[SUMMARY:] My guest post at Sarah Hoyt’s blog on how living languages evolve and words undergo shifts in meaning — especially when imported from other languages. This is even more rampant in English than in other major European languages, owing to English language standards being descriptive [linguistic “field workers” describing how people actually speak and write] rather than prescriptive [a language academy laying down rules for how people should be speaking and writing it].
In Hyrum, Utah, an art teacher at an elementary school has been fired for showing two artworks featuring female nudity to fifth- and sixth-graders. The artworks in question (images somewhat unsafe in some workplaces) are “Odalisque” by François Boucher (a partial nude) and “Female Nude” (a.k.a. Iris Tree) by Amedeo Modigliani (which features full frontal nudity).
I am torn here. On the one hand, I do not consider artistic, tasteful classical nude paintings to be offensive at all and have even written a long blog post about Renoir’s models. On the other hand, know your audience: it would not occur to me to display this type of painting to elementary schoolers in a very religious community, be it LDS or Orthodox Jewish—and the teacher ought to have displayed better judgment. On the third hand, the school’s reaction — firing the teacher where a friendly admonition would have done the job just fine been quite adequate — is a classic example of “shooting mosquitos with a cannon”. Especially since the material came from the school’s own library collection.
There are those who try to present the treatment of sexual matters as a false dichotomy: either Old Order Amish or Teen Vogue’s “teenage girl’s guide to [back door breaking and entering” (barf). Those of us who seek a sensible middle ground will be called libertines by one side and prudes by the other. Be it as it may: false dichotomies are a beloved cheap trick of propagandists everywhere.
If you believe (as I do) that sex is something beautiful to be shared and enjoyed between people who love each other; that pleasuring your partner is a skill worth acquiring for your partner’s sake as well as your own; but that sexuality is not something to be “hung out in public” in and out of season; then you will run afoul of jaded hedonist “sophisticates” and neo-Puritans alike. As the Iron Lady put it: being in the middle of the road means you will get hit by the traffic from both sides.
This polarization extends to fiction, by the way. “Contemporary romances” increasingly are either very explicit for the sake of being explicit (if those same books were marketed as erotica, this would at least be “truth in advertising”) or (for certain religious markets) squeaky-clean at a level where even a kiss on the mouth is considered too racy. I personally do not mind even very graphic scenes if they move the story forward or deepen the characters, but in most situations, I do believe that it is best to leave something to the imagination, that usually “less is more”, and that usually off-camera, or at most soft-focus are as effective as technicolor, or indeed more so. As for how “spicy” to paint an amorous relationship in fiction: I would go by what feels authentic for the characters and their environment. A romance in which two students at a Northeastern liberal arts college spend four years hand-holding and kissing each other on the cheek until their wedding day would generally be very implausible unless you came up with a very convincing backstory. At the same time, in some very religious milieus, a couple getting physical on their first meeting would be equally preposterous. “Don’t throw the reader out of the story” applies to these matters as well.
The other day I heard an interview (in French) with electronic music megastar Jean-Michel Jarre (who is, incidentally, the estranged son of film composer Maurice Jarre and the ex-husband of actress Charlotte Rampling).
Paraphrasing one segment of the interview from memory: “Some people tell me that electronic music is abstract. On the contrary! Especially with analog instruments, it’s visceral, hands-on. I twist this knob or push that pedal, and I immediately hear the sound change in response. It’s classical music that is more abstract! They play off a score, which is an abstract representation of the music.”
Bingo. To borrow a term from information technology, the score is one “abstraction layer” above the music. A jazz music “lead sheet” would be one more abstraction layer above: it specifies the lead melody, the chord progression, and the meter — and the details on how to translate the progression into notes are left to the performer!
The next higher abstraction level is sometimes seen when experienced musicians are jamming together, and all the lead player needs to say is “slow 12/8 blues in G minor”: everybody else knows what to do and fills in the details on the fly, according to their best musical judgment. (Fixed chord progressions like “the blues” as improvisational frameworks are not a recent invention: suffice to mention “La Folia” in Renaissance and Baroque contexts.) An Indian raga is, likewise, a meta-structure for improvisation.
