While reading Elizabeth H. Boquet, “‘Our Little Secret’: A History of Writing Centers, Pre- to Post-Open Admissions” I kept thinking about the reluctance I’ve seen in students. An enormous reluctance to engage in texts, their texts, peers’ texts, course material texts… no one wants to say what they think, and if they do it’s mediated with a question. “I think the author is saying that these characters don’t like each other?” Each tentative rising tone sends a chill down my spine. Who frightened these students?!
Boquest discusses the beauty and terrors of writing centers in a way that she says reflects her honest experiences. We read about writing centers at their best, coaxing the answers from students and showing them they know how to write. And then the worst, passing them a topic, a new structure, and the feeling that they cannot write and need these handouts to make it through school. I can see how the worst happens though. In my conferences, I asked open-ended questions, I dug, I cajoled, I encouraged, I sat in silence and waited for answers. I got shrugs, embarrassed titters, sighs, and miserable looks. Oh my god, I thought to myself. Just tell the poor girl what to do! And I did. I told her exactly what I thought her story needed. I gave in to the pressure of silence and shrugs. And when she left, guilt bit at my insides. Ohhh, my brain moaned at me in that melodramatic way, you just crushed that poor student’s voice! You confirmed her worst fear! WHY WEREN’T YOUR QUESTIONS MORE OPEN-ENDED? When I read her final draft a few nights later I saw that she followed my advice… but then she also added her own spin. She didn’t do exactly what I prescribed, and I think her way was better for her story and that it reflected the tone of her story. Her story. Was it so bad to give her that push?
I am always toting balance. I do a lot of yoga and I try to eat well (which comes and goes). I guess there is a time for prescription and a time for asking asking asking. Socrates is one of my favorite dead guys. I’m all for the Socratic method of teaching. But sometimes I think you’ve got to throw a student a bone. After all that vital self-discovery and only when absolutely necessary, of course. There is a difference between a reluctant voice and a student who really needs some help.