Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Education and Ethics

Here is an interesting article on a person who writes for a living by completing papers, projects, assignments and thesis as contracted out by student. The essay is quite scary in the sense that for so many education has become about image and not learning.

This part was most disgusting:
I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America's moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

IF you are a seminary student: how dare you hire someone else to do your work and your labor and take credit. Similarly, if you are a pastor: how dare you hire someone to write your sermons. 

One of the problems is that education today is assumed to be an entitlement. A child MUST go to college and subsequently colleges overtime lower their standards to the lowest common denominator. Very few question: is college for everyone? What ever happened to the respectability of trade schools? With the proliferation of degrees, now Masters degrees a considered common stock, and indeed doctorate degrees too. Yet we would not go to a medical doctor who had not done their own work, yet if this essay in any indication we have countless individuals in all fields of the humanities, liberal arts, and other 'soft sciences' that are paying others to do the work.

This is just terrible.

The temptation is to turn this into something that is adventurous: 
"You've never heard of me, but there's a good chance that you've read some of my work. I'm a hired gun, a doctor of everything, an academic mercenary. My customers are your students. I promise you that. Somebody in your classroom uses a service that you can't detect, that you can't defend against, that you may not even know exists."

As you read the account, the author details about people who love to boss others around but have little ability to actual communicate using proper English. Sadly for most success is measured by the results and pragmatics so that as long as I get ahead, who cares how I got there.
"I, who have no name, no opinions, and no style, have written so many papers at this point, including legal briefs, military-strategy assessments, poems, lab reports, and, yes, even papers on academic integrity, that it's hard to determine which course of study is most infested with cheating. But I'd say education is the worst. I've written papers for students in elementary-education programs, special-education majors, and ESL-training courses. I've written lesson plans for aspiring high-school teachers, and I've synthesized reports from notes that customers have taken during classroom observations. I've written essays for those studying to become school administrators, and I've completed theses for those on course to become principals. In the enormous conspiracy that is student cheating, the frontline intelligence community is infiltrated by double agents. (Future educators of America, I know who you are.)"
What is amazing though, is this research writer is excellent at selling a product. He/she certainly works but he does need to do the work of real research and evaluation. He doesn't have to weigh arguments and sort data--he can just skim, scan, collate and produce:
"I haven't been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don't know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there's Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I've taken hundreds of crash courses this way. 
After I've gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I've refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I'll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph. "
It almost gets Orwellian about the use of language. It extremely easy to use language to sound profound and intelligent rather than actually using it to concretely communicate things. At times succinctness is a greater sign of profundity than verboseness. I am not knocking true intelligence, vocabulary and an ability to craft clear penetrating scholarship. But notice:
"I've also got a mental library of stock academic phrases: "A close consideration of the events which occurred in ____ during the ____ demonstrate that ____ had entered into a phase of widespread cultural, social, and economic change that would define ____ for decades to come." Fill in the blanks using words provided by the professor in the assignment's instructions." 
Unfortunately, towards the end of this article the write passes on the ethical blame. Don't blame me, I'm just providing a service. Ask why people would want me. It is, to put it mildly, unfortunate that the author would excuse themselves in such a fashion. Of course, their is enough ethical culpability to go around. 

Read the whole thing.

Update:
over at CATO they make this comment:
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. 

I am not against paying people fairly (including teachers), but this again goes to my point that competence and ability is not measure merely by the accumulation of degrees. I once heard from a pastor  a friend in his community complained to him about his pastor who was getting another degree just to rack up a higher salary. We would be silly to think that it is only in the educational fields where people see compensation coupled to the trappings of higher learning. Higher learning is worth more if it is real learning with real work, effort and energy expended.

The true test of learning is not the degree but what one does in their life with said degree. Degrees should be the beginning of education and life-long learning not the end. To this end, I once had a professor in college who refused to hang his doctoral degree in his office. When asked about it, he said, I don't need to prove that I have a degree by hanging it on the wall rather the evidence of my degree and learning should be displayed in the classroom. I consider this man both humble and realistic: his life beyond the degree was a demonstration of the degree he had earned and the seriousness with which he studied and taught. (He was, I might add, the hardest professors I had in college, but I wouldn't trade my experience in his classes for the world).

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