I kind of bridled at Kirsten sharing the common accusation that I'm a Northean consultant. There are parts of the North approach that I definitely use, but I think the motivation that he has is something I don't share.
I don't really see my job as being subversive or revolutionary, but I think North's desire to be that kind of a teacher comes from his identifaction of places where the university education fails students. I see those same failings, since much of the way writing and reading are taught aren't particularly productive in training people to be good scholars or just generally critical human beings. Teaching writing that conforms to standards is really important in making people effective communicators, but doing that in a way that fails to realize where and why those conventions occurred cannot make effective thinkers, researchers, or creators.
It's easy for consultants to fall into helping people correct their papers to make sure that they conform to conventions; that's what students generally come to us wanting. On the other hand, since we're not the ones doing the evaluating and, increasingly, we're not even credible members of the audience to whom they're writing, I don't think the most productive use of consultant time is to spend it looking for errors in convention and correction. Those things can be hit on and discussed as they come up, but the only thing I'm qualified to do (as somebody who's an experienced reader and writer) is discuss arguments, proof and relationships while I share resources that I've seen over the course of my time as a consultant. The minute I allow myself to be mistaken for an authority on correctness, I'm setting myself and my client up for potential failure.
Approaching a session from a talk-for-talk approach doesn't allow the client to invest me with credibility or authority that isn't mine, and it leaves them space to talk to me like an engaged scholar; someone that can talk about the ideas they have and the work they do with them. This is--unlike editing help--a service that no manual and not enough professors can provide.
We're obviously doing this job because we're experience writers and responders, so when we know something about comma usage or lab report organization we'd be jerks to not share it with somebody who's stuggling with those issues. I think, however, that it's similarly wasteful to isolate ourselves to giving help that eliminates the cheap grade knocks when we could be occupying a position that first engages people as intellectuals. That's what I take from the unstructured talk.Posted by olive040 at September 15, 2004 12:34 PM