Adventures in the Writing Center, Fall 2008 Edition

October 6, 2008 at 8:53 pm (Rants, Writing Center)

Here are a few tales from the Writing Center this semester.  Considering it is the fall, which for some reason is about 10x busier than the spring, I am sure I will have many more stories to relate, but here are a few recent characters:

Mr.  Nietzsche. My first appointment of today had emailed me his paper yesterday so I could read over it before we met (thus eliminating the awkward period in the session during which I read the person’s long and meandering paper and stop myself from smacking the person for stupidity.  Just kidding!  Ish…).  So I finally got the chance to read this chap’s essay after my last class of the day, right before our meeting, so that it would be fresh in my head.  The essay was on Nietzsche.  Which is all well and good, since I read him in Core my freshman year, and so it’s semi-fresh in my head.  However, this chap was extremely confusing and barely explained any of his points, using confusing and oft-contradictory language, which was ironic because part of his argument was that Nietzsche was wrong on a certain point but tried to cover it up by confusing the reader with the language he uses so that the reader is trying to figure out what the heck he is saying and not whether or not he’s right.  So anyway, with this in mind, I headed off to the Writing Center, ready to rip into this arrogant little freshman boy and destroy his mojo, as el boyo put it.  Freshmen boys have too much mojo anyway.  And then I meet the boy who wrote the piece I have just spent time ripping apart in my head, and all my plans of destroying his selfworth come crashing down because he’s an international student who has Givens as a Core teacher.  Thoughts of destruction are replaced by sympathy and instead of ripping him to shreds as originally planned, I try to help him restructure the paper and show him how and where to clarify his statements, as it made so much more sense once he actually explained it orally.

Mr. What Thesis? Fresh from my hour-long session with Mr. Nietzsche, I have barely sat down to read my Time magazine when Mr.  What Thesis? walks through the door.  The assignment is to write a paper comparing Socrates in Plato’s Symposium (which I too read in Core) to Aschenbach in Thomas Mann’s Death in Venice (which I read in high school), while incorporating some of Nietzsche’s ideas.  In 3 to 4 pages.  Seriously.  3. to. 4. pages. to. cover. 3. intense. texts.  The professor must be smokin’ something.  Anyway, Mr. What Thesis? had written 3-4 pages of comparison, including all three texts, but did not have a thesis.  Just a few paragraphs of observations.  So we spent an hour and a half figuring out a thesis and reorganizing the entire paper.  An hour and a half.  Most brain-storming sessions take about a half hour.  Normal meetings in the Writing Center aren’t supposed to take more than an hour.  But we took an hour and a half.  If the guy hadn’t already written 3-4 pages of bs that he wanted to keep, we probably would have been better off.  But no, we had to minimize the work by spending way too much time on finding a thesis that fit.  Thank goodness I had some background in all of the books he was talking about, or it would probably have been a complete disaster.  Of course, what we ended up with could have occupied a 10-20 page paper, but I doubt this dude would have been able to do that.  Anyway, how do you write a paper of any length without a starting point?  I mean, I can understand having a working thesis, but to just write without a thesis or even an idea for one (seriously, this kid had no ideas concerning a thesis!)?  I weep for my fellow students.

Mr. Science.  For obvious reasons, we don’t get many science papers in the Writing Center, but last week I was lucky enough to be chosen to read a 20+ page pager for a chemistry/physics senior seminar.  I think I actually understood about 10% of the words used in that paper.  And I couldn’t exactly work with Mr. Science on the structure or anything, but instead just read it over awkwardly, occasionally asking questions about what he meant in certain places, while he sat back and read something else.  It kinda goes against everything we’re taught to do in the Writing Center (you know, collaboration and all that jazz), but what else could I do?  And now I know why I avoid science like the plague.

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