On Friday, I posted a story about a recent essay topic on the “Separatists in America”, about the Pilgrims, the Puritans and the other religious separatists who came to America. It wasn’t a terribly complicated essay topic — basically asking about motives, methods, and experiences of the Separatists. It shouldn’t be too difficult…
One of the nice things about WordPress is that it tells me when someone links to my blog entry. So less than 24 hours after I posted my story about this assignment, I was quite pleased to get a message from WordPress telling me that someone had linked to my blog that wasn’t a spam site.
Then I followed the link.
It turns out that it’s a very slick website, offering to write term papers for bachelor, master’s, and PhD level programs. And for a high-quality rendition of a paper matching the terms of my essay topic, this company wants $26.47. Now, I assign a lot of these short papers, but rarely a lot more than two a week. So that amounts to around $53 a year, or slightly less than $2000 to do all the writing for my class for a year. Which is a lot of money, but it’s not an impossible amount of money, particularly not for a family that’s already shelling out for a private education. It’s less than what the daughter of a friend of mine has to raise to go on her school’s annual Science Safari, where they get to do field study of animals in the wild for ten days.
Now, leaving aside the ethical issues of whether getting such a paper written for you is ethical (I don’t think it is, but let’s leave aside that question for a moment), think about what this says about the shadow educational system. First, there is an active system in place to find teacher’s essay topics and scoop them up. Mine is drawn straight from a textbook, so it’s easy to game. Second, there’s a price point established — the writer is probably getting $5-10 a page, and the writer’s company is getting $5-10, unless it’s all a small crew of writers sharing profits across the board. Third, seventh grade work is considered fair game by these folks… It’s a simple matter of finding one or two students, and then those students have the potential to be endorsers or even salespeople for the program. Once the ball gets rolling, it becomes difficult to stop, I suspect.
This is a small school. I have a chance to read everyone’s paper, and develop a sense of everyone’s existing writing style. I assign papers in class, too, so I can compare out-of-school style with in-school style. But a colleague of mine, JF, teaches in a public school setting and sees as many as a hundred+ papers every night. Not many of them come from families well-off enough to support a $27-an-essay habit, but it really only needs to be the important papers, right? At what point does this program become economically feasible for fully-grown adult writers to prey on kids’ lunch money successfully?