Thomas Bertonneau discusses the reasons why course syllabi have been mushrooming over the years: students are less and less accustomed to academic work, more inclined to complain if things aren't spelled out for them in minute detail, and apt to engage in plagiarism if written assignments are not carefully crafted to militate against it.
In a recent post, Ashley Thorne discusses "Lessons of a Professional Paper-Writer". Thorne cites a fascinating Chronicle of Higher Education column entitled "The Shadow Scholar: The man who writes your students' papers tells his story." Obviously this is a class (inequality) issue: those with money can afford to buy entrance to careers, those without cannot advance in life unless they work hard--something not required of their affluent peers. Therefore I propose a federal program, "No Term Papers Left Behind" to close the writing gap by 2025. This means-tested program will fund ghost writing in high school and college. No child, no term paper ought to be left behind. Those who are more affluent but lack the proper skills may also be eligible if their standardized test scores fall below a certain level. Differences in intelligence and upbringing are no excuse for failing our children. We need to embrace those differences! Statutory definition: “children” are eligible until 26 or until they complete their degree. This vital federal program will “grow the economy” and give a hand up to the disadvantaged. With a degree in hand, they will earn (but not learn) more. With this increase in aggregate demand, they can stimulate the consumer durable sector of the economy and buy houses to soak up the inventory of unsold homes. Privacy and confidentiality are ensured and will be protected to the utmost. The U.S. Department of Education will not tolerate revelations of plagiarism: it is nobody’s business but the student who does (or doesn't do) the work. After all, if someone does the work, then American productivity continues to rise---to the benefit of rich and poor alike. So, those dirty rats who would undermine the American dream of college credentialism will be punished. Meanwhile, practice safe cheating until bourgeois morality (work, thrift, excellence) fades with the introduction of these new teaching methods. It is in the interest of "social justice" and American competitiveness that we have more college graduates. Only then can we boast "We 'r Numbyr Wun!" Be patriotic! Cheat! Spend!
Last week the Chronicle of Higher Education published one of the most disturbing articles on higher ed I have ever read. The author, writing under the pseudonym Ed Dante, is a man paid by students to write their papers for them. This rare opportunity to hear from a "shadow scholar," as the Chronicle dubbed him, has been a shock to academia's system, confronted by the reality of cheating students and the lengths to which they'll go to avoid doing their own work. One unsettling nugget from Dante was his observation that he gets many requests from seminary students, nursing students, and education students. Andrew J. Coulson considers this last cohort in a post at CATO:
Again, we can’t know from a single ghost-writer’s experience if ed school students systematically cheat more in college than their peers in other fields, but we certainly shouldn’t be surprised if they do. We’ve organized education in this country in a way that decouples skill and performance from compensation, and instead couples compensation to the mere trappings of higher learning (e.g., masters degrees). We’ve created a powerful financial incentive for existing and future teachers to cheat.
The ghost-writer says he's never heard of one of his clients getting caught plagiarizing. Instead, they have graduated free of implication, to go on to careers in the real world, taking their cheating habits (and educational gaps) with them. Dante both disdains and pities his clients, which he says are usually either ESL students, "the lazy rich kid," or "hopelessly deficient students." Clients' interactions with the author are desperate, often unintelligible, and sometimes so measured as to make one wonder whether they could have just saved the money and done the work. In a live chat hosted by the Chronicle, I asked Dante, "How can we put you out of a job?" He was reluctant to make suggestions, but then answered, "Tell [students] that their grades aren't the most important thing going....I've seen a number of professors respond to my article by insisting that more severe penalties and a greater threat of failure are needed to address this problem. This is exactly the opposite of the point I'm trying to make." But if grades aren't a big deal, academic dishonesty may decrease, but it won't solve the problem of incompetent college graduates. And we'll still see sentences like this one in an email from one of Ed Dante's clients: "thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now." Thus it's a bit tricky trying to glean a moral from this story. Readers are crying, "This is a wake-up call. We need to do something to stop plagiarism!" But what? Dante gets lots of requests for papers on academic ethics . Clearly we have failed this generation in teaching character - the way you behave when no one is watching - and as a result, much of higher education has become a grand charade. At least now we have, if not a solution, a clearer picture of the problem.