Like So Many Mushrooms

To prepare for an orientation meeting in the Writing Center tomorrow, today I
leafed back through North’s "The Idea of a Writing Center," which is on the
short list of recommended readings that will be used to prime the conversation
in the meeting. I suppose this just proves what I’d already suspected: I
haven’t been reading nearly enough lately, but I find North’s 1984 CE
essay both funny and edgy in a drop-the-gauntlets sort of way. His intensity
shows; he is not bored with what he is writing. Consider this passage:

People make similar remarks [about error] all of the time, stopping me or
members of my [Writing Center] staff in the halls or calling us into
offices, to discuss–in hushed tones, frequently–their current "impossible"
or difficult students. There was a time, I will confess, when I let my
frustration get the better of me. I would be more or less combative,
confrontational, challenging the instructor’s often well-intentioned but not
very useful "diagnosis." We no longer bother with such confrontations; they
never worked out very well, and they risk undermining the genuine compassion
our teachers have for the students they single out. Nevertheless,
their behavior makes it clear that for them, a writing center is to
illiteracy what a cross between Lourdes and a hospice would be to serious
illness: one goes there hoping for miracles, but ready to face the
inevitable. In their minds, clearly, writers fall into three fairly distinct
groups: the talented, the average, and the others; and the Writing Center’s
only logical raison d’etre must be to handle those others–those, as
the flyer proclaims, with "special problems." (435)

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Close Modeling

Flower and Hayes refer to their studies of talk-aloud protocols as "close
modeling" (53) ("Designing Protocol Studies…", Hayes, Flower, Swarts, 1984).
Close modeling suggests models that are slotted at a certain scale. For
protocol studies, the scale is the solitary writer who is given a specific (if
dull) writing task, who then executes the writing task, and who reports on the
writing process according to a pre-determined processual scheme.

The famous visual model (from the CCC article in 1981) plays only a
minor role in this discussion of close modeling. The visual model is
presented once more in "Designing," reiterated with so little explicit treatment
that its structuring function is more or less obvious and settled.
I mean that it has not changed in the three intervening years. The visual
model is static, inert, a monument.

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