A paradigmatic example of abstraction layers in information technology — one that many readers will be familiar with — are network addresses. Individual network cards have a permanent, unique “MAC address” or “hardware address”, six bytes in hexadecimal notation: something like 4c:33:73:9d:40:42 We do not use such addresses directly to send Email or access web servers though, since everytime a server or even network card would go on the fritz, you’d have to update directories.
So one abstraction layer above that, we have the numerical addresses of the form 188.8.131.52. These can be defined manually on a device, or (this is what happens in most home WiFi networks) assigned using a DHCP (dynamic host configuration protocol) service. You replace a server or swap out a network card? Update the DHCP configuration table, and you’re good to go.
But if you moved to another provider, you’d still have to change addresses. Or you may have so much traffic that you need to deploy multiple servers, and load-balance traffic between them. Which is why we have yet another abstraction layer above that: the more conventional, human-readable addresses like www.pjmedia.com or www.berkeley.edu A domain name server (DNS) keeps track of which name corresponds to which number (or knows which other DNS to ask if it can’t resolve the query from cache), and hence you only need to deal with the “link”: you can leave the concrete details on how to translate this into an actual connection to the “abstraction layers” below.
The above puts me in mind of the laments of a friend of mine (a college lecturer in a humanities subject) about the atrocious writing of his students. Effectively, he says, the students have only learned the English language by imitation: they parrot words and phrases, rely on their spelling checker to fix spellings (sometimes coming up with unintentionally hilarious malapropisms as they do so), and often display a disregard for grammar and syntax that has non-native speakers like myself flabbergasted. The thing is, grammar and syntax are abstraction levels above the words: they can be learned by immersion — but that would have to be by “neural network training” from a very large corpus of high-quality written text. (I frankly didn’t know most of the grammatical rules in English consciously — but could apply them just fine on autopilot, as I’d been a voracious reader from a young age. Only when I found myself needing to explain edits to scientific papers — and of course learned that “it sounds wrong otherwise” is not an acceptable answer to thinking people — did I end up hitting the grammar and usage books.)
Prose style and essay structure are, of course, yet further abstraction levels above. But the problem is much broader than language: at one research institution where I was a guest faculty member, I saw distressing levels of learning by imitation in the lab — newer grad students basically being shown “this is how it goes” by the older ones. Now if this is just a matter of “kickstarting” then this is fine — the real problem was that only a few had any desire to actually understand what they were doing. (This became painfully clear when they attempted to write a paper — which in practice usually boiled down to compiling tables and graphs as required, and the professor or his amanuensis writing the actual paper—or rewriting the sorry excuse for a manuscript so thoroughly as to qualify as writing from scratch.)
Pretty much everybody who lives near a Jewish community has heard of Chabad (a.k.a. the Lubavitch movement): Chabad (חב׳׳ד) is, however, originally the Hebrew acronym for a much broader concept: the three levels of understanding. This is how I see them outside a religious context.
D (ד) stands for the lowest layer: da’at ([factual] “knowledge”)
B (ב) stands for the layer above: bina (“insight”) or, if you like, analytical understanding. That which is required for the higher “abstraction layers” of learning.
Ch (ח) stands for the highest layer: chochma (“wisdom”), or, if you like, synthetic understanding, creativity. The levels of “meta-insight” that allow you to apply the structural principles of that which exists, for creating something new.
Our current educational system effectively sacrifices insight on the altar of creativity (or, worse, the students’ self-esteem) — while at the same time, perversely, ensuring that students only have quite shallow knowlegde by declaring a kind-of war on memorization at exactly the ages children most easily learn by rote. The end products are students that have never progressed beyond some nuts-and-bolts knowledge picked up by imitation—and even that is not to be taken for granted.
The system stunts students while claiming to empower them, and it boosts a brittle, hollow self-esteem that shatters on the first contact with reality. It “creates a desert, and calls it peace.” Or self-esteem, “or something”
DON’T KNOW MUCH ABOUT HISTORY: Obama: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.”
