When we read Linda Adler-Kassner’s The Activist WPA: Changing Stories about Writing and Writers, we were struck at how immediately applicable it is to writing centers and writing center directors—particularly to our vision of the writing center’s role here at Texas A&M University-Commerce. Adler-Kassner argues for the WPA’s value as a leader and change agent and the political necessity of framing our stories and our students’ stories of writing to counter the powerful cliché that “Johnny can’t write.” Her arguments and smart pragmatism are worth unpacking here at some length.
Adler-Kassner is utterly committed to reducing the power of media stories of students' "illiteracy" and replacing those stories with what we know students can do. Therefore, The Activist WPA "addresses. . .three issues: examining some of the stories currently surrounding instruction . . ., considering what frame surrounds those stories . . ., and considering how we might use strategies developed by community organizers and media strategists to shift those frames . . . (4-5). Working through her use of the strategic work of "story making" and the concepts of ideals and principles, she argues for a clear focus in the composition classroom on students' capabilities rather than on what standardized tests identify as their deficiencies, no matter the class level.
But changing the story of deficiency requires knowledge of the latter story's history and knowledge of leadership and organizational models forged by community organizers. She writes,
"Interest-, value-, and issue-based approaches to organizing also contain strategies to take the all-important valuable first step in the story-changing process, and then to move beyond that first step. Each starts from principles held by the WPA and the institution, principles that reflect the passions and interests of those individuals and entities embracing and espousing them. Interest- and issue-based approaches also offer strategies for accessing these interests; a values-based approach offers strategies for working with them. The difference between these approaches is that they outline different endpoints for organizing/story-changing work, and thus reflect approaches to engaging tactics (and, in some cases, strategies). (96)"
What Adler-Kassner then offers in the explanations of these approaches is invaluable to any administrator. And her emphasis on the need for strategy is imperative—for a WPA, a writing program, a writing center director, and a writing center.
While we agree with Adler-Kassner's activism, we argue that it is just as vital for the writing center because the need to overturn stories of student deficiency is campus-wide and the writing center has the potential for strategic action on a campus-wide level. The activist writing center can serve as a great source for change as the director trains a new group of tutors/change agents each semester and as tutors prove more easily able to cross disciplinary boundaries and work to reframe stories campus-wide. We also see the benefits of this kind of activism as one that benefits the community because we encourage practices that close the town-and-gown gap by inviting the community to use the resources of our writing center, attend our events like poetry readings, story slams, and open mic nights, and contribute to the National Conversation on Writing archives.
Adler-Kassner concludes, drawing from her reading of Karl Llewellyn,
"Techniques without ideals, tactics without strategies, actions without principles—a menace. But ideals without techniques, value without tactics, principles without compromise and reality-checking—a mess" (127). Certainly this is true. In addition, we argue that what she has outlined can be put into even more effective use in the context of the activist writing center.
A Note About Our Video
In the spirit of activism, we would like to use our video as a teaching moment. Early reviewers of this text pointed to places in the video that were difficult to read and interpret. Upon trying to make these revisions, we found that over ten minutes of the video were missing images and videos and these files had been lost to computer changes, file moving, updates to iMovie, et cetera. While it would be wonderful to present a video piece that is just right, we recognize that what we have presented here is difficult to read at times, so below you'll find some assistance in understanding our message.
"[T]he stories that circulate about students and teachers are [rarely] echoed in research from the field, in statements and studies from professional organizations, or by individuals telling stories about themselves as writers." – Linda Adler-Kassner, The Activist WPA
Text at 1:03 mark:
"Our job is to produce better writers, not better writer." Stephen North, "The Idea of the Writing Center (College English, 1984)
"Talking in the Middle: Why Writers Need Writing Tutors." Muriel Harris, College English, 1995)
Brooks, Jeff. "Minimalist Tutoring: Making the Student Do All the Work." Writing Lab Newsletter (1991)
"…literacy learning is really a matter of conforming to predetermined expectations, which are, for better or worse, set by dominate white culture." (Nancy Grimm)
Writing Center responsiveness is "essential to the pedagogical mission of a university committed to democratic ideals. If only they can position themselves as partners in a dialogue about institutional response to differences." (Grimm)
"should and can lead the way to changing the face of higher education by challenging the status quo in higher education." (Andrea Lunsford)
"agents of change in writing pedagogy where the goal is critiquing institutions and creating knowledge about writing." (Marilyn Cooper)
Smit, David W. The End of Composition Studies Southern Illinois UP, 2004.
