MOLLY SCHOEMANN: Although I have found myself suffering through some pretty staggering assignments in high school and college (ask me about my junior year term paper on Russian Futurist poets, or the ten page paper I wrote freshman year of college about Anna Karenina’s hair), it has never occurred to me to outsource my labor writing papers by paying someone else to write them. I suppose that’s because I was always ultimately aware that the whole point of doing the assignments was not to get good grades, but to learn—about the material, about the art of essay writing, about time-management and discipline. Yes, I really am that much of a sap. Granted, I’m still not particularly surprised that there is a thriving industry of academic ghostwriters, according to the author of a recent article in The Chronicle, who writes dramatically about his decade-long career as an “academic mercenary”.
According to this author, there’s a lot of blame to go around for the fact that his services are so high in demand. He blames the educational system, for encouraging students to focus on getting top grades rather than learning for the sake of learning. He blames educators for trusting their students to be honest and to turn in their own work and for taking that work at face value. I don’t really see how educators are supposed to catch cheating students. Nor do I see why they should waste their time chasing those who are so uninterested in learning that they’re not bothering to do their assignments. Either way, though, I would imagine those educators likely know what I do: That their students are ultimately the ones who lose out on this deal. By cheating their way through school, they’re cheating themselves out of an education.
You can say that the employers who hire these charlatans also lose out, and that’s probably true. But I’m a firm believer that karma’s a bitch when it comes to cheating. If you’re an imposter, if you fake your way through life, sooner or later it catches up with you and you are unmasked for the phony you are. You can have the degree, and the certificate, and the job, but if you don’t actually have the education, it will come back to bite you. What bothered me most about this shadowy author, who wrote the article under a pseudonym to protect his identity, was not his theatrical flair (I’m not sure the term “hired gun” would occur to me to use to describe someone who you pay to write your term paper for you, but oh well); rather it was his deep need to rationalize why he does what he does, and to place blame on others for keeping his career lucrative. This, I didn’t particularly appreciate it. Someone who writes papers for money is not exactly part of the solution. I don’t think they really have a leg to stand on when it comes to criticizing our educational system. The author knows that what he’s doing is wrong, he knows that he’s helping students lie and cheat and be dishonest, but he does it anyway—because it pays well. He’s helping to hollow out our educational system. I’m not really interested in hearing him moralize about it.
AKIE BERMISS: I agree with every single word Molly wrote above. I agree that it is sap-ish to believe in doing your own work (and I DO consider myself a sap), I believe that the purpose of writing papers, senior theses, dissertations and so forth is NOT — as has become the norm — for the grade but for the experience of academic exercise. That, indeed, when a person is forced to contend with a gargantuan load of work and a brief period of time. To be clear, concise, and perhaps even inspired — this is one of the greatest challenges any intellect can under take. It is the true crucible of intelligence, if you ask me. Memorization of numbers and theorems, words, word forms and conjugations, paragraphs, sentences, ideas, and chronologies — that is basically all that “learning” is when you boil it down. What makes humanity intelligent, however, is the ability to learn, analyze, synthesize, and then — finally — explain so that others may learn (and analyze, and synthesize and so on). Too much of the art of intelligence is lost in this new scramble to be thought of as: smart.
I’m of two minds about this subject, though. On the one hand, I’ve never cheated on a test or paper in my life. I’ve always stood by my own knowledge or lack thereof of something. It helps that I like to read, that I enjoy learning, and that I don’t mind studying for long periods of glory-less time. Then again, in High School I was not above helping others cheat by giving them answers on a test or some such. I can relate one profound anecdote when, as a junior in High School, I let a friend of mine copy my homework for a Social Studies class. It was basic stuff: there’d been a reading and ten or so short-answer questions — just about a paragraph or two each. Sadly, my friend was such a slacker that he copied my homework verbatim and our teacher, Mr. Greenberg, discovered the match. Punishment? Well, he said — on principle — that he would not write a college recommendation for either of us because of our dishonesty. He felt a strong and certain morality about such things. Word was he was a great recommender and that he’d gotten kids into Ivy League schools much on the strength of his brilliant recommendations (also, word was, such words was… his words. But that’s neither here nor there). That experience stuck me as moment to consider the usefulness of cheating.
Do I think I should have been denied a possible college recommendation? No. But did I cheat — yes. So, in a sense, I’d made my own bed.
Back to the subject at hand: so, yes, I agree with Molly that this is not really shocking, but it IS quite sad. And I definitely agree that the author’s own dramatic flair is a bit much. It smacked of an Andrew Lloyd Webber character — so over-wrought, so serious, so mysterious. But it doesn’t gloss over the fact that writer acknowledges that what he doing is not only distasteful and ethically wrong — but could have dangerous consequences for other people (when he talks about writing doctoral dissertations and other professional documents). He knows this — and yet continues to do it. And I agree with Molly that he doesn’t really have a leg to stand on when he blames its all on the educators and the education system. Well, its a nice bit of prose (certainly!) but its a smoke-screen argument. If there is a pandemic in education where actual learning is becoming secondary (or tertiary, even) to getting good grades or just finishing assignments on time, its not the fault of the parents and educators alone. It is a societal sickness. And it runs deeper than just the obvious players at the schools. It is the companies and colleges and workplaces that hire people without doing an due diligence into whether they are “smart” or not. Whether a degree with a famous name on it is backed up by famous-name level intelligence and capability. It runs as deep as families, businesses, and communities and their elected officials. It is everywhere. Education is one of the few things that is part of everyone’s life. To exist in THIS day and age, you must have language, math, and electrical skills of some sort. How deep that know-how goes (to where it can become knowledge) is the question.
And out Essay Hitman, by impugning the schools, thinks to extricate himself from any semblance of guilt? The article is written with such a romantic air. He calls himself a writer. A Ne’er Do Well. Some sort of super-smart shadow-creature. He writes in huge volumes that no one could possible begin to match. For him it is obviously really an adventure. And he is the troubled, complicated good-guy. But if the state of education is so important to this guy, why has he spent the last ten years getting paid to do this work for adults? Yes, I draw the line at adulthood. When you’re 16 and you don’t study for a test because you stayed out all night trying to get a chance to speak for a few minutes alone with a special crush? That’s one thing. When you’re a full-blown adult going for a graduate level degree (an MBA, a law-degree, or a Masters/Doctorate) it is no longer a matter of making childish mistakes in a world that is so rapidly expanding (inside and out) that you don’t know who you hate or who you love or who you know at all. Its being criminally negligent and unethical. And aiding in that is not like when I let my friend copy my homework — that was wrong, but ti was innocent. This really should be some sort of crime. Certainly it is a crime against knowledge and intelligence. It is a counterfeited. It is intelligence-aping. Being the writer is just as bad as being the solicitor.
Of course, our Hero likes to lord it over his solicitors because they can’t spell. Hahaha — he’s so much better than them!
And, in the end, I agree with Molly — the writer has an incredible story, but its shameful. And he has no write to come down on educators like they are solely to blame for his position and not his own moral relativity. And, again, agreed: its the students who lose out most in the end. The one’s who do solicit this help are going to be totally under-prepared for life and work and doing things for themselves. And the people who are fairly working to get things done are getting hurt by people who, having foisted off the burden of work, can go out and start networking and building a reputation and getting those good grades. We are ALL students — and we are all being poisoned.
Indeed, Molly: we agree in every respect. But it occurs to me that this is a slippery slope… after all, we’re both pretty busy people. Who’s to say you wrote your piece yourself?
Or that I wrote mine?