The latest Psychedelic Press UK journal (2014 Vol. 3) is out today!

August 21, 2014 § Leave a comment

Psychedelic Press UK

PsypressUK 14-3 by Reuben Quartermass

The latest Psychedelic Press UK journal (2014 Vol.3) is now available! Buy your copy here. Contributions include:

The Lotos-Eaters – Mike Jay
DMT and the Topology of Reality – Andrew Gallimore
Watts Ego – Robert Dickins
What Exactly is ‘Ayahuasca Tourism’? – Ross Heaven
Beats on Acid – Roger Keen
Back in the Forest with You – Nathan Horowitz
Psychedelic Aesthetics and Political Ideology in Aldous Huxley’s ‘Island’ – Roger Green
Cultivating the Teacher – James W, Jesso
Psychotomimetics: From Moreau to Langlitz – John Glynn

(artwork by Reuben Quatermass & Edmond Griffith-Jones)

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Playing the Changes: Collaborative Writing Consulting (Draft 1, 2008)

August 17, 2014 § Leave a comment

This post is an experiment in collaborative revision.  I wrote it in 2008 in a graduate level Writing Center Theory course at The University of Denver.  The class was taught by Eliana Schonberg and Geoffrey Bateman. I learned a lot and last week had the pleasure of re-visiting the ideas here with Frankie Condon — a contributor to The Everyday Writing Center,  which shows up below  and Vershawn Ashanti Young (VAY), co-author of Other People’s English: Code Meshing, Code Switching, and African American Literacy, which recently rocked my world.  VAY et al. argue that Code Meshing or promoting students’ use of their own language into their institutional language: As VAY states: 

I will argue that code-switching is a racialized teaching method that manufactures linguistic segregation in classrooms and unwittingly supports it in society. In the end, I call for teachers to embrace code-meshing on the merits that it represents linguistic integration. Young, Vershawn Ashanti (2014-05-23). Other People’s English: Code-Meshing, Code-Switching, and African American Literacy (Language and Literacy Series) (Kindle Locations 1604-1605). Teachers College Press. Kindle Edition.

vay

 

Below is an attempt to put VAY’s statement into practice, but I do so by using a more public mode of delivery and response, incorporating media and personal notes, and inviting other voices.

 

Roger Green’s graduate school paper from 2008.

Professors Bateman and Schonberg

Teaching Writing and Literature

11/19/2008

Playing the Changes: Writing Consulting and Communicating Integration

Academic writing centers are interstitial environments where authority is not rigid. Because of this, writing centers can be places to effect change in more rigid academic departments and communities. Traditionally, writing center directors and tutors have had to contend with unchecked assumptions made by students and professors in all disciplines, including English professors. Stephen North’s “The Idea of a Writing Center” is an archetypal narrative about the ways people misunderstand the function of writing centers; everyone has stories about ways students and professionals have misunderstood the writing center’s purpose. There are many assumptions, but the most problematic ones concern the assumption that writing centers are remedial environments and the assumption that writing centers are service-based “fix-it” shops. The counter argument to the first assumption is that writing centers are for writers at any level of ability and at any stage of the writing process. The counter argument to the second assumption is that writing centers are learning environments. As learning environments, writing centers are places of knowledge exchange, but knowledge exchange is a complicated idea in and of itself.

Traditionally, scholastic knowledge has been passed down by “experts” who impart their knowledge to the (usually) younger pupil. Recent inquiries – and by this I mean the last sixty years or so – into the nature of knowledge and complicate this. Knowledge, at least since Foucault, has come to be interpreted as the product of discursive environments. As such, knowledge does not exist as some abstract resource center – like a library for instance – but as the product of the collection of the discussions in and around the texts that make up that library. Moreover, in a postmodern frame there is not one kind of knowledge; rather, knowledge is generated through “discourse communities” which may overlap, inform, or exclude each other. Since knowledge is not generated by an individual, but rather generated by the discursive situation that individual is already in and informed by, the romantic idea of an “expert” individual in an educational environment is challenged, and with it the role of authority in that environment.

In practice, such epistemological thinking is illustrated by the move toward collaborative learning environments. In rhetoric, voices like Andrea Lunsford have called for more collaboration in both classrooms and writing centers in “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” In the writing and rhetoric classroom collaboration means more group-oriented projects and workshops, an anti-authoritarian learning environment. In the faculty lounges and department meetings among academic professionals, this has meant an exploration of what real collaborative writing is; a work like Geller, Eodice, Condon, Carrol, and Boquet’s The Everyday Writing Center is an important example. Teachers who lecture in an expert “top-down” sort of way are criticized for being overly self-indulgent. Tutoring in the writing center becomes a non-directive approach to the writing consultation. Interestingly, the non-directive consultation seeks to affirm the tutee’s identity as a “writer” while simultaneously undermining the authority of the “expert” or tutor.

