Beyond the Tutorial: Collective Cultures and Shared Grief in the Writing Center
MetadataShow full item record
Most writing center tutors who work on campuses with substantial numbers of ESL students know that the misunderstandings and confusions that occur in tutorials go well beyond language difficulties. While a Korean student might tend to put verbs at the end of the sentence or omit articles, she might also find herself struggling to speak in her own individual voice–something an American tutor is likely to encourage. Indeed, many problems faced every day in writing centers can be traced to conflicts that arise when the individualism associated with the ethics, ways of seeing the world, and pedagogical practices that characterize American universities come into conflict with the more communal epistemologies and practices that we often associate with Asian students. Although I do not want to rehearse the experiences of countless Asian students who struggle to make a transition from “we” to “I” (Staben and Nordhaus 73), I would like to suggest that a simple binary opposition between a Korean, Japanese, or Chinese “we” and an American “I” fails to account for the complex ways in which the writing center interrogates, manipulates, and reconfigures this binary. The very nature of a writing center tutorial puts pressure on the opposition of Asian collectivism to American individualism, for it asks students–perhaps contradictorily–to collaborate one-on-one. But if the structure of the tutorial often causes confusion, it also offers an opportunity to reflect productively on the “we” and the “I,” especially when the tutorial is understood in the context of larger events such as the Virginia Tech shootings in April 2007. This event in particular, which resonated quite differently for Korean and American students, offered a striking opportunity to explore the political tensions inherent in writing tutoring within a larger, real-life context. Recognizing the politics of the tutorial–the interested and opinionated way in which it approaches ideas such as “the individual” or “the collective”–allows for greater understanding and more effective communication between tutors and the students they seek to help.