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Accomplishing pressure in the academy

One of the advantages of operating a relatively obscure blog—with a select audience like you, good people—is that it attracts little spam. Oh, there’s the Viagra merchant who recently latched on to The Sun’s blogs and has been methodically larding the comments with substandard English.*

But since I write occasionally about academics, I’ve drawn the attention of spammers for term paper services, and the things they write are truly pathetic.

Here’s the opening sentence from a comment I deleted this morning: “No one can be ready to a great academic papers accomplishing pressure.”

Obviously written by a machine or a non-native speaker. Or a machine programmed by a non-native speaker.

It leaves you wondering who patronizes these services. Presumably there are non-native speakers whose command of standard American is so sketchy that this stuff makes some kind of sense to them. And—back me up, fellow wielders of the red pen—there are native speakers in our classes whose prose is not far off this.

But it must be economically viable, even if only one spam recipient in a thousand, or ten thousand, or a hundred thousand, takes the bait. After all, undergraduate and graduate cheating is, at a guess, as common as cheating on the income tax, so there is a tremendous potential market out there, and many consumers do not appear to be particularly discriminating.**

But then, learning is less what the university enterprise is about than certification for membership in the upper middle class. If learning were actually prized in this fair country, there would be less moronic legislation attempting to curb it.

Doubt me? Think that’s too sour? NPR interviewed Richard Arum, one of the co-authors of Academically Adrift, this morning. The book concludes, after studying 2,300 students at twenty-four universities over four years, that there were “no statistically significant gains in critical thinking, complex reasoning, and writing skills for at least 45 percent of the students in our study. An astounding proportion of students are progressing through higher education today without measurable gains in general skills. ...”

I expect that many of the 45 percent may be susceptible to help with readying a great academic papers.

 

*Are these comments, which vary from post to post, being generated mechanically, or is some poor soul actually troubling to write fresh nonsense each time?

**I once had two students who submitted papers that were identical in paragraph structure and language in the same class. They were stunned when I confronted them. I suspect that many students have so little an ear for the written language that they do not understand that there are people who hear echoes and perceive similarities.

 

 

Posted by John McIntyre at 9:37 AM | | Comments (7)
        

Comments

My son is a pre-vet student at Texas A&M. He often complains that he has to take courses, such as organic chemistry or philosophy, that he believes are a waste of his time. I frequently remind him about getting a "well rounded education" and "critical thinking skills." With a mother who is a technical writer, he knows better than to complain that the writing/reading components of his classes are a waste of time, but I've known many students who felt that way. ("Ahm gonna be a math teacher--why d'I need to learn to right good English?") Sadly, many universities gave in to such students and don't bother to teach/enforce the basics. Many years ago in an advanced writing course, a fellow student of mine wrote SO badly, I bled all over her papers whenever we had peer reviews--and she wanted to be an English teacher! GAH!! That is the source of the problem. You can get a BA in English with a D average.


Last evening I caught the very tail end of a PBS Frontline episode titled, "Digital Nation: the World Wide Web'. Wish i'd seen the entire piece, but I was enjoying a superb PBS American Experience, hmmmm......... or was it American Masters......... on the amazing jazz master, Dave Brubek, which overlapped the Frontline broadcast. Dave Brubek, what an incredible American treasure, still going strong, riffin' and jamin', well into his 90s. But I digress.

Watching frontline, I immediately was privy to a discussion/ interview w/ a group of obviously very bright, enthusiastic MIT undergrads who were ruing the fact that for some reason their writing skills, particularly in the long-form essay realm, had been admittedly found sorely lacking.

One pretty articulate Asian-American student shared that when he wrote, he might lay down a set of fairly coherent (in themselves) shortish paragraphs, but in viewing them in their totality, the main trend of thought, or as he put it, "the big picture' point of view, hypothesis, or key concept was lost, or at best vaguely articulated. This was troubling to him, but he couldn't put his finger on how to remedy this bothersome bugaboo.

Most of this handful of gathered MIT students agreed that being immersed in this digital, multi-tasking, technocentric age, their younger generation, most significantly, can lose the ability, or even need to think critically in 'the big-picture' mode, consumed by all the major social-networking distractions they deal w/ on almost a 24/7 basis, each and every day of their young lives. The need for instant gratification is seemingly becoming the bane of our 21st century existence.

Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, by their very ephemeral, episodic, nature--with their limited-number-of-characters stipulation-----instrinsically encourage mere off-the-cuff spurts of limited communication, rather than a more entailed, thought-out, coherent stream of well-crafted prose. Most of this communication amounts to idle chatter, and self-indulgent kvetching. Hardly deep thoughts.

I have a few friends who e-mail me w/ just a "Subject" line filled in, (say, "Guess who died?), and no copy. And they actually expect me to respond intelligently, as if I have super divination powers. (Ugh!) One of these "friends", happens to be a copy editor at L.A.'s preeminent daily newspaper, so you would think as somewhat of a wordsmith he would know better. Fat chance.

The final segment of last night's Frontline focused on the huge impact on today's young folk (not exclusively young folk, granted) of internet gaming, particularly the immensely popular, seemingly all-time-consuming World of Warcraft phenomenon.

