Posts Tagged ‘ethics’

Whose Paper Is It, Anyway?

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, November 22, 2011, 2:37pm

I had a session recently that made me question the line between helping a student with his or her paper and imposing one’s own writing process or opinions upon it. I’m a big fan of non-directive tutoring and think of myself as a helpful resource rather than as an authority figure, so it came as a shock when I realized that I sometimes feel personally responsible for the papers students bring to the Writing Center. But why should I feel that way when I’m a tutor, not the writer? Just whose paper is it, anyway?

In the session I’ve referred to, the student came in about an hour before her paper was due, and expected that we’d work on final edits rather than any major revisions. However, there was a glaring higher-order concern with her literary analysis: her thesis contained two main claims, but she only supported one of these claims in her paper. Simply deleting the unsupported claim was out of the question, since one of her two critical sources related solely to that claim, and she needed both sources for the assignment. I knew if it were my paper, I’d go back to the text to find evidence to support the second claim. When I suggested this, however, the student said she couldn’t do that—both because she didn’t have enough time and because she had not purchased/rented/checked out a copy of the text.*

At this point in the session, I was at a loss. The student decided to add a sentence to each of her body paragraphs that related to her second claim, but without any textual evidence for her claims I knew she would not get a high grade on her paper. No matter how hard I tried, I would not be able to help this student make her paper as strong as I wanted it to be. But even as I write this, I wonder why I felt responsible for making another student’s paper as strong as I wanted it to be, rather than simply wanting to make it stronger than it was before. The student was content with her draft before she brought it in to the Writing Center; after all, she only wanted me to polish it. So what was the problem?

I think I felt personally responsible for the grade this student was going to receive because I had the opportunity to help make that paper a solid, well-supported literary analysis, but the student hadn’t done her part by giving herself the time she would need to actually follow her consultant’s advice after the session. Usually I don’t have such a hard time dealing with last-minute appointments—but usually, these students really do just need to polish their work. In this particular session, part of me wanted to insist that the student go find a copy of the book in the library and gather evidence for her claims, but of course I can’t force students to put more effort into their work than they’re willing to give, or refuse to offer any other advice besides a method that would take more time than they have to work with.

What do you think—am I overreacting to the situation? Have you ever wanted to assume ownership of the student’s paper by directing the student to do exactly what you would do? Can a sense of responsibility for other students’ papers have positive effects, or does it just make us feel like lousy tutors when a paper ultimately doesn’t meet our personal standards? How much (if at all) should we lower our standards when dealing with last-minute appointments?

*This is perhaps the biggest mystery of all—where did she get all the quotes she’d already cited in her paper if she didn’t have access to a copy of the literary work she was analyzing? I think my brain exploded a little when she said this.


Respectful Aggression?: Reconciling Polarized Definitions of Writing

By Gretchen Panzer - Tuesday, October 18, 2011, 8:03pm

I keep thinking about David Bartholomae’s definition of writing as “an act of aggression disguised as an act of charity” (407). Because of this, I responded a bit cynically to the section regarding “Respect for the Reader” in St. Norbert’s “General Writing Policy” as it appears in the 2001-2003 St. Norbert Catalog:

Students should demonstrate that they respect the values and concerns of their readers. Thus written work should address the needs of its audience, which includes an intelligent, coherent, and grammatically correct presentation of information; a use of unbiased language to avoid sexist or other pejorative rhetoric; and an awareness and tolerance of alternative viewpoints. (qtd. in Pennington and Boyer 92-93)

First, I don’t understand what grammatical correctness has to do with respecting the “values and concerns” of one’s audience. Will my reader really feel as if I don’t respect his or her values and concerns if there’s a comma splice in my introductory paragraph? Second, if we are to believe Bartholomae as well as the individuals who composed St. Norbert’s “General Writing Policy,” writing is a contradiction in terms: a respectful act of aggression, an attack that is unbiased, non-pejorative, and tolerant of other viewpoints.

How do we reconcile these two very different views of writing? John Pennington and Robert Boyer, in their discussion of St. Norbert’s WAC program, follow Sandra Stotsky’s example in viewing “writing as a moral and intellectual behavior in all disciplines” (92). If writing is indeed an inherently moral behavior, Batholomae’s claim that it is an act of aggression simply doesn’t fit with our cultural assumption that aggression is immoral. There is a direct opposition here, which gives us three options:

  1. to reject Bartholomae’s definition of writing as an act of aggression and to accept Pennington, Boyer, and St. Norbert College’s definition of writing as a moral act;
  2. to accept Bartholomae’s definition and to reject that of Pennington, Boyer, and St. Norbert College; or
  3. to create a middle ground between these two opposite definitions.

I’m curious as to whether any of you have created your own middle ground, especially since I don’t have a clear vision of what mine would be yet. What characterizes the space between writing as aggression and writing as moral behavior? What particular challenges did you face when navigating this middle ground? Do you think this is a tension that will ever be resolved on a larger scale, or will there always be a debate regarding the nature of writing?


Works Cited

Bartholomae, David. “Inventing the University.” An Anthology of Essays. 403-17. Web.

Pennington, John, and Robert Boyer. “A Reflective Strategy for Writing Across the Curriculum: Situating WAC as a Moral and Civic Duty.” The WAC Journal. 87-100. Web.

[Note: I apologize for the incomplete citations—I accessed these articles through Moodle and was unable to find complete citations in my web research.]