In more localized writing center conversations, writing center directors struggle to affirm the particular knowledge of consultants while simultaneously encouraging non-authoritative exchanges between consultants and students. Even the name “consultant” instead of tutor is a way of undermining traditional notions of how writing knowledge is communicated. In The Everyday Writing Center, Geller et al propose the idea that every tutee be acknowledged as a writer – not a student or tutee – because people write every day. Everyday people are writers: “the butcher the banker, the drummer and then – makes no difference what group I’m in”…and yet simultaneously it does matter which group Sly Stone is in; he’s not exactly replaceable. So, on a practical level, we are all writers in a general sense, though not all “poets” or “authors” in the more romantic sense – maybe Sly Stone realized that and that’s why he stopped performing.

I have now created insular knowledge within the insular discourse community that is the audience for this paper. If you don’t know the song “Everyday People,” you can’t participate in the playfulness of the preceding paragraph: you can’t wonder about the identity complexity of the refrain that comes just after the lines I’ve quoted; it is, “I am everyday people.” Most of my freshman composition students, and most of the people who use the writing center I consult in would not know the song off hand. (Note from 2014: And as my professors above mentioned in their comments, neither do one of them, but they didn’t was who) one of my  A discourse identity is an identity for a group, and group identities by nature insulate and, either overtly or tacitly, exclude.

 

Navigating the ways discourse communities insulate and exclude can be ethically tricky. The move toward collaborative approaches in classrooms and writing centers has been fueled by a larger academic discourse community which reacted against the arrogance and injustice of colonialism. The writing center consultant enters an environment in 2009 where the idea of owning any part of knowledge has ethical implications. In larger discussions about writing pedagogy, conventions exist centered around the question of writing ownership. In “Who Owns Writing,” Doug Hesse suggests the metaphor of stewardship rather than ownership. While such analogies are helpful ways to model learning spheres, the epistemological situation undermines the very idea of authority and authenticity which have traditionally been sought after in written products. If I am generated only by my discourse with others, what role does my intentionality play in my writing. If my self is a simulacrum, why must I attempt the “lie” of “owning” my own work? How can I really call it “my work”? Am I not just a conduit, a vessel through which language and culture speak? At least insofar as I exist in language, as you read me now, I must be.

Part of having identity is the production of boundaries; to come into physical existence is to be towards death; or as Yeats puts it: “Things fall apart.” Writing, insofar as it is representational – and I can’t think of a time when it’s not representational; all language is – is the production of the objectified portion of identity. Representation is its own undoing. Identity is an undoing; it is always unstable, always interstitial. As a writing consultant, I don’t know if the identity of “writer” is something I could ever “give” to a person or “treat” them as – to “facilitate.” To do so would only assume that at one point I did not see them that way and now I have the power to do so. But this undermines the essence of what I think professionals like the authors of The Everyday Writing Center would like to see and what writing center consulting is about. What they want to see is the consultant including the tutee in the discourse community of “writer.” They want less exclusivity, less knowledge hoarding. What they want is essentially ethical human engagement and interaction. “All real living is meeting,” as Martin Buber says (26). This is a worthy but difficult goal.

What is this ethical interaction in the context of the writing center? A writing center consultation consists of, most people would think, an exchange, but it is a specific kind of exchange. It is not the bestowing of gifts or knowledge parceled out in compact noetic units. Such things don’t exist. There is something really unappealing about seeing a writing center consultation as commerce; consultants don’t like to feel like they’re in the “service industry.” The authors of The Everyday Writing made an interesting mistake in trying to describe the ideal consultation. The authors, all writing center directors, engaged their tutors in a directed freewrite to develop the following phrases: “As a writer, I…”; “When I tutor, I…”; “The best thing that happened was…”; In my wildest dreams,…” The resulting freewrites were very reflective, but that’s not necessarily what the directors wanted to see.

This type of focused freewrite goes a long way toward helping tutors articulate their own processes and how they affect their work, but activities like this may inadvertently be turning out tutors inward. These activities are ultimately about the self, stroking the ego at the expense of an / other. Not what we want from tutors. No, no, no. We want shape-shifters…” (Geller, et al 74)

Outward directed tutoring is more collaborative and tries to move beyond localized identity – toward a community. Geller et al continue: “Fostering writerly identity is not our ultimate goal; it is how those identities participate in a writing center community of practice that is most important”(82). Since identity isn’t ever fixed, practice should not be fixed. There is no script for a consultant to follow. Analogies of jazz improvisers come to mind. Jazz history is worth considering momentarily because the developments in jazz over the past sixty years contain important lessons about communities.

The typical analogy to the improviser refers to modern jazz of the 1940s and 1950s, but a lot has happened in jazz since then. In modern jazz of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the improviser plays over a pre-existing set of chord changes, embellishing them while being supported by other musicians. Typically, to reiterate, there is one soloist at a time and the musicians rotate, taking turns blowing over choruses. This is similar to the idea of the peloton, which Geller et al discuss when reflecting on their collaborative composing methods for The Everyday Writing Center (“Dear co-authors”). While there is one soloist, the other musicians improvise as well, in order to support the leader.

