Monday, October 21, 2013

Take Turns: Thoughts on Respecting Writers

Pondering what it means to work with ESL students, I think back to a quote from a scholar (his name escapes me at the moment--feel free to provide it in the comments) that I heard early in my Mentoring Writers course, "Respect the writer." I suppose that is a simple way of putting it, but I think it conjures some important questions: What does it actually mean to respect someone, particularly someone of a different culture? How can one foster this kind of respect?

Though I'm not sure whether or not I can adequately answer these questions, I think the solution lies somewhere between my knowledge and the writer's knowledge, somewhere at the end of a discussion. That is why I have come to understand the importance of developing a context with the writer, especially at the beginning of a session. After all, If I do not allow the writer to extend herself, then how can I engage her? And if I can't relate with her on any level, then how can I possibly help her express herself in English? Simply put, the answer to each question is, "I can't," but the explanation for why is longer:  If I monopolize a session, then I deny the author's agency, essentially reducing her to something similar to a game piece confined to an array of moves and rules that relegate her to passivity, to a role moving through a system wherein she can't make her own moves or express her own voice; when such a system is in place, only rules matter--and real engagement, real learning, is severely hindered. Therefore, I must understand the writer's agency as critical--this is the foundation upon which respect is built.

I should ask the writer about her thoughts and concerns and  ideas, because this asserts her agency and shows respect. Once respect is in place, she and I can discuss, and work together to come to a place of mutual understanding and benefit. Together, we can play, not be played at, the game of writing and language--of communication--and I think that is more fun for everyone. I suppose it is alright that I don't have all of the answers, as it seems they lie not within me, not within the other, but somewhere in the middle, somewhere we meet together.

I look forward to experiencing these "somewheres."


  1. I appreciate your post Jarrod. Expecially your comments of the tutor and the tutee meeting "in the middle." It reminded me of a quote I am very familiar with, not because I embody it, but because it prompts me to remember to respect others:
    “I believe that the first test of a great man is his humility. I don't mean by humility, doubt of his power. But really great men have a curious feeling that the greatness is not of them, but through them. And they see something divine in every other man and are endlessly, foolishly, incredibly merciful.” -John Ruskin

  2. The quotation was from Ron Maxwell. Here is a link: