Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Who's afraid of the college essay?

I've taken a few college classes and I must admit, that what I enjoyed most about college is writing the essays. I loved the research, the writing, organizing the paper and turning in the finished copy, a work of love and hope. I always got great grades on my papers, too. I wrote them before the rise of the Internet and after the advent of the personal computer. Much of what I wrote then was on my computer, which made term papers a breeze. I went to the library for my research back then.

Nowadays, it's much easier to crank out a term paper. The research is easy to do from home, on the Internet. Free software like LibreOffice running on Linux can turn out well formatted, professional grade term papers.

Yet, a casual search for "term paper services" yields a plethora of legitimate businesses that charge a fee for writing a term paper or essay. I can't imagine letting someone else write my papers let alone pay for the service! In a very personal sense, I don't just pay for my education, I do the work and honor the grade I get for my effort.

So it would seem that ghost writing, plagiarism and other forms of cheating are prevalent and increasing in higher education. Even high achievers have been found to be cheating. Maybe it has always been this way, but if cheating in college is increasing, what does that say about our culture?

The conservatives maintain that we should be creating greater opportunities for success rather than guaranteeing outcomes. I agree with this statement. How we get there is something we may disagree upon.

For decades now, conservative action has slowly chipped away at public education funding. From preschool to college, they have worked tirelessly to defund public education everywhere. Why? God only knows. Oh, wait. Maybe they're really unhappy that they have to pay for private school and pay taxes for public schools, too. That might be it, but I think the reason runs deeper than that.

By some estimates, it would cost $62 billion to fund free education for everyone who wanted to go. In a $16 trillion economy, that's peanuts. The entire amount could be funded with a tax on trades in Wall Street, and the tax would go unnoticed by the traders who have enough money that they will never have to work again should they choose to stop.

A free education for all at public colleges guarantees that everyone has an opportunity to get an education and get a decent job with that degree. Whether they will or not is entirely up to the effort they put into it.

Maybe, maybe not. If the game is rigged in favor of the wealthy to begin with, people will start to question even a free education. So can we really expect people to honor a degree if we know that we'll be passed over due to nepotism or a lack of connections?

Worse, what if all the so-called "high achievers" working in high finance cheated in college, had connections to get their jobs and kept all that a secret?

Wealthy conservatives would like us to believe that they got there due to some form of meritocracy. Maybe some did, but it is not likely that all did or even a majority did so. Great wealth is a very tempting incentive to cheat, steal or manipulate a way into a job or position. A young man or woman in a rich family could afford to have a ghost writer for term papers and all the coaching they need to pass exams. They could buy the answers before the exam without anyone else knowing about it.

There is no way to know for sure.

But a free education for all means that everyone gets a shot of at least a degree and a way to show that they know how to do the work in the jobs they are applying for. Could it be that conservative policy is more about creating distance between the wealthy and everyone else rather than opportunity? I'm inclined to think so.
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