Now, consider the next development in jazz. When Ornette Coleman arrived in New York in the late ‘50s and began playing without predetermined chord structures, it caused quite a stir.

Free jazz or “The New Thing” challenged both listeners and performers by removing a set of formal expectations that were full of esoteric coded messages for the jazz community. He simultaneously asked professional musicians to listen harder, to interact at every moment, while also removing the barrier between professional and amateur musicians. Unsurprisingly, the results of these musical efforts, which many people find difficult to listen to, essentially dealt a death blow to the marketability of jazz, which was already in decline.

Without predetermined form, without an existing set of rules or script, interaction is exhausting work. Without external form, the form becomes the body of the improviser him or herself. In the 1980s, jazz went through a kind of commercial revival with the introduction of stars like Wynton Marsalis, who championed a return to the stylistic elements of 1950s jazz. On the less marketable side of jazz in the 1980s, composers like John Zorn, informed by the developments of Ornette Coleman, were trying to find ways to compose music to feature every individual musician’s sound while maintaining his or her distinct voice. Zorn created “Game” pieces which encourage interaction among musicians. The game has a set of parameters, but it’s just a game, and many of the rules are made to be broken; the music never sounds the same because it is completely recreated every time the piece is played. For example, in Zorn’s Cobra is directed by cue cards that the conductor uses to facilitate and shape the music. However, subgroups of musicians can form “guerilla” groups and create mutiny during a composition.

Such compositions enact the “Trickster” mentality Geller et al would like to see in their writing centers. Of course this would make the already difficult communications to academic professionals outside the writing center more difficult.

To share a “Stephen North” type of narrative, I recently received an angry telephone call from a Social Work professor at the University of Denver, where I consult in the Writing Center. The angry professor had sent all of her freshman students to the writing center because their writing was “so terrible” – it was too touchy feely and it had a lot of run-on sentences. She had been away from teaching for a few years and wondered if standards had somehow changed without her knowing about it. Misunderstandings about writing consulting and instructing are frequent occurrences. In casual conversation, I constantly find myself interacting with people who say something like, “you teach writing? That must be really hard. Good for you though. Our kids certainly need help – their writing is awful.” Such interactions usually follow with a personal account of a situation when poor “grammar” or spelling was witnessed. A writing center’s professional ethos is undermined when consultants and directors can’t effectively convey their concerns to spheres outside the classroom and the writing center, yet twenty-four years after North’s famous article, misunderstandings are still commonplace. The problem is larger than just the writing center. Writing is currently changing in many ways, and the angry professor wasn’t necessarily totally off when wondering about standards.

Deborah Brandt has effectively argued in Literacy in American Lives and “Drafting U.S. Literacy” that standards change quite often and the forces behind the standards have particular agendas, most of which do not encourage collaborative approaches. Since World War II, when literacy standards changed every year according to what the Armed forces felt were necessary writing skills for new G.I.’s, literacy has been defined in terms of functionality and efficiency. This idea reflects America’s economic system: advanced capitalism creates a perpetual need for more productivity and efficiency. Competition becomes the driving force at every level of education: classroom, school, district, and state. As Brandt rhymes about programs like No Child Left Behind, “The interest our government shows in literacy education seeks to speed up the race, not equalize the pace” (“Drafting” 500). Competition and democracy walk hand in hand. The atmosphere in American educational policy is essentially agonistic. Our daily social lives foster competition over collaboration.

“Acceptable writing” in the academic sphere has become so codified that while students now spend more time writing – especially in electronic mediums – than at any point in history, they don’t consider what they do as writing. According to a recent Pew research study, Writing, Technology, and Teens, “85% of teens ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.” But with all this writing, “60% of teens do not think of these electronic texts as “writing.” It is this coded atmosphere that the authors of The Everyday Writing Center are reacting against. I wonder what the study would find if it surveyed adults, particularly educators, about their writing practices. How many educators believe that text messaging is writing? It seems like we really do need some tricksters, some shape-shifters, especially if we must react against such large cultural conceptions.

In “Dear Co-authors: Epistolary Revelations of Five Writing Center Directors” Geller, Eodice, Caroll, Boquet, and express their own reactions to a narrative of Frankie Condon’s which recapitulates the Stephen North narrative of misunderstanding. Condon speaks of the shock and boredom she felt when a colleague referred to the collaboratively written The Everyday Writing Center as sounding “like a friendship ender.” Collaborative work is simply not taken seriously in a culture fueled by competition. But reading their article, which is essentially their email responses to Condon’s email about her colleague, is a glimpse into intimacy of group work as we read about something private as I read the account of Beth H. Boquet’s trip to her gynecologist and mammogram. Of course, the authors are playing the trickster role as they publish this rather intimate material, but it’s meant to be a collaborative account in response to Lunsford and Ede’s “Women Working Together: A Collaborative Conversation.”

While it is a collaborative account, the writing is also undeniably insular. It’s a bit like watching a “rockumentary.” And, of course, the struggle for effective collaboration is par for the course in the music world.

