Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Unnatural Selection: Chapter 14

Today you will learn everything you ever wanted to know about genetic counselors, plus a little about writing centers (I have a year of experience in tutoring in writing and reading at the center of my previous college). What could a genetic counselor and a writing tutor have in common? The answer: a tendency towards being nondirective, sometimes with perilous consequences. Seven examples and/or reasons not to be directive:
  1. "Imagine going to your doctor...[y]our blood pressure is 200/110, and your doctor says, '...You have about a year to live with blood pressure like that. But you do what you want. It's information. Deal with it.' No one talks that way."
  2. "What to do, for instance, for the couple who openly avow that they want to know the gender of a fetus so they can terminate it if it is the 'wrong' sex?"
  3. A genetic test is generally NOT a diagnosis.
  4. The counselor's perception versus the family's perception (related to #3): ".It is not the level of risk that determines decisions, so much as what is risked.' Yet counselors are trained to focus on the former, while they may be more or less unprepared to convey the latter."
  5. Nondirective counseling has been compared "to a travel agent providing pictures of foreign destinations but no guidebooks or descriptions."
  6. "For a counselor to tell a client she would support whatever decision she makes is actually paternalistic and highly directive, [psychologist Seymour Kessler] maintained, because the counselor is co-opting the high moral ground and not allowing the client to engage in dialogue or disagree with her - thereby actually robbing the client of autonomy."
  7. Does counseling offer tangible benefit? "Wertz and Fletcher's report, however, showed some interesting outcomes: the 44 percent of clients who said they had been influenced by genetic counseling left the sessions with reproductive plans similar to those of the 56 percent who said they had not. More than half who said they were influenced did not change their plans as a result of counseling."
In brief, it's a very bad idea to try to be value-neutral. To connect: a quote from "A Critique of Pure Tutoring" (Linda Shamoon and Deborah Burns, The St. Martin's Sourcebook for Writing Tutors, 3rd Ed., eds. Christina Murphy and Steve Sherwood; Boston/NY: Bedford/St. Martin's, 2008), p. 177:
When Deborah Burns was completing a thesis for her M.A. in English Literature, she was tutored by her major professor...For many years Burns puzzled over the direct intervention made by her director while she composed her Master's thesis. The intervention had been extremely helpful, yet it went against everything she had learned in composition studies. Her director was directive, he substituted his own words for hers, and he stated with disciplinary appropriateness the ideas with which she had been working. Furthermore, Burns observed that other graduate students had the same experience with this director: he took their papers and rewrote them while they watched. They left feeling better able to complete their papers, and they tackled other papers with greater ease and success.
During training before my first year of tutoring, I learned the predominant Socratic method and barely used modeling. This director's deeds may have been inappropriate for the writing center, but there are still lessons for me therein, and for teaching in general.

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