The Chronicle of Higher Education recently released a chilling story that you should know about. The CHI piece is called “The Shadow Scholar” and it’s authored by a paper mill writer under the name of “Ed Dante.” You can read the whole thing here. Reader’s Digest picked it up for their May 2011 edition, which has mainstreamed it.
For educators, parents, and Christian citizens interested in the general state of American education, this essay is essential reading. Here’s a snippet:
In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.
The author lists off papers that he has written:
I’ve written toward a master’s degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D. in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate credits in international diplomacy. I’ve worked on bachelor’s degrees in hospitality, business administration, and accounting. I’ve written for courses in history, cinema, labor relations, pharmacology, theology, sports management, maritime security, airline services, sustainability, municipal budgeting, marketing, philosophy, ethics, Eastern religion, postmodern architecture, anthropology, literature, and public administration. I’ve attended three dozen online universities. I’ve completed 12 graduate theses of 50 pages or more. All for someone else.
This total would be impressive if it didn’t depend upon academic sin.
Read the whole piece; it’s breathtaking. The author reveals that he is one of 50 writers at his essay mill and is generally working on 20 papers at any given moment. Most of us would be aware that some kind of company exists, but the piece exposes the ugliness of this practice with unusual force and clarity. Right now, there are companies, structured in all the normal ways with HR departments and 401ks and outdated microwaves, that employ people to do essentially nothing but aid people in cheating. That’s sick. People go to work, collect a paycheck, and go about their business, all the while contributing singlehandedly to the deterioration of the western mind.
As a college professor who takes a vested interest in developing the writing skills of his students, this is particularly disheartening. If you are a professor of most any kind, this piece discloses at least a part of your future reality. This kind of cancer is only going to have an exponential effect over time. Why? It’s already hard to teach writing, something like training people to catch fish with their bare hands. It’s an art that depends on the cultivation of many skills. If students are paying people to do their writing, they are not learning the craft. At no place in the academic process, which is designed to grow and stretch students, are they developing writing skills. The professor, furthermore, wastes his or her time in grading these papers. A company that should not exist only stands to increase its business with the achievement of a good grade as the student spreads positive (if clandestine) word of mouth. A rotten system grows more rotten still. This sort of system is only encouraged by a university culture that has long since bid farewell to normative Christian ethics.
Ethics are intrusive things. Many folks today don’t want rock-ribbed religion. They want grab-and-go faith, open-menu spirituality–pick this, leave that, pay as you go. Yet trends like that described above show that our culture rues its distance from the cold clarity of Christian theology and ethics. The Chronicle will not be confused with Our Daily Bread anytime soon, and yet it clearly disapproves of essay mills. Any sane person would. Yet whence cometh the foundation for a critique of such a practice, booming as it is?
Christians are in the business of teaching truth truly. We take education with the utmost seriousness, seeking whether in the church, the home or the academy to leave the hearts of our students burning as we instruct them in a Christotelic worldview (Luke 24:32). It is right that we grow concerned and even upset by essay mills. It is also right that we strive to teach students well and to train them to think and write with excellence. Writing is an essential skill, after all. Our faith stems from words written down, does it not?