Writing consultants and instructors could learn quite a bit about the composing process from jazz improvisers who engage in the composing all the time. In the 1960s, bassist Charles Mingus, disturbed by what he saw as a lack of musicianship in the newer, freer style, asked pianist and composer Duke Ellington (then in his sixties) to make an album in the new style, with no formal changes. In a letter to Down Beat Magazine Mingus said:

My main reason for making this record was as a joke, calling it ‘Avant-garde by Ellington and Mingus and Diz and Clark Terry.’ Clark still wants to do it, although Duke dropped out because he considers what they call avant-garde today old fashioned music. And it’s true.  It’s old fashioned because it’s played by beginners, by people trying to learn how to play, or trying to wonder what to play to be different.

For a musician like Duke Ellington, who had essentially taught himself how to play piano in the teens and twenties, shaping twentieth century music in the process, music was a vocabulary built out of experience. Steve Lacy, who played with many of the avant-garde players in the 1960s, reflects:

Back in the 60’s, we played completely (we thought) free:  no harmony, melody, rhythm, or structure – just controlled chaos, automatic writing, action painting.  It was very exciting, revolutionary music; but after one year, the music started to sound the same, every night.  It was no longer ‘free’.  Then came the ‘post-free’, where we started to limit and control, and exploit the kind of playing we had discovered.  After some years of this, the discarded elements (melody, harmony, rhythm structure, form) returned to the music, but not like before: renovated, refreshed, wide open with possibilities.  We called this ‘poly-free’, because the freedom might be anywhere, in a given piece.  Also one became free to be not free, if one chose.

Anthony Braxton, an avant-garde saxophonist and composer made an album of free improvisations called For Alto in the late sixties.

He speaks about playing his first solo concerts of improvised music as exhausting, running out of ideas in the first five minutes of the performance and having to come up with something for the next forty minutes. Such experiences gave Braxton more appreciation for players in the older generation. Here speaking of Warne Marsh, the epitome of a bebop tenor player Braxton says:

they’re playing a piece called Excerpt, based on I’ll Remember April, and his solo is out – it’s OUT, OUT, OUT! He could’ve been hung for a solo like that!  It’s so inside the chord changes, he’s really somewhere else.  It’s like you know the context so well that you’re free: you’re free because you understand the rules to such a level that you can do anything you want.  That’s what freedom is.  You can’t be free unless you have a context to be free in.  Existential freedom is not evolutionary, that’s what we’re seeing now.  (Braxton in Lock 102) 

So, what does this have to do with writing center theory and collaboration? Musicians know collaboration very well. Yet in the jazz tradition, the most esteemed quality is a distinct voice. The musical shift in the late 1950s centered, which I’ve centered around Ornette Coleman for brevity here, are essentially a reaction to overly regulated conduct in the jazz community. Once that code was broken, the community was opened. The result was an influx of new ideas as well as an influx of amateurism.  Collaboration may risk such “amateurism” but at the same time give us something more fruitful in its integration of voices.

Today, we see similar shifts in writing pedagogy. It is not that nothing has changed since Stephen North’s article. Many things have changed; but most essentially, the means of writing production and the ways we look at knowledge production have brought about a good deal of ambiguity from basic skills to transfer to what writing is. It is no surprise that professors outside the teaching of writing might be confused. As writing center consultants occupy the interstitial spaces between ambiguity and form, their role is twofold: first, it is to be willing to be open to flux in writing, in ideas, in personalities entering the writing center, in individual and cultural identities; second it is to maintain attachment to the useful structures already in existence as heuristics whose rigidity is only meant to be a catalyst for growth.

As a writing center consultant, I am constantly aware of when I am being directive or non-directive in a consultation. It can certainly be easy to fall into directive modes. But this kind of thinking: directive or non-directive, is useful only in a paradigm of Bildung (which is not necessarily bad). Whichever method I choose, it is still a teaching method. One perhaps is more geared toward effecting knowledge exchange with a student than the other, but they are both about learning. Is there a way to be more collaborative than this? Yes, but it will be uncomfortable.

So, here’s my trickster model: make each consultation a workshop. This means that the consultant will be constantly providing his or her own work to be critiqued by the student. This puts the student into the role of expert. It will no doubt be intimidating for them and it will no doubt create work for consultants. But consultants know that the ways they have learned to write have not just been a matter of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard. They have been in dialog with the things they have read. Imagine a third year PhD language poet presenting his or her material to an ESL student. Imagine the growth potential for two people to meet in a safe atmosphere and come to the conclusion that they don’t understand anything the other is trying to say. This is where real writing development can happen because then it becomes a matter of explaining to the other person the ways you understand and don’t understand their work. The consultant will often have more experience than the student writer, but I believe they will learn as much from the student as the student from them. Being directive or non-directive take a back seat to seeking to relate to the other writer and to explain one’s own ways of seeing. (Note from fall 2014: One can quickly imagine how this gesture could be applied to a writing course as well, creating a dialectic concerning issues of authority. In graduate school and theory programs like Cornell’s SCT, students regularly interact with professor’s unpublished work collaboratively. What changes at the undergraduate level? Is this gratuitous self indulgence or good mentoring? When my college jazz combo instructor, Ron Miles, taught, he often played with us as we learned to improvise.  Ron later served on my committee for my master’s thesis on avant-garde jazz, I then went to study with one of Ron’s mentors, Dale Bruning, then I played guitar on one of Ron’s records, I have recorded multiple albums of my own and with others who also played on Ron’s record; I recently wrote the liner notes to record with Ron Miles, Bill Frisell, and Brian Blade; Ron asked me last year to write a songwriting course for the Music department at MSU Denver, which I did and am teaching there this fall…I would say that’s a successful collaborative relationship with an undergraduate.)