Apparently, when Obama taught Constitutional Law he never got around to teaching the Texas White (Democratic) Primary cases. Or talking about which side was which in the Civil War . . . .
Updated to make clear to people who don’t click the link that it was the Texas Democrats who excluded black voters (and Mexican-Americans) from their primaries (and then dodged further with the Jaybird Democratic Association when the courts struck down the White Primaries). This is a major set of cases under state action, and I’m surprised that Obama is unfamiliar with this history. I wonder what he covered in his Constitutional Law classes?
Remember, guys, this clown was sold to us as an “intellectual” unlike the “stupid” Bush. His followers even claimed he was a constitutional law professor at U. of Chicago, when in fact he was a mere adjunct lecturer and never had regular faculty status. (This is not surprising in light of an essentially nonexistent scholarly publication list.) The blogprof has more on 0bama’s academic (non)career, and Doug Ross claims to have gotten off-the-record comments from a senior law prof at U. of Chicago that put 0bama’s time there in an unflattering light to say the least.
But I leave the last word to Powerline:
Barack Obama is a creature of the modern university and therefore an amazingly shallow man. I have written about his historical howlers in the New York Post column “Anti-terror oops,” in the Weekly Standard column “The Kennedy-Khrushchev conference for dummies,” and in the Power Line post “Obama veers into the Daily Ditch.”
Obama’s historical ignorance could be a full time beat for somebody who does this work for a living, and it tells us something truly important about Barack Obama. His ignorance is as broad as it is deep. Not that you couldn’t deduce that on your own from his performance on the job.
Yesterday he was at it again, in his peevish interview with the feisty local broadcast reporter from Texas. Why are you so unpopular in Texas? the reporter asked. Obama being Obama, he was unable to laugh off the question and say he’d do better next time around. Obama responded: “Texas has always been a pretty Republican state, for, you know, historic reasons.”
Has the guy ever heard of LBJ? You know, the fellow who first brought us socialized medicine? Has he ever read a single volume of Robert Caro’s monumental biography of LBJ? It’s hard to miss the extent to which the Democratic Party dominated Texas politics for the duration of LBJ’s (long) political career.
Obama majored in political science at Columbia. Did he miss the fact that Texas was part of the solidly Democratic South — the slaveholding, segregated, Jim Crow South — more or less from statehood in 1845 until Nixon’s 1972 landslide?
Did Obama skip class the day he might have learned that in the the postbellum South, including Texas, the Republican Party was virtually nonexistent? Apparently so. Or maybe he was just deploying his skills as a bs artist to deflect a question that could not be reconciled with his self-worship.
JOHN adds: I’ve concluded that Obama isn’t a smart person. He just plays one on television.
Insty linked to two great posts by Megan McArdle on liberal bias in academia. The first, which she got lots of vigorous reactions (and hate mail) too, points out the laughably lopsided distribution of liberals vs. conservatives in academia (we’re talking 200/1 ratios in some disciplines). The second gives a rundown of all the lame excuses proffered by apologists, which she facetiously compares to “oh, women are happier in the kitchen and blacks don’t want responsibility” rationalizations for gender and racial discrimination.
Academia is probably the quintessential New Class career path, and in my day job I get to deal with a great many academics, mostly in the hard sciences. I can testify that even in the hard sciences — where politics is rarely an issue in tenure decisions — there is very strong peer pressure. Let me quote an Email I got:
I was at [a major university in the Midwest] at the time of 0bama’s candidacy and quickly learned to keep my political opinions to myself. I was prepared to like 0bama (potentially the first black president and all) but quickly realized he was going to be at best a crooked hack politician in the Chicago mold, and at worst a radical the likes of which the USA hadn’t seen. Typically I was the only person in the room who did not think 0bama was the second coming of JC [well, he does resemble Jimmy Carter, no? — Ed.], and I lost count how many times I heard remarks to the effect that any opposition to his candidacy could only be motivated by racism. I ended up moving to a red state where at least I could open my mouth with impunity — and even here I am one of only two conservatives in my department and generally avoid the subject of politics. Note my field is [a basic science], not English literature or sociology.
