Is Education a Democracy?

Earlier this week I posted a story from the Chronicle of Higher Education about a man who writes papers for students; students who either have no desire or no ability to write papers, cheap and have several hundred (or thousand) dollars to spend on hiring a professional paper writer.

Today I am reading about another case of cheating, this time in Florida, where 200 of 600 students cheated on an exam. All 600 students have to re-write the exam as a result. The professor is offering academic amnesty (i.e. no punitive repercussions) for those students who confess and agree to take an ethics course.

Nathan Gilmour, over at Christian Humanist, looks at both situations and the state of education in general. He writes:

I still believe that higher education exists not for its own sake but for the sake of a larger community. That particular sort of benefit has at its root a set of aristocratic assumptions, namely that some human beings have over the years acquired a real and intelligible range of human goods alternately called wisdom, expertise, and learning; and that inherent inequality between teacher and student can and should have the erotic force (in the old Platonic sense) to draw students upward, inspiring them to emulate those professors whom they admire and to supplant those whom they despise…
My own working assumption, the assumption of aristocracy, is that students must rise in their relationships to their teachers, not assume a prior and all-consuming equality, and to cheat within this context is to betray the institution and the larger community. The open secret is that every professor worth anything at all longs for the day when student supplants teacher, taking the future of the community in directions that the teacher is incapable of imagining. But a system corrupted by widespread cheating stands to ruin all chances of anything like that happening.

Is education a democracy? Are students and teachers equal in the classroom?

I admit that I struggle with this. The seminary where I’m taking classes has small class sizes, which is great. But because we all live, work and study in the same small college town, there is an informality and equality that I find hard to navigate.

I sit under these professors. I am paying to learn from them and to be challenged in my theological and biblical assumptions. They are the experts in their fields, and deserve respect and a degree of deference. A sign of respect that I can use is to call them by their title, “Dr. so-and-so.”

And yet, the informality of the community has us all on a first-name basis. One of my professors (and his family) is a friend of my family. We semi-regularly have family dinners together. In the informal setting I can call him by his first name. But once I’m in the classroom, I can’t do it. I know that some teachers say, “Just call me so-and-so” but I can’t.

Professors and students may worship together on Sundays, together as equals. They may be neighbours and friends. They may do extra-curricular activities together. But in the classroom, there is, for me, a clear demarcation of roles. I am the student. They are the teacher. I am not the expert. I am the one who is called to sit at their feet and learn from their wisdom. They are called to teach and guide and utilize their wisdom to challenge and grow us.

The Extent of Cheating

There’s a fascinating article up at the Chronicle of Higher Education about the extent to which students of all levels will go to pass their courses. In this case, order the author of the article is paid to write papers, malady theses and dissertations for undergraduate and graduate college students.

Read the whole article. It is sick and twisted and will make you wonder about the state of higher education. And it’s not only papers for bricks and mortar classes. The author has even been paid to log into online/distance ed. classes and contribute to online class discussions and online assignments.

The worst though was this little gem:

I do a lot of work for seminary students. I like seminary students. They seem so blissfully unaware of the inherent contradiction in paying somebody to help them cheat in courses that are largely about walking in the light of God and providing an ethical model for others to follow. I have been commissioned to write many a passionate condemnation of America’s moral decay as exemplified by abortion, gay marriage, or the teaching of evolution. All in all, we may presume that clerical authorities see these as a greater threat than the plagiarism committed by the future frocked.

This year, this author will make nearly $66,000 writing papers for profit. Writing for students who cannot write for themselves, either because they lack the ability to, or the desire to. $66,000!!!!!! That’s more than several teachers with PhD’s I know make.

So maybe I should switch career dreams? Maybe I should drop-out of seminary and make money by writing papers. I mean, heck I have to write papers anyway, maybe I should write them not for the goal of getting a degree, but for the money? What do you think?

Yeah, not going to happen.