Access to the Truth

Access to the Truth

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Access to the Truth

In “Zen and the Art of the Writing Tutorial,” Paul Gamache asks, “do you think of yourself as an Expert? Do you have access to the truth?” I like this question because it seems to contradict some of his other assertions. For example, he claims that he sometimes does not provide his students with the help they want; rather, he gives them the help he deems they need, and he only gives them the assistance they desire when he decides that it is also what they require. How does he know exactly what they need? Does he consider himself an expert? Does he have access to the truth? Perhaps Mr. Gamache is overconfident? Perhaps he not only overestimates his ability to recognize the inadequacies of his students but also underestimates their ability to honestly assess their writing and identify their own strengths and weaknesses.

Although some writers may not know precisely what kind of help they need, others are quite aware of their shortcomings. Indeed, many writers who come to the Peer-Tutoring Center seeking assistance know exactly what type of help they need. Furthermore, a lot of writers know that they need help in one area, but not another. I will explain. Like any other English writing tutor I work with numerous ESL writers. Often they tell me: A) I am having problems with articles and B) you may not understand my argument because I am unable to translate certain words from my native language into English. From these tutorial sessions I have learned that: A) they are almost always correct in their deduction that they need help with articles and B) they are almost always incorrect in their assumption that I will not understand their positions because of translation problems.

In my (albeit limited) tutoring experience, it appears that those ESL writers who struggle with articles (which I can relate to as a GSL student), and are aware of this problem, know exactly what type of aid they need. Conversely, those ESL writers who believe that their arguments are unclear as a result of translation issues are often unaware of what they need. That is, the problem is not one of translation but vocabulary, as I can usually decipher their arguments and help them find the necessary words to articulate them.

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(In many cases, I think that the reason ESL writers presume that I will not comprehend their arguments may be because they are not writing academically. However, I usually understand them and sometimes, in my opinion, academic writing is merely taking the high road and is perhaps overvalued. Also it seems that using colloquialisms is not just an ESL issue) The point of this diatribe is this: it would be prudent if Mr. Gamache, scholars, writers, we tutors, and probably just people in general exercise caution when considering our own expertise since none of us have access to the truth. The truth is: the truth is not only subjective but also elusive.
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