I’m the sort of person who doesn’t give a rat’s backside what anybody thinks of him. Even so, it got to me at times and was a factor in deciding where to live next. I can only imagine how this would affect a person more sensitive to peer pressure — probably “adapt or leave”.
Earlier, Insty reproduced an Email he got from a “conservative in the closet” in academia, with some reminiscences of his own added. (Thankfully, Insty works in an unusually supportive environment. He does point, whimsically, to his usefulness to the university administration as a “token” libertarian — and I am not 100% sure he is joking.) An excerpt from the Email:
I have used this comparison [with being in the closet about one’s sexual orientation] myself, it is apt, and it doesn’t just apply to students. You hide yourself in plain sight. You make comments that are carefully crafted to allow you to make small talk, and which will allow your colleagues to think you’re in agreement with them, but which nevertheless satisfy your own sense of integrity. You never lie. You just make comments and allow them to draw their own conclusions. A classic example is the way I’ll make comments about politics, saying things like “I don’t trust politicians, period.” My liberal colleagues will nod and agree. We’re all in agreement, they believe. It gets easy after a while. You make comments about Marxist ideology that are really rather neutral, such as how you see similarities between Marx’s views, and something else. You leave it unstated that in fact you think this is appalling, while they nod and smile at the continuing relevance of Marxism in today’s society. Everyone is happy. I don’t feel quite so happy when someone says something about “stupid fucking conservatives” (I’m quoting exact words here), but I just nod, and say “ugh-huh”.
I’ve just been watching the first series of Mad Men, and I’m struck by the gay guy Salvatore Romano, and how similar his behavior is to me, only I’m hiding my politics, not my sexuality. There are also the classic moments, whereby fellow believers in academia carefully try to work out if you are one of “us”. I remember one guy who heard me comment on how some architecture reminded me of something I read in The Fountainhead, which was enough to alert him. Later we went out for a drink. I remember the nervous moment (for both of us) where he finally came out and asked me, “so what are your political / economic beliefs?” I chickened out, tempered, and said, “well, perhaps more to the center than most academics” and countered, “what are yours?” Reassured, he was willing to admit to conservative leanings. Then I was willing to admit it too. Then at last we could talk about our true feelings, with it clearly and openly stated that (of course) none of this was ever, ever, ever, to go beyond our own private conversations. (I also learned to never ever, in future, mention Rand within hearing of any academics, in case I accidently revealed myself again.) In another case, the vital clue was our shared interest in science fiction, and over the weeks there followed careful probing concerning which authors we liked, until we eventually discretely revealed ourselves. Now he lends me books saying “don’t let any of your colleagues see you with this.”
When (if) I get tenure, I toy with the idea of coming out of the closet. I don’t think I will though. Perhaps my job will be more secure, but I have to live and work with these people for years to come. I prefer to work in a friendly environment. I don’t want to be the token conservative, and I don’t want to be the one who speaks at meetings while everyone else rolls their eyes and exchanges meaningful glances.
Needless to say, don’t under any circumstances use my real name if you choose to refer to my email. Thanks!
Aside from the “closet” metaphor (make sure to check out this blog, BTW), this behavior reminds me of the submarine warfare tactic known as “silent running“. Make no unnecessary sound, and run the electric engines of the sub at an RPM rate calculated to be minimally detectible by passive sonar.
Megan makes the case that a combination of discrimination, peer pressure, and self-selection is at work. I can second the latter: my guess is that most conservatives would consider “studies” fields to be wastes of time for all considered, and Erin O’Connor of Critical Mass is an example of a tenured literature professor who eventually left academia in disgust. But this should be much less of an issue in hard sciences fields (except, obviously, for environmental science and climate studies).
