Reflections on the Praxis CFP

To celebrate the unveiling of the CFP for Praxis’s guest-edited Fall 2017 edition, I would like to reflect on its mission and prompt, specifically on the body of scholarship that the CFP itself evokes.

The issue will focus on research for writing centers in “community colleges and historically underrepresented institutions” since “nearly half of all students enrolled in higher education in the United States are enrolled in two-year colleges.” In addition to inviting general work in the field, the CFP suggests that its submitters reexamine the March 2006 issue of Teaching English in the Two-Year College.

This issue includes three focus articles that examine the history, practice, and theory behind writing centers at community colleges and two-year institutions. For anyone interested in pursuing the CFP’s suggestion further, I have compiled a brief overview of this issue’s content.

In “Laboring Together for the Common Good”: The Writing Laboratory at the University of Minnesota General College, circa 1932,” Neal Lerner corrects the assumption that writing centers in community colleges are a recent development. He argues that the ideals and struggles of the Writing Laboratory in the University of Minnesota General College, formed in 1932, anticipate issues faced by centers in community colleges today. The Writing Laboratory valued instruction that was “one-to-one” and “voluntary,” with “a focus on process rather than on ‘daily themes’ and drill [sic] on fundamentals” (251). Unfortunately, it was “ultimately compromised by the college’s overall lack of resources” (252). Lerner points to the progressive Writing Laboratory as a model for current centers. He suggests that the lab was so successful in part because it aligned with the mission of the college as a whole, a mission defined by responding to community problems and instilling a sense of civic responsibility in students.

The “Position Statement on Two-Year College Writing Centers” by Jill Pennington and Clint Gardner is designed to “help community college writing centers establish a collective argument in defense of what we do” (260). According to the position statement, in addition to other needs, writing centers at community colleges need to be “autonomous,” with a physical space dedicated solely to their services (261). Centers should not be associated with “editing or proofreading,” and they require tutors who “reflect he deomographic, ethnic, and disciplinary diversity of the student body” (261-62). The position statement emphasizes the importance of peer tutoring and further argues that tutors must be appropriately trained and compensated “at a rate…higher than minimum wage…based on ability, expertise, and length of service” (262).

Finally, “Blundering Border Talk: An English Faculty Member Discusses the Writing Center at His Two-Year Campus,” relays a powerful narrative about an assistant professor of English’s “blundering” (266) attempts to work through the troubled relationship that exists between his classroom and his two-year college’s writing center. The professor favors blundering “border talk” in lieau of hero narratives and clear, direct argumentation that would establish distinct, patrol-able boundaries between good and bad writing pedagogy. The writing center in this professor’s institution “was specifically designed to assist developmental readers and writers” and received funding based on the service to “remedial” writers” (271). Ignorance of such a specific institutional history meant that the professor found himself guilty of hierarchical thinking: his liberatory classroom questioned hierarchies while the overly conservative writing center focused on grammar and style. The article concludes with a plea for open dialogue and cooperation, along with a breakdown of borders between English departments and writing centers.

Works Cited

Lerner, Neal. ""Laboring Together for the Common Good": The Writing Laboratory at the University of Minnesota General College, circa 1932." Teaching English in the Two Year College 33.3 (Mar. 2006). 249-259.

Pennington, Jill, and Clint Gardner. "Position Statement on Two-Year College Writing Centers." Teaching English in the Two Year College 33.3 (Mar. 2006). 260-263.

Tassoni, John P. "Blundering Border Talk: An English Faculty Member Discusses the Writing Center at His Two-Year Campus." Teaching English in the Two Year College 33.3 (Mar. 2006). 264-278.