THE BLOG
09/25/2012 09:57 am ET | Updated Nov 25, 2012

Education Is War, According to a Term-Paper Mill: A Metaphor to Justify By

The most brazen term paper mill I have ever come across, UnemployedProfessors.com, states clearly its justification. "So you can play while we make your papers go away." The graphics depict student customers -- all male, strangely -- happily sleeping, drinking, or watching television while their frazzled compatriots desperately seek a solution to their paper-writing problems.

On its FAQ page, they post and answer a question: "Isn't it really unethical for you to be writing these essays for cash?" "Incredibly so, and because the academic system is already so corrupt, we're totally cool with that."

The "unemployed professors," according to their blog and to an article in the Chronicle of Higher Education, all have advanced degrees from high-status universities. They write the papers purely for money, allowing the students to party, sleep, and do all those other things students are so avid to do. Unlike most of the other paper mills I've looked at, they make no pretense of supplying "research" for students, and state baldly that they write papers directly according to the requirements.

In a breezy and intimate writing style, the authors amuse with their inside knowledge of academia. As I said in an interview with Alisha Azevedo, "The most interesting thing to me was the utter cynicism with which they viewed higher education. They claimed that the contemporary education system is a scam and a charade, so they are just mercenaries in a war."

One commenter on the post responded: "What's so bad about that?"

For educators, like myself, everything about it is bad.

It suggests that the tasks students are asked to undertake are meaningless and can be done by someone else. Education is not like car repair. I can ask a mechanic to fix my car and the results are fine. But if someone else writes my paper, there is a product, the paper, but the learning that is supposed to have occurred has not occurred at all.

If education is a scam and a charade, with the only goal the credential, we could dispense with the middle part -- the years of classes -- and keep only the admissions process, the money transfer, and the graduation.

This is beyond disheartening. Those of us who have spent our entire lifetime trying to share the knowledge and skills with younger people have completely wasted it if there is no meaningful education.

As a critic of education, though, I can appreciate the critique to some extent: unless students do find the work in some way compelling -- John Dewey wrote in 1895 "Interest in Relation to Training of the Will" to argue against a focus purely on effort -- we should not be surprised at the quest to evade the task.

Finally, as an anthropologist of education, I see this revealing something profound about how at least some people regard the "game" of higher education. Unlike, say, going to a doctor where cheating and not following the doctor's recommendations has direct consequences for the patient, where the doctor and patient are presumed to be partners, in schools students and teachers are seen as adversaries. At war.

As George Lakoff and Mark Johnson demonstrated so clearly in Metaphors We Live By, our world is built largely on consistent "conceptual metaphors" that order our way of thinking. "Education is war" is not listed in their book, but it is increasingly evident in the way we discuss and live out schooling.

Students compete against one another. We identify winners and losers. Schools compete against each other, with military-style bands and the uniforms that identify the opposing teams. Students struggle against teachers, who are seen as authorities to evade. Cleverness and tactics, on both sides, are seen as necessary. Schools fight the public, unions fight administrations, and many urban schools are best described as "war zones."

In such a war -- more grim than a mere "game" -- survival by any means necessary makes perfect sense. Anyone with the money to purchase a paper would do so. The untenured, possibly adjunct professors and graduate students not fortunate enough to come from wealthy backgrounds enhance their own survival by writing these papers. A war. Against unfairness, on the writers' part. And against....what? Are the students battling unreasonable expectations? Why, the UnemployedProfessors ask, should an engineer have to be able to write literary analyses?

As long as we have not made the case for the merit of the content and process of education, the war and the game will persist. Students will find ways around the requirements. And the UnemployedProfessors will find plenty of jobs scamming the system they regard as corrupt.