If I’d gotten a dollar for every time I heard somebody refer to academics as “the most self-centered people on the planet” I’d be rich now. And there is indeed a rub, if not necessarily the rub. Like any highly competitive creative field, it self-selects for egomaniacs — and perhaps to the benefit of all concerned. (To give an example outside academia: where would Apple or Microsoft be today if Steve Jobs or Bill Gates were modest, self-effacing people?) Now whenever you put a lot of people of (real or perceived) high talent together, one gets not only the backbiting everybody in academia knows (I’ve seen academic knife-fights to the death over completely apolitical scholarly disputes in physics or chemistry), but also a kind of “esprit de corps”, a feeling of group superiority over other mere mortals. At best, this gets sublimated into an admirable sense of “noblesse oblige”. At worst, one gets what Robert Nozick incisively described as (via Clive):
Intellectuals feel they are the most valuable people, the ones with the highest merit, and that society should reward people in accordance with their value and merit. But a capitalist society does not satisfy the principle of distribution “to each according to his merit or value.” Apart from the gifts, inheritances, and gambling winnings that occur in a free society, the market distributes to those who satisfy the perceived market-expressed demands of others, and how much it so distributes depends on how much is demanded and how great the alternative supply is. Unsuccessful businessmen and workers do not have the same animus against the capitalist system as do the wordsmith intellectuals. Only the sense of unrecognized superiority, of entitlement betrayed, produces that animus.
It is my hypothesis that, more generally, the vast majority of academia subconsciously identifies as members of the New Class (by whatever name they may call “our kind of people”) before everything else, and will naturally tend to favor policies that reflect New Class sensitivities and interests. Big-government philosophies, and especially redistributive “social justice” programs run by bureaucratic elites, have a natural appeal to them.
And academics can rent-seek with the best of them. I have seen liberal academics be apologetic about receiving defense-related funding, but applying for and accepting it nevertheless. Or people who receive research funding for the liberal pet cause du jour while, out of earshot and with a couple in them, admitting to be skeptical about it. I have heard more than one academic tell me flat out that (s)he thinks Al Gore is a huckster, but if his AGW doom talk can scare people into weaning themselves off fossil fuels before they run out then it will have served a useful purpose. And of course, easy availability of funding for research in… is a useful benefit. (With all due respect, but “pia fraus” and “taqqiya” belong in religions, not science.)
Ideally, an academic should seek the truth wherever it can be found, without fear or favor. In the real world, academics are humans and no human foibles are alien to them. One of the most sobering things I learned in my 4.5 decades on this mortal coil is that in some “real world” matters, farmers and small businessmen without any formal education can exercise more sound judgment than most professors.
ADDENDUM: I should have pointed out the degree to which already existing tendencies are exacerbated by the whole “postmodern” fad. To state that personal perspective may create observer bias, or that it may be worthwhile to look at historical or political events through different eyes, is one thing. To deny the very existence of objective truth (even as a platonic ideal) is another: if there is only the “struggle between competing narratives” (how people who believe in this radically subjectivist notion can take pride in being “reality-based” is a miracle of psychology), then the search for truth (by however imperfect means) degenerates into a sophistry contest. Which is how many conservatives increasingly look upon humanities and “soft subjects” academia (actually, various unprintable versions of “mutual gratification society” are more commonly heard) — and which, in turn, increases the mutual aversion. There is a definite “feedback loop” going on here…
On the plane between “home base” and “forward base”, I spent some time reading the book “Third culture kids” (TCK), which was recommended to us by a friend.
This being a revised edition of the book, there are a fair number of references to 0bama as the first “third culture president” that grow tiresome after a while. The writing is also not as penetrating or engaging (two different things) as I would have liked, but still the concept helped me make sense of some things in my own family (and others like us).
Even today, in the Internet and Web 2.0 age, most children spend their formative years in one culture and one culture only: their “home culture” or “passport culture” as the authors alternatingly refer to it. They may be more exposed to superficial elements of other cultures than ever (thanks to modern means of communication), but their “deep culture” is firmly rooted in one place.
Some children grow up “cross-culturally”. For example, they may be born and partly raised in one country, and then their parents may immigrate to another for economic reasons or as refugees from war or persecution. Or their parents may be from different backgrounds and they end up living in the culture of one parent. Such children deal with both a “passport culture” and a “host culture”, and different ways of (not) coping with the duality may ensue: some children may fully identify with the host culture, others fully and ostentatiously with the passport culture, yet others may try to harmoniously blend aspects of both.