The segment highlighted a recent International World of Warcraft Convention w/ literally hundreds of rabid 'crafters'(?) eagerly assembled to finally meet face-to-face for the first time w/ gamers they'd only experienced as virtual avatars while engaging in their verging-on-obsessive 3-D Warcraft battles, and quests.

In my view, there was something oddly endearing and life-affirming, yet at the same time almost pathetic and sad about the whole World of Warcraft mania, and those folk who were so caught up in its otherworldly fantasy and allure.

I am totally NOT an online gaming aficionado, so some defenders of the enterprise might argue, "If you ain't tried it, don't knock it." There is some truth there.

But still, from a concerned, admittedly 'outsider' perspective, I can see how so many young (and old) folks around the globe really crave and long for direct communication and connection w/ other human beings, even if, at best, thru cooperative 'virtual' interaction--- interfacing, thru the mutual stimuli, and role-playing intrigue of online gaming.

Some of these diehard 'Warcrafters' interviewed on Frontline claimed that many of their fellow gamers they'd met online were their BEST friends on the planet. even closer than their flesh-and-blood, face-to-face, very real warts-and-all friends they might communicate with, or see almost every day. For me, this seems a tad weird, and to a certain degree, disturbing.

The increasingly popular gaming phenomenon, although granted a kind of niche pastime, just underlines, IMO, the increasing attraction and impact of advancing digital technologies on the very fabric of our 21st century lives. Particularly w/ the younger generation, who thrive on newfangled gadgetry, and the latest innovations in 'information' delivery. ------How we choose to communicate w/ one another; how we chose to inform and entertain ourselves. Ultimately, how we chose to spend our valuable time.

Calling the very popular multi-apped Blackberry---"Crackberry'----implying the handheld device can be as all-consumingly addictive as the insidious drug, crack cocaine, is frankly not a major stretch of hyperbole. Just observe, if you will, a freaked-out "Blackberry 'user' who has just discovered that they've lost (or hopefully just misplaced) their precious device, and you'd swear they were in the throes of the DTs, or heroine withdrawal. Just sayin'.

I would highly recommend folks read the eye-opening book, "The Dumbest Generation" by Emory University professor Mark Bauerlin. (He, in fact, was interviewed in the aforementioned Frontline piece). It's both a cautionary and informative tome (hardly a "tale", since it is so true), addressing, in short, the dismal prospects for a rosy, vibrant intellectual future for this country, the U.S. of A.; taking into account a whole new, younger generation of constantly 'wired' Americans who appear largely lacking in the mere basics of historical, geographic, philosophical and political knowledge, or meaningful context, past or present.

Check out any episode of 'Tonight Show' host Jay Leno's periodic quizzing-the man-on-the-street segments, "Jay Walking ", and one can confirm Prof, Bauerlin's basic thesis that many of today's so-called 'educated' youth are as (not his exact words. HA!) dim as a 40-watt light bulb. Very sad, indeed.

Well, I suspect I'm kind of preaching to the choir here, so i'll leave the pulpit, and get on w/ the remains of this fine Wednesday.

ALEX

When I confronted students who had submitted the same work in one class, I was told, "Of course our essays are going to sound the same, we're writing about the same topic!"
So there.

John,
Recently a professor at Yale (a Dershowitz, if I remember correctly) commented that the purpose of Yale University is to create Yale Alumni. While it may not be explicitly stated in any sort of mission statement, it is definitely understood, at least according to him, that learning is secondary to achieving. This is the business plan that works for higher ed.
I think we have to assume that the students understand this as well. Consequently, they may be inclined to simply take the easiest route to achieving the purpose of attending any college whose real purpose is generating lots of donating alums. And, really, it's a lot easier to edit something someone else already wrote than to generate something from scratch...doing....actual research.

Ohhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh

"The man in the street" segments on tv are always dumb. That's their attraction. They've been dumb as long as tv has been around, and their equivalents were dumb in radio and before. It's not funny if they get it right.

As for losing a Blackberry - if you had your life organized on it, you'd be anxious too. Like people were when they lost their fat little notebooks back in the day...

I guess what I'm saying is, technology hasn't made "the average" whatever - student/man in the street/housewife any "dumber" than they ever were. What it has done is make them more visible to others. But unless you think EVERYONE in the 18the or 19th century was a genius, or wrote exquisitely constructed essays, or never cheated - you can't really blame the Internet or the smart phone.

After all, a lot more people are going to college nowadays than did back before electronics. The percentage of "idiots" is probably the same. But 25% of a huge number is a lot more people...

Anyone who wants to be a veterinarian and complains about having to take organic chemistry has missed something important: the discipline is called Veterinary SCIENCE. I hope this child shapes up before applying to veterinary school: has he seen the curriculum there yet?

On a related note, it has always amused me that a certain sort of Internet miscreant, known as a "sockpuppet," who sets up an alternate account on a forum to post as a supposedly different person, will always be surprised when caught in the deception.

The way that people express themselves in language - especially through the written word - is a signature as readily readable as a fingerprint. Even when sockpuppets try to disguise their text with intentional errors, they usually fail.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at john.mcintyre@baltsun.com.
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