Tuesday, November 16, 2010

11-16-10: "The Shadow Scholar"

I found an interesting article from The Chronicle of Higher Education this afternoon (through Marginal Revolution) that I couldn't stop reading until finished.

The article (well, essay) was written by a real person with the fake name of Ed Dante. Ed writes student term papers for a living, and makes a pretty decent living out if it at that. The essay goes through his clientele (ESL students, the "hopelessly deficient," and the lazy rich kids) as well as the type of work he does for the students. The sheer breadth was amazing; he's written papers on nearly everything (except math, so he probably hasn't done many engineering papers). He's also written papers of varying importance, ranging from simple homework assignments up to and including graduate theses. All this using primarily Google and Wikipedia.

The essay serves as a stern warning to institutions of higher education. Dante knows how helpless (or lazy or incompetent) his clients are. Some of the quotes he gives from students are scary - the grammar is just awful. But he doesn't mind the money. Why wouldn't he? This year he stands to make $66,000. That's not too shabby. The hours aren't great, but he seems to enjoy writing.

The warning is two-fold:

1) Pay more attention to the students. He finds it difficult to believe that none of his clients (not a one) have complained to him that the professors assigning the work don't believe the work is their own, never mind the fact that none, to his knowledge, have been expelled. He nearly goes as far as calling it gross negligence on the part of the school.

2) Stop putting all emphasis on grades and performance. His ESL and "hopelessly deficient" clients are simply not built to succeed in the modern university system. The fact that they may not know much English, or simply don't get it, works entirely against them. Rather than help, universities punish these students through the mindless examination system. Pass or fail - not their fault if you can't hack it.

I tend to agree with Ed. I won't go so far as to call the system broken, but it does tend to favor those of ill-gotten means, like his rich kid clients. I didn't have the luxury, or the lack of integrity, to hire some one to write my term papers. I was lucky enough to study engineering, which is a discipline where ineptitude can cost lives. With all due respect to the art, I don't know of any fatalities due to improper sentence construction.

I don't think for a second that people like Ed are the problem. They're servicing a market demand - students are coming to them asking for help. So what if the students don't know what they're doing? If you want know who is to blame, just look at the diploma. There are usually two names prominently displayed on each diploma given to graduating students: the school's name (sometimes in Latin - fancy!) and the student. If the school can't stand by the merits of the degree conferred, then they are doing a disservice to the student, even though that student is indeed cheating.

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