(A more complex variation on this theme occurs when both parents hail from different “passport cultures” while the family lives in a third “host culture”: say, a Chinese/African mixed couple living as immigrants in the USA.)
The term “third culture kids” was originally coined by sociologist Ruth Hill Useem to refer to a different phenomenon, that unifies children of career military (“army brats”/”navy brats”/”air force brats”), diplomatic personnel, executives in international corporations, international aid workers, transnational NGO personnel, and religious missionaries. Adults in these groups may be, at first sight, radically different from each other in their outlooks on life — for instance, UN types and career military are typically on opposite poles of the liberal-conservative axis — yet they share commonalities in their circumstances that put a shared imprint on their children for life.
The TCK is typically born in one “home culture” but spends much or all of their formative years in one or more “host cultures” where their parents are on assignment. The “third culture” they deal with is the interstitial one created by their parents and others in the same situation, be it military base life, expat enclaves, or the corporate/bureaucratic/diplomatic “expat ghetto”.
What makes TCKs unique? As summarized here on the State Department website:
Because TCKs have developed a unique culture of their own that incorporates elements of varied cultures, they often feel more at home with other TCKs, with no regard for nationality, rather than those of the passport culture (Storti, 1997). Roa (1995) explains that many TCKs experience cultural marginality in which they do not fit perfectly into any specific culture where they have lived, but on the other hand, fit comfortably on the edge or margin of any one of them. In essence, they feel at home anywhere and nowhere at the same time. TCKs who feel at home anywhere may exhibit constructive marginality in which they feel different from others, but are able to use their differences constructively (Schaetti, 1996). Those who experience encapsulated marginality have a feeling of being trapped or encapsulated by their sense of being different. Therefore, they may feel at home nowhere and might have a sense of falling off the edge of the cultural mainstream (Schaetti, 1996).
TCKs who have experienced re-entry [to the USA] state that entering another international posting is easier that re-entering one’s passport country (Schaetti, 1998). They may feel out of place and alienated […] they tend to cope rather than adjust, becoming “a part of” and “apart from” any situation (Smith, 1991). The TCKs who exhibit encapsulated marginality and fel[t] isolated may have difficulty in maintaining commitments and may avoid solving problems up-front (as they have learned that problems tend to move away).
I have seen this in my own household. One of us (while polyglot) was substantially raised in a single country and “passport culture”, while the other (a military brat) was raised all over the USA (and the rest of the planet) and became a classic TCK in that sense. We lived together for a long time in a country we both have religious ties to (Israel), but while the non-TCK quickly grew roots in the country, the TCK never truly did.
What about people who never left the USA but moved all over it? Sure, they do not (typically) deal with more than one language (except perhaps Spanish, or sometimes French in Louisiana), and large retail and restaurant chains create an “Anytown, USA” experience, but still, once one peers beyond these things, the major geographic regions in the USA (the Northeast, Midwest, Pacific Northwest, West Coast, Deep South, Southwest,…., and the Republic of Texas) offer a variety in local attitudes to life not unlike, say, that between different countries in Europe. One gets a “TCK experience writ small”.
(to be continued, hopefully)
The Chronicle of Higher Education has a confession by a pseudonymous ghostwriter of academic papers that has to be read to be believed.
In the past year, I’ve written roughly 5,000 pages of scholarly literature, most on very tight deadlines. But you won’t find my name on a single paper.
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. […]
I work at an online company that generates tens of thousands of dollars a month by creating original essays based on specific instructions provided by cheating students. I’ve worked there full time since 2004. On any day of the academic year, I am working on upward of 20 assignments.
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.
You would be amazed by the incompetence of your students’ writing. I have seen the word “desperate” misspelled every way you can imagine. And these students truly are desperate. 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 those of you who have ever mentored a student through the writing of a dissertation, served on a thesis-review committee, or guided a graduate student through a formal research process, I have a question: Do you ever wonder how a student who struggles to formulate complete sentences in conversation manages to produce marginally competent research? How does that student get by you?
