When you go read The Chronicle’s The Shadow Scholar: the man who writes your students’ papers tells his story by Ed Dante (pseudonym), read it outside your preconceptions and avoid judging the numerous examples of students who pay money to have their papers and assignments written for them. If you can do that, you will understand that higher education in America faces a larger problem.
For some reason, students no longer go to school to learn. They go to school to succeed, to graduate with Ivy League pomp and a laserprint diploma with latin words. They go to school to attain high grades, but not to master the material. They use clever minds not to probe, inquire, or study, but to pass their classes at any cost. For those with money, they may turn to services like Ed Dante’s:
In the midst of this great recession, business is booming. At busy times, during midterms and finals, my company’s staff of roughly 50 writers is not large enough to satisfy the demands of students who will pay for our work and claim it as their own.
Using an essay-writing service is the easy out, a way to get ahead without actually getting ahead. Adding a kind of academic debt which they will never be able to repay, because they’ve starved themselves of the learning process and very curiosity that could save them in the future:
They couldn’t write a convincing grocery list, yet they are in graduate school. They really need help. They need help learning and, separately, they need help passing their courses. But they aren’t getting it.
For students, the temptation is easy. If you write poorly, why not pay someone who writes well to get good grades for you? English and other courses, which engineering and science students are often required to take (at Cornell, mandatory freshman writing seminars ring a bell?), are considered by some students as distracting fluff. Not caring enough to learn to read, write, and think critically, they want to immediately jump into the technical field of their subject matter choice. What the western tradition has realized in setting these requirements in the first place is that fundamental skills in philosophy and writing form an underpinning for the domain-specific skills that will be set upon that foundation.
While the house-building metaphor is tired, the results are not. Students without solid language, reading, writing, and analytical skills act as a contagion for those around them, for their peers in the workplace, and their children. Without a solid foundation in this generations students, without fundamentals, America will continue its steep decline1 in educational-quotient:
[E]ducation is the worst. [...] 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.)
To continue the discussion, see The Term Paper Artist: The lucrative industry behind higher ed’s failings and this NPR transcript The Paper Market. If you are a student thinking of taking the easy way out, perhaps try to struggle through your work, and by doing so, enriching yourself. If you are a parent or an educator, try to encourage your pupils to learn, to be curious, and to take pride in their work.
Without some kind of change, the easy way will become the normal way.
#1 – See U.S. students advancing in math trails most industrialized nations which ranks the US as 31st of 56 countries in the topic of math, for just one study. There are many others.
It’s not often that I write about one of Cornell’s finest, but today I will mention Olivia Ong, a senior Textiles and Apparel major. Her invention include a dress treated with silver nanoparticles, which both protect it from getting dirty and kills bacteria. The Cornell Chronicle in Student designer and fiber scientists create a dress that prevents colds and a jacket that destroys noxious gases notes some of the details:
The upper portion of the dress contains cotton coated with silver nanoparticles. Dong first created positively charged cotton fibers using ammonium- and epoxy-based reactions, inducing positive ionization. The silver particles, about 10-20 nanometers across (a nanometer is one-billionth of a meter) were synthesized in citric acid, which prevented nanoparticle agglomeration.
Her other invention, a jacket with palladium nanofibers, offers the potential to passively purify the atmosphere. She calls her designer line “something really moving toward the future, and really advanced.”
The only worries are what the side-effects of wearing nano-creations might be. There are probably significant health risks to introducing tiny elementary particles into your system. Sure, they don’t seem to wear off the fabric, but they eventually must. And after that, we’ll have them in the air, in our food, the water supply… and probably evolve them into our basic cell chemistry.
I was interested in how the cost of Cornell University tuition rose compared to other market benchmarks, like general inflation and the stock market. I gathered data from 1980 to 2006 on the yearly inflation rates of Cornell tuition, private American tuition, inflation, and yearly returns on the Dow and Nasdaq indices.
In 1980, if you’d put $1000 into University, you’d now be paying $5905.50. Inflation inflates your $1000 to $2452.37, while the Nasdaq rakes in $5436.02, the Dow $9063.03. Cornell tracks strongly with other University rates, returning $5561.72. The graph makes one thing clear, though–Cornell’s tuition is quickly outstripping inflation, and tracks suspiciously with the higher order return rates common in the stock market. It’s almost like the inexorable rise of our tuition is a hedge against bad investments in the endowment.
In 2020, Cornell University tuition will have skyrocketed:
Right now we’re paying $32,800. In 2020, we’ll be paying $82,440 but our $32,800 will only be worth an $49,613. That’s another $30,000 of 2020 dollars or $20,000 of our real dollars. Therefore, I make this proclamation: In 2020, Cornell University will charge students $53,000 for a year’s tuition–51% more than today!