The downside of the current push for collaborative learning is that it remains reactive to the legacy of intellectual arrogance in the western world. There certainly is a lot of it, and there certainly is a lot of psychic damage to get over at both the cultural and the individual level – however those levels meet. But with quiet accepting voices, we products of western culture must recognize what we are. We must validate the good parts of our tradition. We cannot, like the baby-boomers and post-modernists and jazz historians have tried at times, theorize a rupture to dissociate the violence we take part in by simply existing – even when we never knew we were doing anything violent. No. I must, as a tutor, teacher, consultant…as a person account for the good and bad in me if I am ever to accentuate the good, if I am ever to grow – and that’s what education is for right? And if I am made by language, if I am made by culture, then I must accept the facts of violence from history while not accepting a stance which perpetuates such violence. Culture is bigger than paradigm shifts. One cannot effectively interact to maintain ethical difference, which is what collaboration calls for, if one does not know where he or she ends and where the world begins.

(Note from 2014: This conclusion, I now think, was rather half-assed.  It risks a narcissistic self reflection, and though unwritten, it implies a monotonous conception of culture.  I think this is still thinking I am struggling with.  It is a problem of whiteness and exactly why I am posting this asking for collaborative critique.  Back then I had yet to read, Other People’s English.  Taking responsibility also means being more inclusive…it’s not all about me.. and my shift from the first person to the third and subjunctive “One” retains traces of subjective guilt informed by white historical perspective. As VAY said the other day, “Whiteness is not invisible to people who are not white.”  In response to a question one of my colleagues raised concerning the ways white guilt can erupt in the classroom causing white students to dominate discussion, Frankie Condon suggested this wonderful article by Sara Ahmed: http://www.borderlands.net.au/vol3no2_2004/ahmed_declarations.htm, which I will be incorporating into my own writing and pedagogy in addition to later versions of the paper here.)

 

Thanks for reading and in advance for responding. I am happy to send word drafts too. I will try to post future revisions here with acknowledgments. Feel free to use this writing exercise as a tool in writing classes.

 

 

Works Cited

Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Buber, Martin: I and Thou. New York: Scribner Classics, 1958.

Ede, Lisa and Andrea Lunsford. “Women Working Together: A Collaborative Conversation.” Panel presentation at the 58th annual Conference on College Composition and Communication. New York, 2007.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michelle Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center. Utah: Utah State University Press, 2007.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michelle Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, Elizabeth H. Boquet, and Michael Spooner. “Dear Co-authors: Epistolary Revelations of Five Writing Center Directors.” Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue. 10: June, 2008.

Hesse, Doug. “Chair’s Address: Who Owns Writing?” NCTE, 2005.

Lacy, Steve. Findings: My Experience With the Soprano Saxophone.  France: CMAP, 1994.

Lock, Graham. Forces In Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton.  New York: Da Capo, 1988.

Lunsford, Andrea. “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” Writing Center Journal. Vol. 12, 1: 1991.

Mingus, Charles.  “An Open Letter to the Avant-garde.”  Charles Mingus: More than a Fake Book.  New York: Hal-Leonard, 1991.

North, Stephen. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. Vol. 46. NCTE, 1984. 433-46.

Pew Internet and American Life Project. Writing, Technology, and Teens. www.pewinternet.org. 24 April 2008. 17 Nov. 2008 http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/247/report_display.asp.

 

Below is a shorter “script” of this paper I read for a front range Writing Center conference in 2010.

 

Currently, we inhabit an academic environment that has been partially shaped by a history of arrogance and colonization, not just of lands, but of minds. While many of us work actively at the local level to produce environmental change, and while I (still) believe that individual efforts are important, epistemological theories from the past sixty years have complicated traditional assumptions about individuality, authenticity and self which correspond to mono-cultural teaching methods. The recent epistemological theories play out in both the classroom and the writing center. While on a cultural level we remain obsessed with individualism – from plagiarism to “Army of one” advertisements – these epistemological shifts informing pedagogical decisions emphasize environmental and social forces at work in establishing identity. It is important to recognize the implications of the shift in thinking about how knowledge works in writing center consultations.

