We Are Facilitators, Not Hijackers by Scott Hinkle

Post date: Dec 11, 2017 7:59:24 PM

Our Writing Center is packed into a relatively small space, so it’s hard not to overhear each other during consultations. The volume varies, but generally what I hear is background noise: indecipherable murmurs punctuated now and again by a few recognizable words. Words that just sort of float there like little abstractions.

It’s a bit different when I’m not in a session myself. Sitting at one of the stations in the computer lab, I still overhear things, and without an appointment of my own to engage me, things are much clearer now: the abstractions clump together to form context, and all of a sudden I’m listening to an actual consultation (here I’ll cite again the small confines of our dear old WC; I’m not trying to eavesdrop!).

Upon eavesdropping, I’m sure I’m not the only one who has thought “I would’ve explained that a bit differently” or, better, “Nice! Now I know how to better explain that.” Truly, I’m glad to say what I typically “overhear” is that my fellow consultants have a certain drive, a certain enthusiasm and eagerness to help. However, the one thing that I occasionally overhear that grinds my gears gets my panties in a twist really chaps my does bother me, is when I hear a consultant hijack their student’s paper.

A friendly note, then, to my fellow consultants:

I realize “hijack” is not a friendly word, but friend, that is sort of what you’re doing when you impose your opinions and ideas onto your student’s paper. You might mean well, you might even be helping them in the sense that you’re providing content that might not have been there before, but there’s a fine line between providing “examples” and providing “answers” and the latter does nothing to help improve your student’s writing/understanding ability.

I don’t just mean the dreaded “grammar check” either (we have all caved to this on occasion; don’t deny it). This hijacking I’m talking about happens most egregiously on the idea/content level. This tends to happen most in the following ways: either (A) the paper covers a topic you’re interested in and you’re excited to drop some knowledge; or (B) the paper contains abhorrent political views and you’re just dying to set the record straight. In the case of (A), it’s okay to share your interest, but try not to overstep your role by inserting your super-specific, grad-level theoretical ideas onto their paper, which was doing just fine as a general reflection paper for an introductory course, thanks. In the case of (B), rather than attack them with your preferred brand of politics in an attempt to get them to see the folly of their ways, stay composed, and ask them to explain their views, and how they might respond to “potential opposition.”

In short (and in general):

The key for (A): Often, Less is More.

The key for (B): Don’t hate; facilitate.

The key for (ME): Hurry up and sum up already.

Basically, the key is to avoid imposing your ideas and biases onto your students.

A few easy Do’s and Don’ts here might include:

DO figure out the writer’s purpose and level of understanding of the material.

DON’T suggest terminology (or ideas) that your student is obviously unfamiliar with.

Remember: We are facilitators, not hijackers.

Don’t worry if you have been guilty of hijacking your students’ papers. Just stop it already. The jig is up. You’ve been found out. You’re done now. We all have our styles and modes of tutoring writing, and like anything, we get better at it with time. Maybe you didn’t realize that was what you were doing. In fact, you probably still don’t know, as you haven’t read this. Maybe I can hear you doing it right now. But, as the late rapper Biggie Smalls once said, “If you don’t know, now you know.”