Dante’s writing inferno

Finals week is upon us. I have no finals, just one French essay. But given my lack of enthusiasm and motivation (it’s not that I mind writing it, it’s the fact that I have writer’s block–“l’angoisse de la page blanche”), at this point I’d rather pay someone to do it for me. I won’t. But there are people who do that apparently, and exactly a month ago, The Chronicle of Higher Education shed light on the topic..

Who…Ed Dante, pseudonym for man who’s written more than 5,000 pages about you name it–from maritime security to municipal budgeting–for someone else. He makes $66,000 a year. His clients are 1. ESL students 2. “hopelessly deficient” student and 3. the “lazy rich kid.”

What... “Of course, I know you are aware that cheating occurs. But you have no idea how deeply this kind of cheating penetrates the academic system, much less how to stop it…It is my hope that this essay will initiate such a conversation. As for me, I’m planning to retire. I’m tired of helping you make your students look competent.”  The reoccurring anecdote in his exposé is about a customer who can’t type a grammatically correct sentence to save her life. She’s having him write her graduate thesis. On business ethics.

Why...do these companies who supply the essays (and the ghost writers) get away with it and why are students resorting to third parties for classwork? Why are they cheating, and why are we letting them cheat? Is it the education system or capitalism? Why?

As Dante writes, “You know what’s never happened? I’ve never had a client complain that he’d been expelled from school, that the originality of his work had been questioned, that some disciplinary action had been taken. As far as I know, not one of my customers has ever been caught.” It’s sad to think that this happens on a daily basis and yet, it’s continuously overlooked.

It seems to me that many people think the destination, such as landing that perfect job or getting a master’s, is ultimately more important the journey, and thus, a plagiarized paper (because you are stealing someone else’s ideas) is just a bump in the road. It’s as if life starts only after those possessions. But no, the ends do not justify the means.


One thought on “Dante’s writing inferno

  1. Why do students cheat or plagiarize? That’s probably the topic of a book right there… You have to distinguish between people who pay others to do their work and people who use content they found for free on the Internet without referencing it. Let’s keep the conversation on people who pay so that this comment doesn’t run forever (it’s going to be long enough). My guess is that they must have a deep-seated fear of failure – I can’t imagine it otherwise. For me, they’re in over their head and don’t want anyone to know they’re not up to the job. (How did they get in that mess? Parental pressure?) They’re the people who think the world will collapse if they don’t get an A, or (depending on their reasons to pay someone) at least a passing grade.

    If you think about the person you mention above who knows she can’t write a mistake-free sentence, the best for her would be to work with a literacy coach to help her put her ideas on paper in a grammatically correct format, so that she could learn the basics of writing correctly by herself, but I don’t think such coaches are very easy to find. (Maybe that’s a business idea worth pursuing. English coach rather than ghost writer.) Making elementary-school mistakes is very humiliating for any adult trying to get a degree. It’s no surprise the person wants to hide it. I hope for her sake she gets a job that comes with a personal assistant.

    Most annoying for me is the student who asks someone else to write his college application essay, or any other essay for that matter, simply to go from good to great (rather than from abysmal to good) without putting in much effort. And while the Chronicle of Higher Ed article is about situations that are clearly wrong, there are plenty of gray areas: if a tutor preparing a kid for the SAT is asked to review and edit a college entrance exam, is that cheating? I’d say yes, but the kid and his parents might argue otherwise, and it’s tough for the tutor to say no.

    Besides the obvious huge ethical issues, the problem with paying someone to do one’s homework is that those students never learn how to do it, and once they start working, their employer might ask them to do things on short notice, that is, things they won’t have time to “outsource”. Those students who think they’re gaming the system now by paying someone else to do their work end up with self-esteem issues. It’s tiring to hide the truth from others.

    (Besides, they’re sometimes found out. A case comes to mind, where the person who had done the work for a student contacted a university because the student had not paid him. Sometimes also, other students can be very talkative. Finally, sometimes a teacher can be almost certain students cheated but can’t prove it to the degree necessary to bring disciplinary action, so he/she won’t say anything, but that’s not the same as not realizing something is going on. Those students just don’t realize the teacher is paying extra attention to everything they do from then on.)

    Taking shortcuts never works.

    You might enjoy the following links:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rbzJTTDO9f4 (about cheating at UCF)
    http://prettyfreaky.blogspot.com/2010/11/shadow-scholars-lurkwriting-assignments.html (blog post about the same topic by English teacher/tutor; her message is that essays should be worked on in class so that the teacher can see intermediate steps and not just final output)

    Sorry for the long comment! Keep up the good work.

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