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Monday, November 03, 2008

PeerCentered Podcast 3.2: Nancy Grimm Keynote

Over on the podcast, you'll find a new episode featuring Nancy Grimm!

10 comments:

  1. I listened to this podcast, and I'm glad I wasn't there to hear the keynote address in person, since I suspect that I would have found it irresistible to roll my eyes and look around for someone to exchange knowing smirks with. (Given the audience, though, I don't know if I would have found anyone.) To be fair, this podcast contains only a portion of the address, and I'm objecting to just the first half of it.

    Grimm said that the "new reliance on writers as tools of production has created unprecedented opportunities for intrusion and exploitation." (She was quoting someone else in at least part of this quote.) Using Marxist terminology is always an effective way to make something good sound bad. Never mind what was meant by "intrusion and exploitation"--let's consider the student-writers' perspective. Wouldn't they be thrilled to know that the first part of the quote means that the writing skills they may learn in college are growing in importance in the minds of potential employers? "Oh, so becoming a 'tool of production' means I'll get paid to write? Sweet."

    Grimm also stated (earlier) that the "use of literacy for economic production is not linked to the individual agency and self expression that often characterizes our teaching goals." Those are worthwhile goals, but they're described as "our teaching goals." Again, what about the student-writers? Has anyone bothered to ask what their goals are? Would they rather have their literacy used for economic production (i.e., would they rather get a job after graduation?), or would they rather learn to express themselves? It's not as if writing centers can't strive to do both, but if a center's primary goal involves viewing students as "designers of social futures" (in Grimm's words) and engaging in some sort of experiment in social engineering, then that is probably how the center should be advertised. I wonder, then, what the associated effect on the # of student visits (and, thus, university funding) would be.

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  2. The purpose of this blog and of the podcast, todd, is to excite discussion about peer tutoring and writing centers in general. It is not about promoting some monolithic view of writing centers or writing center work as you imply in your first paragraph. There is a healthy debate about writing center work, and peer tutoring specifically. No doubt you would have found many people who would have reacted similarly.

    I sense a split in the approach to writing centers in Grimm's address that is relevant to the institution to which they belong. Is a writing center there to reinforce what the student already knows, or should they be there to break new ground--to move the student writer into new thinking? As a part of an educational institution, a writing center must have a curriculum, but, as you suggest, this may be ignoring the desire of the student writer. The balance between the two is often discussed, but mostly not in Marxist terms.

    Overall, Grimm is, appears to be stating that the problem with writing centers is that they privilege "individual agency and self expression" at the cost of practical application of writing. In other words there is an implicit curriculum that Grimm is pointing out that is highly problematic and elitist. It does nothing to further the student's economic potential.

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  3. I thought Grimm was saying something close to the opposite of that, but maybe that's because I only heard a portion of her address (or maybe it was her lack of inflection). It's interesting that she would decry the privilege afforded to issues of individual agency and self expression in the same speech in which she urged writing centers to "extend their project to important issues in social justice" (as stated in the blog post prior to this one).

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  4. Anonymous9:08 PM

    How are individual agency and self expression are tantamount to social justice, todd. Please explain.

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  5. I didn't say they were tantamount, but I'll play along. One could argue that allowing for the individual agency and self expression of all people, regardless of race or gender or whatever, is an integral part of true social justice.

    I listened to the podcast again, and I noticed Grimm saying that writing centers can "help you negotiate the socio-technical practices of your future workplaces...the ones that subsume your identities in a corporate model." I'm not sure what to make of that statement. It doesn't sound value-free to me, but I suppose it could be.

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  6. I'm not sure anything is value free, and that is sort of what I was saying previously: the writing center has a curriculum whether it realizes it or not. Grimm suggest that the unexplored curriculum is the idea of individual agency at the expense of everything else. This too is a form of social engineering, but one that is so ingrained that it is not called such.

    There does seem to be an essential contradiction in writing center work, in this sense: are we working for the education and betterment of the individual or the education and betterment of the whole? Personally I think we can do both. I also personally believe that we are ethically and, I would go so far, morally bound to ensure that what we do does have impact on the economic lives of students; this includes an ability to understand what they are being asked to do by their future employers and being able to speak for themselves and negotiate the terms of employment.

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  7. I should have added to that last sentence "among other things." Pardon me, I was in a rush to get ready to go to my own place of employment! ;-)

    I also wanted to write on "designers of social futures" (which does seem awkward) also fits into that notion. Ultimately what we are talking about, I suppose, is trying to make a better world for people all the way around.

    Now, of course, if a person doesn't see that there is anything wrong with the world as it is (or was) then such a is going to be a direct affront to her or his sensibilities.

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  8. I'd expect that placing an emphasis on improving the economic futures of students would naturally include the promotion of individual agency. After all, we can't really prepare them to write in the workplace if we do everything for them in the writing center. The social engineering aspect would be incidental. Everybody wins!

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  9. I'm not certain I understand how anything I've written says that "we're doing everything for them in the writing center," todd.

    I'm not going to give up on the notion that anything we do in education isn't a form of social engineering. I don't really understand why that is all that problematic in the first place. Of course anyone involved in education is social engineering. The issue is not the easy buzz words, but HOW we are socially engineering.

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  10. I never thought you were saying that. I was simply referring to the typical writing center philosophy, which includes an emphasis on NOT doing everything for the writer (this emphasis itself essentially amounts to the promotion of individual agency), and how that part of the broader WC philosophy is in no way incompatible with the goal of improving students' future economic prospects.

    It was a playful suggestion on my part. However, it's also true that I would indeed prefer to see all of the touchy-feely kinds of WC goals become secondary to concern for preparing student-writers for the workplace. And I will not rest until that happens.

    I'm kidding. I'll probably give up and rest right after I hit the "Publish Your Comment" button.

    (And, for the record, I fully support the promotion of individual agency.)

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