Editorial – Ghostly Grades

Every few years there’s an anonymously published letter written by a member of one of the most reviled, yet desperately sought after professions in all of academia: the professional essay writer.

And each time such a letter appears, there’s a flurry of finger-pointing. What kind of unethical person takes a job like that? Who would hire an essay writer to complete assignments?and then happily walk across the stage with ?hard-earned? diplomas? Who’s responsible for such lazy, entitled behaviour? Kids? Parents? Society? Profs? Or the educational system itself?

Plagiarism is heavily targeted by most academic honesty policies, but there’s no question that a certain degree of tolerance exists for other forms of academic cheating, like hiring a ghostwriter to put together a paper. While academic institutions insist they take a hard line on cheaters, one study of post-secondary institutions revealed that over 40 per cent of ?faculty of admitted to ignoring incidents of suspected academic dishonesty.? Worse, according to research from the Ad Council/Educational Testing Service, while 41 per cent of the general US public were concerned about the problem of academic cheating, only 35 per cent of faculty expressed the same concern.

The prevalence of technology on campus and greater access to mechanisms of cheating make it easier for students to get away with it. Overly large classes mean that students and professors don’t develop a personal relationship, which in part allows cheaters to slip through the cracks. But I think the problem is deeper than just ease of access.

The real issue may be that the nature of post-secondary learning has become primarily outcome-based. You submit the paper; you get a paper saying you’ve got X degree. You use that paper to get a job, which has nothing to do with the education itself. Hopefully some learning came along the way, but if not, what of it? You checked the boxes, paid the dues, and now you’ve got your reward.

And That’s the catch. Education is supposed to be its own reward. Learning is enriching. Practicing the synthesis of information both in an academic setting and out in the world allows us to engage on a level we’d be missing otherwise. A system that views the learning process as a checkbox is limiting both to our intellect and our human souls.

And as for the cheaters? The only people they’re really cheating, in the long run, is themselves.

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