I live well on the desperation, misery, and incompetence that your educational system has created. […] 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. Last summer The New York Times reported that 61 percent of undergraduates have admitted to some form of cheating on assignments and exams. Yet there is little discussion about custom papers and how they differ from more-detectable forms of plagiarism, or about why students cheat in the first place.
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.
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.
Speaking of which:
It is late in the semester when the business student contacts me, a time when I typically juggle deadlines and push out 20 to 40 pages a day. I had written a short research proposal for her a few weeks before, suggesting a project that connected a surge of unethical business practices to the patterns of trade liberalization. The proposal was approved, and now I had six days to complete the assignment. This was not quite a rush order, which we get top dollar to write. This assignment would be priced at a standard $2,000, half of which goes in my pocket.
A few hours after I had agreed to write the paper, I received the following e-mail: “sending sorces for ur to use thanx.”
I did not reply immediately. One hour later, I received another message:
“did u get the sorce I send
please where you are now?
Desprit to pass spring projict”
Not only was this student going to be a constant thorn in my side, but she also communicated in haiku, each less decipherable than the one before it. I let her know that I was giving her work the utmost attention, that I had received her sources, and that I would be in touch if I had any questions. Then I put it aside.
Two days had passed since I last heard from the business student. Overnight I had received 14 e-mails from her. She had additional instructions for the assignment, such as “but more again please make sure they are a good link betwee the leticture review and all the chapter and the benfet of my paper. finally do you think the level of this work? how match i can get it?”
I’ll admit, I didn’t fully understand that one.
It was followed by some clarification: “where u are can you get my messages? Please I pay a lot and dont have ao to faile I strated to get very worry.”
Her messages had arrived between 2 a.m. and 6 a.m.
[…] It’s not implausible to write a 75-page paper in two days. It’s just miserable. I don’t need much sleep, and when I get cranking, I can churn out four or five pages an hour. First I lay out the sections of an assignment—introduction, problem statement, methodology, literature review, findings, conclusion—whatever the instructions call for. Then I start Googling.
I haven’t been to a library once since I started doing this job. Amazon is quite generous about free samples. If I can find a single page from a particular text, I can cobble that into a report, deducing what I don’t know from customer reviews and publisher blurbs. Google Scholar is a great source for material, providing the abstract of nearly any journal article. And of course, there’s Wikipedia, which is often my first stop when dealing with unfamiliar subjects. Naturally one must verify such material elsewhere, but I’ve taken hundreds of crash courses this way.
After I’ve gathered my sources, I pull out usable quotes, cite them, and distribute them among the sections of the assignment. Over the years, I’ve refined ways of stretching papers. I can write a four-word sentence in 40 words. Just give me one phrase of quotable text, and I’ll produce two pages of ponderous explanation. I can say in 10 pages what most normal people could say in a paragraph.
[…] My client was thrilled with my work. She told me that she would present the chapter to her mentor and get back to me with our next steps. Two weeks passed, by which time the assignment was but a distant memory, obscured by the several hundred pages I had written since. On a Wednesday evening, I received the following e-mail:”Thanx u so much for the chapter is going very good the porfesser likes it but wants the folloing suggestions please what do you thing?:
“‘The hypothesis is interesting but I’d like to see it a bit more focused. Choose a specific connection and try to prove it.’
“What shoudwe say?”
This happens a lot. I get paid per assignment. But with longer papers, the student starts to think of me as a personal educational counselor. She paid me to write a one-page response to her professor, and then she paid me to revise her paper. I completed each of these assignments, sustaining the voice that the student had established and maintaining the front of competence from some invisible location far beneath the ivory tower.
The 75-page paper on business ethics ultimately expanded into a 160-page graduate thesis, every word of which was written by me. I can’t remember the name of my client, but it’s her name on my work. We collaborated for months. As with so many other topics I tackle, the connection between unethical business practices and trade liberalization became a subtext to my everyday life.
So, of course, you can imagine my excitement when I received the good news:
“thanx so much for uhelp ican going to graduate to now”.
Read the whole thing. And weep.