Many things are changing in the current academic writing environment; but most essentially, the changing means of writing production and the ways we look at knowledge production have brought about a good deal of ambiguity in teaching writing – from basic skills, to transference, to what writing is. It is no surprise that professors outside the teaching of writing are often confused about what goes on in the writing classroom and the writing center. Acceptable writing in the academic sphere has become so codified that while students now spend more time writing – especially in electronic mediums – than at any point in history, they don’t consider what they do as writing. According to a recent Pew research study, Writing, Technology, and Teens, “85% of teens ages 12-17 engage at least occasionally in some form of electronic personal communication, which includes text messaging, sending email or instant messages, or posting comments on social networking sites.” But with all this writing, “60% of teens do not think of these electronic texts as ‘writing.’” Generally speaking, they don’t consider themselves writers at all. For most of them, writing is, at best, a tool or a set of skills necessary to get a degree and maybe a job – pure techne. At worst, writing is that obliged product you turn into your professor spending the least amount of effort for the highest grade possible. For many, “passing” is enough. While the idea of writing as product – writing as objectified commodity – is generally something writing instructors try to replace with an idea of writing as process, the driving forces behind the idea of writing as product are powerful and ultimately out of synch with the most recent writing pedagogies.

Deborah Brandt, in Literacy in America, has effectively traced the history of writing pedagogy, claiming that since World War II, when literacy standards changed every year according to what the armed forces felt were necessary writing skills for new G.I.’s, literacy has been defined in terms of functionality and efficiency. This idea reflects America’s economic system: advanced capitalism creates a perpetual need for more productivity and efficiency. Competition becomes the driving force at every level of education: classroom, school, district, and state. In his campaign last fall, now President Barack Obama was vocal about pay-for-performance in educators’ salaries. The atmosphere in American educational policy is essentially agonistic. Our daily social lives foster competition over collaboration, yet collaboration has been an important term in recent writing pedagogy, especially as it relates to those interstitial environments where authority is not rigid: writing centers.

Historically, writing center directors and tutors have had to contend with unchecked assumptions made by students and professors in all disciplines, including English professors. Stephen North’s “The Idea of a Writing Center” is perhaps the archetypal narrative about the ways people misunderstand the function of writing centers. The two most persistent problematic assumptions – even apparent in some of today’s presentations – are that writing centers exist as remedial environments and that writing centers are service-based “fix-it” shops. Both of these assumptions rely on unexamined ideas about knowledge exchange that are out of synch with contemporary writing pedagogy.

Traditionally in English studies, which is a romantic discipline, scholastic knowledge has been passed down by “experts” who impart their knowledge to (usually) younger pupils. Recent inquiries – and by this I mean the last sixty years or so – into the nature of knowledge complicate this. Knowledge, at least since Foucault, has come to be interpreted as the product of discursive environments. As such, knowledge does not exist as some abstract resource center – like a library for instance – but as the product of the collection of discussions in and around the texts that make up that library. Moreover, there is not one kind of knowledge; rather, knowledge is generated through “discourse communities” which may overlap, inform, or exclude each other. Since knowledge is not generated by an individual, but rather generated by the discursive situation that individual is already in and informed by, romantic ideas about an “expert” individual in an educational environment have been challenged, and with them the role of authority in that environment.

In practice, such epistemological thinking is illustrated by the move toward collaborative learning environments. In composition rhetoric, scholarly voices like Andrea Lunsford in “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center” have called for more collaboration in both classrooms and writing centers. In the classroom, collaboration means more group-oriented projects and workshops. Teachers who lecture in an expert “top-down” sort of way are criticized by social constructivists like Lunsford for being overly self-indulgent and ultimately ineffective. Collaboration in the writing center becomes a non-directive approach to the writing consultations. Non-directive consultations seek to affirm the tutee’s identity as a “writer” while simultaneously undermining the authority of the “expert” or tutor. Writing center directors then struggle to affirm the particular professional knowledge of consultants while simultaneously encouraging non-authoritative exchanges between consultants and students. Even the name “consultant” instead of tutor is a way of undermining traditional notions of how writing knowledge is communicated. Such semantic moves, though well-intentioned, do little to change outsiders’ perceptions of writing centers; a “garden level” apartment is still the basement.

For some writing center experts, collaboration has meant an exploration of collaborative writing, and a work like Geller, Eodice, Condon, Carrol, and Boquet’s The Everyday Writing Center is an important example. In The Everyday Writing Center, Geller et al propose the idea that every tutee be acknowledged as a writer – not a student or tutee – because people write every day. Everyday people are writers: “the butcher the banker, the drummer and then – makes no difference what group I’m in”…and yet simultaneously it does matter which group Sly Stone is in; he’s not exactly replaceable. So, on a practical level, we are all writers in a general sense, though not all “poets” or “authors” in the more romantic sense – maybe Sly Stone realized that and that’s why he stopped performing.

