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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Seasonal Visitors

Early in The Function of Theory in Composition Studies, Sánchez
discusses the differences between applying theory and writing
theory. He refers to Hairston’s "The Winds of Change," as a moment that
inaugurates "an enduring method for ‘doing’ composition theory: take a term or
concept from a more respected or respectable field such as philosophy and use it
to illuminate some aspect of composition studies" (12). The way of
theorizing about writing, according to Sánchez:
appropriate and apply, appropriate and apply. There follows a soft critique:
methods in scare quotes (i.e., "predominant ‘methods’") and, within a few pages,
a discussion of those who "have reasserted the importance of empirically
oriented theorizing" (13). Sánchez echoes
Linda Flower with his interest in ways "that composition theory might generate
new theories rather than retrofit existing ones" (14). I haven’t finished
reading The Function of…, but I’m wondering at the end of the first
chapter whether the retrofit and the new can coexist, whether they are hybrid
and integral.

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