Professor Claire Laville
English 101, 8 AM
28 September 2014
“The Shadow Scholar” Revised
Dear Dr. Wagner,
It has come to my attention that there is possibly a far more serious cheating problem at Emory than we originally thought, and that this problem could possibly be credited to a flaw in the current education system. One of my friends recently sent me an article called “The Shadow Scholar,” in which Ed Dante, a pseudonym for a writer whom students pay for well-written essays, describes the expanding market for essays written by professional writers. Dante’s job is to write anything and everything those who are incapable of writing need written. One of the most daunting parts of this article is the description of the students who Dante worked for. The students who hired Dante, were not just slacking freshman who didn’t want to write an English paper, but rather they were graduate students in Ph.D. level courses, business schools, med schools, teaching schools, and many more. Dante was helping students who would eventually become future leaders in the country sneak by in the classes that assess their abilities.
Dante did not start writing these essays for money, rather, he just loved to write and his career was not taking off in a more traditional fashion. While at college, his writing capabilities were far better than many of his peers, and when his peers found out, they were all willing to pay him large sums of money for him to write their essays for them. Dante’s small entrepreneurial endeavor in college eventually became his job, when he accepted a job at a company that specializes in writing these essays. Dante began writing thousands of essays on topics in which he had little-to-no experience. He would cram as much knowledge as possible into his brain before sitting down and pounding out essays on any subject possible, he specifies how some of the more impressive ones he wrote include subjects such as, papers for “a masters degree in cognitive psychology, a Ph.D in sociology, and a handful of postgraduate studies in international diplomacy.”
After writing these essays for so long, he had seen pretty much everything you could imagine. What’s most frightening about his article though, is the description of the students he writes essays for. He gives examples of some of their requests, and even the requests are total nonsense. The requests are littered with spelling and grammar mistakes that make the requests impossible to understand for anyone who is not a trained professional. Dante is able to make totally incompetent writers look pretty good in an essentially undetectable fashion, which is a problem schools really need to address. But even more of a problem is actually the reason Dante quit writing these essays. He quit writing these essays because he was tired of making struggling kids look good, and he wanted to expose the flaws of the education system that lead to him having a decent job helping kids cheat. He described how the majority of his jobs were from ESL students, lazy rich kids, and totally incompetent students. Dante said his favorite students were rich kids who had specific instructions on how they want their work executed, he described how they were very successful in college because they could just buy their way out of work and continue to be successful even when they are really lazy. The other two categories pose a serious problem in the education system. International students from other countries can have severe difficulties writing in English and can often get really stressed out by the difference in grading and evaluation from their home country and their new methods for being evaluated. The incompetent students are often students who just never learned to write correctly and essentially got thrown under the bus over the years, and essentially felt forced to use these pay-to-write companies to succeed in school. Both of these categories should not simply be punished, but rather, they need to be helped.
This is the primary reason I am coming to you. I think we need to evaluate our students and make sure they are doing their own work, and make sure they truly do know how to write. Although Emory is a prestigious university, I find it hard to believe that no one at this school is not suffering from some of the problems Dante addresses in his article, and I think we need to work to flush out this problem. One idea I have is to require each class to have students write an in-class writing assignment every so often in the class so that teachers have a baseline measurement of the student’s writing quality. This way the professor can assess if there is a problem, and if there is, how severe the problem is. By making these assessments, the professor can work on a one-on-one basis with the students, or give them advice on how to improve, such as getting a tutor or going to writing workshops. Although this method would not fully account for every issue associated with this cheating problem, such as the lazy rich kids, I believe it could provide an easy solution to help the students who are truly struggling with their writing.