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Exploring the Bottom of the Barrel

A writer, who now is actually making a living at his craft, wants to tell his “horrible secret”.

For several years he earned money by writing term papers for students unable or unwilling to do the work themselves (including more than a few elementary education majors).

In the time he spent in the business, he notice three general categories of customers, the largest of which was Dumb Clients.

They should not be in college. They must buy model papers simply because they do not understand what a term paper is, much less anything going on in their assignments. I don’t believe that most of them even handed the papers in as their own, as it would have been obvious that they didn’t write them. Frequently I was asked to underline the thesis statement because locating it otherwise would have been too difficult. But that sort of thing was just average for the bottom of the barrel student-client.

To really understand how low the standards are these days, we must lift up the barrel and see what squirms beneath. One time, I got an e-mail from the broker with some last-minute instructions for a term paper – “I told her that it is up to the writer whether or not he includes this because it was sent to me at the last minute. So if you can take a look at this, that is fine, if not I understand.” The last-minute addition was to produce a section called “BODY OF PAPER” (capitals sic). I was also asked to underline this section so that the client could identify it. Of course, I underlined everything but the first and last paragraphs of the three-page paper.

Lots of educational experts and politicians would read this article and conclude that it’s the K12 teachers who did a lousy job of preparing these “dumb clients” for college work.

However, I wonder if the problem might instead be that not every student should be attending college after they graduate from high school.

Or it could be that teachers need to reconsider whether the “classic” term paper is still a valuable learning experience in a time when finding one is just a Google away.

I’m a former math teacher who never assigned research papers so I’ll let someone else address that last one.

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2 Comments

  1. Ah, don’t get me started on all the bad writing that is out there and those who perpetuate it. I think you raise two interesting points… (1) Should every child go to college? That makes about as much sense as us believing that every child can be a doctor or lawyer or journalist or mathematician. But somehow Bloom’s “every child can learn” mushroomed into every child can go to college.

    (2) Should we reconsider the value of classic research papers? Probably. I still think our students need to learn how to research, extrapolate information and develop their own opinions based on research. Do the traditional research papers accomplish that task? Yes, if done correctly, but as you can see, it’s questionable as to whether that happens. Too often we don’t show kids the relevance of something and because it lacks that relevance, they never buy into the learning.

  2. Dave

    I’m not sure why the not-ready-for-university students aren’t using community colleges to bridge the gap. Interestingly, many students who probably are ready for college go to community college for a year or two, mostly to save tuition money. The students who aren’t ready for college go ahead and go straight to college. o.0

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