I have now created insular knowledge within our insular discourse community that is the audience for this paper. If you don’t know the song “Everyday People” by Sly and the Family Stone you can’t participate in the playfulness of the preceding paragraph: you can’t wonder about the identity complexity of the refrain that comes just after the lines I’ve quoted; it is, “I am everyday people.” Most of my freshman composition students, and most of the people who use the writing center I consult in would not know the song. A discourse identity is an identity for a group, and group identities by nature insulate and, either overtly or tacitly, exclude. We need practical, collaborative approaches to writing center consultations that can also be communicated outside the writing centers, thus avoiding the kind of insular discourses around what we actually do in consultations. We need to create a transparent frame for the kind of knowledge exchange we want to occur in our consultations.

A writing center consultation consists of a specific kind of knowledge exchange. It is not the bestowing of gifts or knowledge parceled out in compact noetic units. Such things don’t exist. There is something really unappealing about seeing a writing center consultation as commerce; consultants don’t like to feel like they’re in the “service industry.” Students don’t like to feel patronized, even when they patronize writing centers. Something needs to happen at the level of the individual consultation.

The authors of The Everyday Writing Center, all writing center directors, try to nurture specific qualities in their consultants. When training consultants they try to avoid “activities [which] are ultimately about the self, stroking the ego at the expense of an / other” (Geller, et al 74); instead, they focus on “shape-shifter” and “trickster” qualities in writing center consultants. Too much focus on one individual style of consulting becomes inwardly directed consulting. Outward directed consulting, on the other hand, is more collaborative and tries to move beyond localized identity – toward a community. Geller et al continue: “Fostering writerly identity is not our ultimate goal; it is how those identities participate in a writing center community of practice that is most important” (82). Since identity isn’t ever fixed, practice should not be fixed. There is no script for a consultant to follow. How do we create a collaborative practice without a script? We improvise. Analogies to jazz music come to mind.

Jazz history is worth considering momentarily because the developments in jazz over the past sixty years contain important lessons about communities and knowledge exchange. The typical analogy to the improviser refers to modern jazz of the 1940s and 1950s, but, like the academic writing environment, a lot has happened in jazz since then. In modern jazz of the ‘40s and ‘50s, the improviser plays over a pre-existing set of chord changes, embellishing them while being supported by other musicians. Typically there is one soloist at a time and the musicians rotate, taking turns blowing over choruses. This is similar to the idea of the peloton, a biking formation, which Geller et al discuss when reflecting on their collaborative composing methods for The Everyday Writing Center (“Dear co-authors”). While there is one soloist, the other musicians improvise as well, in order to support the leader.

Now, consider the next development in jazz. When Ornette Coleman arrived in New York in the late ‘50s and began playing without predetermined chord structures, it caused quite a stir. Free jazz or “The New Thing” challenged both listeners and performers by removing a set of formal expectations that were full of esoteric coded messages for the jazz community. Coleman simultaneously asked professional musicians to listen harder, to interact at every moment, while also removing the barrier between professional and amateur musicians. Unsurprisingly, the results of these musical efforts, which many people find difficult to listen to, essentially dealt a death blow to the marketability of jazz, which was already in decline.

Without predetermined form, without existing rules or a script, interaction is exhausting work. Without external form, the form becomes the body of the improviser him or herself. In the 1980s, jazz went through a kind of commercial revival with the introduction of stars, like Wynton Marsalis and Harry Connick Jr., who championed a return to the stylistic elements of 1940s and 1950s jazz. On the less marketable side of jazz in the 1980s, composers like John Zorn, informed by the developments of Ornette Coleman (and rock and roll), were trying to find ways to compose music to feature every individual musician’s sound while maintaining his or her distinct voice. Zorn created “Game” pieces which encourage interaction among musicians. The game has a set of parameters, but it’s just a game, and many of the rules are made to be broken; the music never sounds the same because it is completely recreated every time the piece is played. For example, Zorn’s Cobra is directed by cue cards that the conductor uses to facilitate and shape the music. However, subgroups of musicians can form “guerilla” groups and create mutiny during a composition.   Such compositions enact the “Trickster” or “Shape shifter” mentality Geller et al would like to see in their writing centers. Of course, if we were to enact Zorn’s game pieces as collaborative writing exercises in writing centers, we would likely make the already difficult communications to academic professionals outside the writing center more difficult. Zorn’s importance as a composer is largely due to his ability to be non-directive with his musicians. Instead of telling them what to play, he arranges parameters and spaces where musicians express their own voices. The actual sound of the piece becomes a collaborative effort that changes with whoever plays the piece, and the responsibility for the performance becomes intensified in the body of the performer who must generate the actual material of the piece.

In order to truly create a collaborative writing center consultation, all parties involved must participate in knowledge exchange. To do this, I propose a writing center environment where the norm is that all parties must respond to each other’s writing. Each consultation needs to be a writers’ workshop. This means that the consultant will be constantly providing his or her own work to be critiqued by the student.  This creates an even playing field between the consultant and the student. It will no doubt be intimidating for students, and it will no doubt create work for consultants. I do not expect the consultant to produce a new piece for each consultation, but I do expect consultants to be practicing writers who earnestly want to work on their writing with a wide audience. Consultants know that the ways they have learned to write have not just been a matter of putting pen to paper or finger to keyboard or visiting a writing center. They have been in dialogue with the things they have read and the things they have written. Students will undoubtedly become more effective readers, editors, and responders to ideas when they are in the position where they must respond face to face with another writer. I believe this will also be a positive step toward removing assumptions about writing centers as “fix-it” shops.

