Russell Mayo: The Everyday Anarchism of Peer Tutoring

Approaching the elongated, ground floor room that has been home to the Great Lakes State University (GLSU, a pseudonym) Writing Center for the past decade, one is immediately struck by its lack of solid walls. Rather, floor-to-ceiling windows line the exterior, constituting a modern, minimalist aesthetic. Once inside, these walls of windows offer a sense of openness to the surrounding campus. Light floods in through the long windows as you look out through foliage to the footpaths populated by students criss-crossing the compact urban campus. As plentiful natural light permeates the room from both the south and west, the overhead fluorescent lights typically stay off. The immediate feeling of this long, softly lit room contrasts greatly with the surrounding structures of concrete and steel that represents architecture’s mid-century Brutalist movement, epitomized by the towering 28-story office building nearby. In many ways, that upright, imposing, carceral building stands juxtaposed to the horizontal orientation of this writing center space, both physically and ideologically.

For the past three years, I have been worked closely with the writers, tutors, and directors in the GLSU Writing Center. I’ve worn several different hats there: working as a college writing instructor, a writing tutor, a tutor educator and assistant director, and, most recently, as a participant-observer embarking on an ethnographic dissertation project. In many ways, my writing center work has functioned as a fascinating heuristic: educating me about writing and pedagogy, while challenging many of my preconceived notions around literacy, learning, and relationality in new and exciting ways. This paper is an attempt to describe some of what I have learned thus far from my work in this particular literacy learning space.

As my research is still in its initial phase, what follows may best be described, according to Fitzgerald and Ianetta’s The Oxford Guide For Writing Tutors, as a hybrid of two of the most common writing approaches to writing center scholarship: lore, or a first-hand testimony of experience and practices; and theoretical research, the application of a particular theoretical lens to form an argument about such practices. My intention, then, is to describe the everyday learning practices and pedagogies of the writing tutors with whom I’ve work at GLSU, and the ways in which this space might be understood through the lens of “everyday” anarchism. My research begins with the following question: What might we be missing by not looking at writing centers from an anarchist perspective? My argument is that anarchism has been long overlooked by scholars of literacy and education. Therefore, it’s best to begin with a brief description of how I understand and use anarchist social theory in my work.

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