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English 1810: Writing Center Theory & Practice/Writing Centers as Agents of Social Change

English 1810 is a service learning course in which students engage in service in a writing center context.  Right now our writing centers are limited to the SLCC Student and Community Writing Centers (q.v.) but I suppose that could change in the future if enough student were involved.  I have a feeling, however, that most students will chose to work on-campus, given the convenience of that.  This assumption is borne out by the students taking the class this term have opted to do their service in the Student Writing Center.

The nature of their service is fairly broad.  Initially, when fellow co-planners Tiffany Rousculp & Melissa Helquist were working on this class, we assumed that most students would want to work with writers one-to-one.  This year's students, however, are about 60/40 split with 60% doing projects other than one-to-one work.  These projects include conducting workshops ranging from orientations for new or high school students to those on specific aspects of writing.  The students in the class have taken on some very challenging topics.

Those committing their service to one-to-one work, have been engaging in some pretty thoughtful reflection on that process and have given a great deal to the Student Writing Center.  They have also reflected upon what they have learned from the experience.  I hope that they will share that learning at PeerCentered.  So far the students in 1810 have only posted their thoughts on what it is to be a tutor.  I'm not going to require them to post any more, but have told them that it would do them well to do so, particularly since there have been some thoughtful responses from others in the peer tutoring community to their responses.

You can look at the syllabus for the class somewhere below, so I will not bore you with a blow-by-blow account of it, but aside from introducing students to responding to writers, the course also talks thoroughly about composition pedagogy and practice.  I've also taken the opportunity to discuss writing centers as sights of social change.  We're using chapters from The Everyday Writing Center ("Everyday Racism") and Facing the Center ("Facing Class in the Writing Center").  The discussion is going well, and I am interested to hear the students experiences and what role they think that writing centers have in teaching social justice/social change.

All of this discussion of writing centers as sites of social change is wrapped up in a complicated discussion of education in general as a human endeavor that is complicated by the fact that it is both challenging tradition and enforcing it at the same time.  Education is both a progressive and conservative institution, in other words.  We are talking about how some social traditions (such as racism) are so repugnant that they must needs be exposed and discussed openly in any educational context.  The same can be (and has been) said of writing centers.

I am suggesting a "pay it forward" model of response to the students in 1810 in talking about such difficult and charged issues such as racism/sexism/genderism/classism but I realize that is tough in and of itself.  By the "pay it forward" model, I mean that rather than being reactionary and caustic towards someone expressing regressive and harmful ideas that we treat the matter openly without shaming the person to discuss why the ideas being expressed by the writer are harmful to other human beings.  While some may believe that a writer expressing racist ideas should be shamed, I believe that shaming only exacerbates the problem.   I think, as well, we can talk about how the writer can reflect on her or his own expression and experience to overcome debilitating ideas such as racism.    In other words, I think individual racism/prejudice can be and should be overcome through positive methods.

Next time we're going to dig a bit into white privilege and systemic racism in order to understand why racism in people who seem powerless (such as poor white people who have little political influence or cache) is extremely harmful to minorities subject to it and to society as a whole, and how we can address the inequity  that white privilege creates.  (This is why I've brought in Harry Denny's piece on social class at this point.) 

I'll keep you posted on how the class ends up.  I'm really interested in how the students shape their final online portfolios of their work in the course.


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