Monday, July 09, 2012

Cheating and the Commodification of Education

If you haven't read this article from the Chronicle yet about a paid ghost writer of term papers, please do. It is unbelievable.

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.

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.

The claim -- and we don't know how much is true, but it seems real -- is that the old days of bought stock term papers has been customized. I always thought that my assignments were idiosyncratic enough that they were cheat-proof, but even that approach seems to have been compromised.

What is interesting about the piece is one short section where he talks about those who use his services:
From my experience, three demographic groups seek out my services: the English-as-second-language student; the hopelessly deficient student; and the lazy rich kid.

For the last, colleges are a perfect launching ground—they are built to reward the rich and to forgive them their laziness. Let's be honest: The successful among us are not always the best and the brightest, and certainly not the most ethical. My favorite customers are those with an unlimited supply of money and no shortage of instructions on how they would like to see their work executed. While the deficient student will generally not know how to ask for what he wants until he doesn't get it, the lazy rich student will know exactly what he wants. He is poised for a life of paying others and telling them what to do. Indeed, he is acquiring all the skills he needs to stay on top.

As for the first two types of students—the ESL and the hopelessly deficient—colleges are utterly failing them. Students who come to American universities from other countries find that their efforts to learn a new language are confounded not only by cultural difficulties but also by the pressures of grading. The focus on evaluation rather than education means that those who haven't mastered English must do so quickly or suffer the consequences. My service provides a particularly quick way to "master" English. And those who are hopelessly deficient—a euphemism, I admit—struggle with communication in general.
What are they buying? They are not buying papers, they are buying grades. Rich kids think they deserve the grades because they are rich enough to pay for them and they've been able to buy everything else, so why not grades? The others also see grades and classes as tools, they are means. It is not about learning it is about collecting and if you can't find the seashells on the shore, why not go to the shop and purchase them? In a culture where we value possessions and not being thoughtful and well-read, where we teach to No Child Left Behind exams and not to young minds, how is this not a necessary end?

So, given that we cannot change the culture first, what can we do about this?