicates the audience, and therefore the priorities of that audience, that writing centers typically cater to. The hierarchy that places the depth of ideas above mechanics should not be taken as universal; it simply is the case that most non-ESL students who attend the writing center don’t have trouble communicating their ideas relatively effectively even if there are grammatical mistakes, so it makes sense to focus more on improving what the paper is actually saying. But many of these readings have spoken about a writing center “philosophy” that universalizes this hierarchy; this philosophy in fact rigidly centers the writing center around proficient English speakers and therefore dismisses the needs of ESL students as secondary.
At the end of the day, the classroom itself is where ideas should be developed and interrogated. The primary job of the writing center is to help students with writing, and though that may mean helping students with ideas (since, after all, what is writing if not the communication of ideas?), as far as I know there really is no other place that students can go if they need help with mechanical problems. Additionally, I am suspicious of objections by writing centers to heed to grammatical errors in student writing, especially concerning ESL students, because to me such objections appear to be grounded in an elitist conception of writing—”we’re too good for grammar”—where it is assumed that students are proficient enough in Standard Written English that it does not make sense for them to prioritize instruction in mechanics. It is important for writing centers to be equipped with the tools needed to aid all students of different abilities and backgrounds, which means undoing the universalization of writing center philosophies of prioritization.