Imagine a third year PhD language poet presenting his or her material to an ESL student. Imagine the growth potential for two people to meet in a safe atmosphere and come to the conclusion that they don’t understand anything the other is trying to say. This is where real writing development can happen because then it becomes a matter of explaining to the other person the ways you understand and don’t understand their work. The consultant will often have more experience than the student writer, but I believe they will learn as much from the student as the student from them. Being directive or non-directive will ultimately take a back seat to seeking to relate to the other writer and to explain one’s own ways of seeing. Students will likely look to consultants as models for how to interact with texts.

Undoubtedly, this cannot be the model for every consultation. What if a student simply wants to brainstorm or get over writer’s block? Such cases are exceptional. But if the general model of a writing center is truly based on collaborative consultations, I believe positive changes will occur, and learning will happen.

As a writing center consultant, I am constantly aware of when I am being directive or non-directive in a consultation. It can certainly be easy to fall into directive modes. But this kind of thinking: directive or non-directive, is useful only in a paradigm of Bildung (which is not necessarily bad). Whichever method I choose, it is still a teaching method. Part of having identity is the production of boundaries; to come into physical existence is to be towards death; or as Yeats puts it: “Things fall apart.” Writing, insofar as it is representational – and I can’t think of a time when it’s not representational; all language is representational, and so writing is the production of the objectified portion of identity. Representation is its own undoing. Identity is an undoing; it is always unstable, always interstitial. As a writing consultant, I don’t know if the identity of “writer” is something I could ever “give” to a person or “treat” them as – to “facilitate.” To do so would only assume that at one point I did not see them that way and now I have the power to do so.

Navigating the ways discourse communities insulate and exclude can be ethically tricky. The move toward collaborative approaches in classrooms and writing centers has been fueled by a larger academic discourse community which reacted against the arrogance and injustice of colonialism. The writing center consultant enters an environment in 2009 where the idea of owning any part of knowledge has ethical implications. The epistemological exigency undermines the very idea of authority and authenticity which have traditionally been sought after in written products.  A collaborative writing consultation creates an opportunity for real communication and growth between two (or more) people. It requires responsibility from each participant. It is an ethical exchange and a version of education that is fundamentally opposed to any product-before-process conception. Collaboration must have dialogue, dialogue requires the maintaining of multiple perspectives, and one cannot effectively interact to maintain ethical difference if one does not know where he or she ends and where the world begins. Collaborative consulting requires constant identity exploration and communicating. It will, undoubtedly, be exhausting, but I believe rewarding as well.

 

 

 

 

Works Cited

Brandt, Deborah. Literacy in American Lives. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2001.

Buber, Martin: I and Thou. New York: Scribner Classics, 1958.

Ede, Lisa and Andrea Lunsford. “Women Working Together: A Collaborative Conversation.” Panel presentation at the 58th annual Conference on College Composition and Communication. New York, 2007.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michelle Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, and Elizabeth H. Boquet. The Everyday Writing Center. Utah: Utah State University Press, 2007.

Geller, Anne Ellen, Michelle Eodice, Frankie Condon, Meg Carroll, Elizabeth H. Boquet, and Michael Spooner. “Dear Co-authors: Epistolary Revelations of Five Writing Center Directors.” Junctures: The Journal for Thematic Dialogue. 10: June, 2008.

Hesse, Doug. “Chair’s Address: Who Owns Writing?” NCTE, 2005.

Lacy, Steve. Findings: My Experience With the Soprano Saxophone.  France: CMAP, 1994.

Lock, Graham. Forces In Motion: The Music and Thoughts of Anthony Braxton.  New York: Da Capo, 1988.

Lunsford, Andrea. “Collaboration, Control, and the Idea of a Writing Center.” Writing Center Journal. Vol. 12, 1: 1991.

Mingus, Charles.  “An Open Letter to the Avant-garde.”  Charles Mingus: More than a Fake Book.  New York: Hal-Leonard, 1991.

North, Stephen. “The Idea of a Writing Center.” College English. Vol. 46. NCTE, 1984. 433-46.

Pew Internet and American Life Project. Writing, Technology, and Teens. www.pewinternet.org. 24 April 2008. 17 Nov. 2008 http://www.pewinternet.org/PPF/r/247/report_display.asp.

Fun last night

August 11, 2014 § Leave a comment

Roger and Ron

 

Roger Green with Ron Miles at Dazzle Restaurant, Denver, CO.

Roger Green duo with Ron Miles at Dazzle August 10, 6pm

August 8, 2014 § Leave a comment

Ron xAjeMyqln0H3DbQk2Y51BmnM37tqrku9G-2EJxv6shk

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