Revising Trimbur's Dichotomy: Tutors and Client's Sharing Knowledge, Sharing Power
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In the twenty-five years since John Trimbur’s 1987 article, “Peer Tutoring: A Contradiction in Terms?” was published, writing center personnel have found it necessary to emphasize the dichotomy in the term “peer tutor.” Trimbur’s influential article has continually appeared in the literature used to train tutors and introduce them to writing center theory. For example, The Harcourt Brace Guide to Peer Tutoring (1998) and The Longman Guide to Writing Center Theory and Praxis (2008) both include Trimbur’s article. It is also cited in three essays collected in The St. Martin’s Sourcebook for Writing Tutors: Cynthia Haynes-Burton’s “‘Thirty-something’ Students: Concerning Transitions in the Writing Center,” originally published in 1990, Jay Jacoby’s “‘The Use of Force’: Medical Ethics and Center Practice,” and Julie Bokser’s “Peer Tutoring and Gorgias: Acknowledging Aggression in the Writing Center,” originally published in 2001. Each of the articles within The St. Martin’s Sourcebook takes Trimbur’s assertion of the peer-tutor dichotomy as fundamentally true. Training, then, has focused on the task of switching deftly between peer and tutor during a session because it is believed that tutors cannot inhabit both roles simultaneously. Trimbur points out that many tutors feel a loyalty to both the institution that has awarded them the label of “writing expert” as well as to their own peers who share their concerns as students (290-291). Beginning tutors especially will feel pressure from both sides, wanting to please the institution (by passing down knowledge) and their clients (by being co-learners). His solution is to help tutors learn to negotiate conflicting social allegiances through a sequential training module. Toward the end of his article, he worries that “the conception of tutoring as an apprenticeship treats students as extensions of our profession and can reinforce their dependence on faculty authority ” (295). To avoid this situation, Trimbur advocates a developmental tutor training program that would begin by emphasizing the tutor’s role as co-learner in order to de-emphasize the tutor’s belief in the traditional academic paradigm of passing down knowledge from expert to novice.