Lunsford, Andrea. "What's Next for Writing Programs—and WPAs?" Council of Writing Program Administrators. Denver, CO. July 2008.
Scrolling Text 4:15 mark:
1976 - "Why Johnny Can't Write" (Newsweek)
1986 - "Johnny Can't Write, But It's Not His Fault" (New York Times
1991 - "Johnny's Teacher Can't Write Either" (New York Times
1994 - "Why Johnny Can't… Think" (Advertising Age)
2001 - "Why Johnny Can't Read, Write, Multiply, or Divide" (New York Times)
2003 - "Why Johnny Can't Write Enough Though He Went To Princeton" (Chronicle of Higher Education)
CLiC is something else.
Converging: to come together, approaching one another.
"Convergence occurs within the brains of individual consumers and through their social interactions with others. Each of us constructs our own personal mythology from bits and fragments extracted from the media flow and transformed into resources through which we make sense of our everyday lives." –Henry Jenkins, Convergence Culture
Literacies: the term literacies—as opposed to the singular autonomous concept literacy—emphasizes the multiple, socially sanctioned, people-oriented nature of any "literate" act; literacy then requires reading and negotiating various contextualized forces that are deeply embedded in identity formation, political affiliation, material and social conditions, and ideological frameworks.
Literate practices…refer to those sanctioned and endorsed by others recognized as literate members of a particular community of practice. (Carter, The Way Literacy Lives)
Center: A place (virtual/physical/metaphorical) where the chief object of attention are literacies (converging, multiple) as they manifest themselves in the lives of real people—authentic literacy experiences.
One possible future "combin[es] required Writing Programs, Writing Across the Curriculum Programs, and Writing Centers into a new and powerful entity designed to establish and sustain a culture of writing on campus, from the first day of a student's career to the senior thesis and graduation." ("What's Next for Writing Programs—and WPAs?")
Harvey J. Graff. Ohio Eminent Scholar in Literacy Studies. Ohio State University.
James Paul Gee. Professor of Reading University of Wisconsin- Madison.
CLiC collects stories.
CLiC analyzes stories.
CLiC archives stories.
CLiC disseminates stories.
"Literacy is primarily something people do; it is an activity located between thought and text. Literacy does not just reside in people's heads as a set of skills to be learned and it does not just reside on paper, captured as texts to be analyzed. Like all human activity literacy is essentially social; it is located in the interaction between people." – David Barton and Mary Hamilton, 1998.
…the ability to effectively read, understand, manipulate, and negotiate the cultural and linguistic codes of a new community of practice based on a relatively accurate assessment of another, more familiar one." –Shannon Carter, The Way Literacy Lives
The Research Portfolio "houses both the process and the produce of [the ethnographer's] fieldwork"—a behind-the-scenes account" that essentially narrates the research at the same time it enables the researcher to draw conclusions and articulate his/her feelings. The research portfolio includes more than the final ethnographic essay. It also includes artifacts from the field, interview questions, permission forms, transcripts from interviews, photos of key elements from the research site, field notes, charts, methods of analysis, shorter essays, reflections, and everything else that helped the ethnographer develop his/her final ethnographic project. – Bonnie Stone Sunstein and Elizabeth Chiseri-Strater, FieldWorking: Reading and Writing Research
Adam Northam, MLS
Digital Collections Librarian
Texas A&M University-Commerce
(cataloging and indexing NCoW contributions 2008-2001)
Visual representations of their own writing processes.
Several of these representations included images of their physical environment—prison issue clothing, metal bunks, industrial-grade tables.