This week’s articles dealt with the terminology used in and about writing centers. The first was Reading Our Own Words: Rhetorical Analysis and the Institutional Discourse of Writing Centers by Peter Carino. I couldn’t find the whole article online for you. The copy I read came from the journal, Writing Center Research: Extending the Conversation. I am coming to like Mr. Carino’s approach to writing about writing centers. In this article, he took a rhetorical approach to what writing centers say about themselves. He pointed out the strengths and weakness, but my favorite part was after pointing out the way directors of writing centers explain or emphasize the tutors are skilled, sometimes using “expert”, trying to maneuver through being marginalized, and be inclusive to everyone of all writing levels across all curriculums, he pointed out how paranoid and over promising they sound. He asked this one question (my favorite), “Does the description of the biology department in our institutions’ catalogues assure students that the faculty are qualified? What an empowering question! Why is it English department, and writing centers, in particular, feel the need to tell others on their campus they know what they’re doing? Carino discussed several other topics in this article. It is worth reading if you are interested in writing centers.
The second article was Writing Centers and the Idea of Consultancy by William McCall. This is not a long essay. It is interesting, but it did something that frustrates me about English majors writing about what they do; make a disclaimer after working to support their thesis. This essay tackled whether using “tutor” or “consultant” conveyed what the position really does. Now, personally, having been a tutor for several years, I’m partial to “tutor.” “Consultant” sounds too stuffy to me, and I was surprised that McCall agreed in the beginning. He built his case and them showed his acceptance of using “consultant” as what better describes what goes on in a writing center. He went so far as to have a chart comparing the two. I’m not one to accept change easily, but was convincing me. And then, BAM! He says, “No designation for writing center staff is without its shortcomings, and this is as true of writing consultant as it is for tutor, writing fellow, or writing assistant. But we might ask ourselves which term offers the best and most complete description of our work not only in the center but also out of the center, and, in this regard, the consultancy model also has much to recommend it.”
Now you might read this and think he is actually supporting it. But is he? Look closely, he is definitely taking a step away from his argument. It goes back to what Carino was saying earlier about why writing center directors feel the need to say they and their staff are competent. All I could think was, Be bolder McCall. You were convincing even me! But that step backwards made me question you.
Maybe that is the real key to writing centers being successful across curriculums and within their institutions–be bold and stop apologizing and explaining your ability and need to be there. At UNL I don’t see our Business School explaining why they are there or that they are qualified to educate students. They present themselves more as: where do you think you’ll be without me?