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Who Is Writing Those College Papers?

OK, be honest.  Did you ever cheat in high school?  How about college?

Whether you did or didn’t  (or will admit it), you have to read “The Shadow Scholar” by Ed Dante, a pseudonym for a person who claims to have written thousands of pages for undergraduates, graduates, and professional studies students.  He’s written both theses and dissertations and taken courses on line -- all, of course, for a substantial fee. 

Dante’s story is disturbing and cynical, but it’s also fascinating.  Here’s an excerpt that got my attention:

… 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.)

Pen Of course this “writer for hire” lays the blame for the epidemic of dishonesty at the feet of college professors who blithely ignore the fact that a student who cannot articulate a cogent argument or who may not even be fluent in English can nonetheless commit to paper an essay that is well-reasoned and literate.  Professors counter that they have too many students or that yes, they recognize the fraud, but they can’t prove it.  As for the cheaters themselves, it’s stress, laziness, or ineptitude that “made them” cheat.  Ethics apparently has nothing to do with it.  (The comments are worth reading, if predictable.)

I’m not going to bemoan the obvious here.  Instead let me just say that it’s pretty disturbing that, according to Dante, future teachers and administrators can’t write well enough to feel confident about handing in a paper.  From years of reviewing teacher notes to parents before they are sent home, however, I’m not completely surprised.

Most of my graduate students in education administration are not proficient writers when they enter the program.  They are, however, when they leave.  Their professors will not allow them to be otherwise.  But I always wonder about their undergraduate training and yes, their high school preparation.  How could they have gotten this far and not be able to express themselves clearly on paper, following the usual conventions for written English?

We still do a poor job of teaching writing.  We still think that kids need to do a 25-page research paper when they can’t even do a clean 2-page paper, and they don’t understand the difference between research and plagiarism.  We teach mechanics as a stand-alone.  Writing is an “event” rather than a daily tool.  The expectation is that it’s going to be a chore, a joyless experience because that’s the way a lot of teachers approach it.  Maybe it was for them.

Still, someone taught Dante to write, and taught him well.  Too bad the writer was absent on character education day.



Dante's article is fascinating. What struck me was: 1) This guy is a terrific writer and 2) What a waste. I'd read anything this guy ever wrote, he's that good, but instead he's a cheater for hire.

I am grateful, though, for the article. It shines a light on how our education system has failed those who need it most: the ELLs and the kids who lack skills.

With 180 students cycling through an English classroom every day, teachers have a hard time teaching writing, let alone remediate those who really need it. We're not teaching writing well and it's a shame.

Thanks for the post. This was the most interesting read I've had in a long time.

I found it fascinating too (and more than a little disturbing, especially since he says he is one of many employed doing the same thing). And you make a good point about the situations that many writing teachers find themselves in -- too many kids to work with individually. You've probably seen that some folks are suggesting that the way for schools to save money is to increase class size. Like it doesn't matter.

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