A Whole Blog of Questions

Brenda started talking about Martin’s essays, which are now part of the application process (and fortunately not part of the process in 1969)…. But do they need to be the trunk of the tree — or are they the roots, a foundation, upon which truly unique, curious, and talented students freely become individuals with identity, value, and pride?

The other day, Brenda and I were driving, and talking about our son’s efforts to get into college. He has a challenge that is new to me. I was happy just to get into any university. For him, he has to get into a university, plus into it’s school of music. The school of music must also have a certain kind of program. So the options are somewhat limited, if we want to stay on this side of the Atlantic.


Brenda started talking about Martin’s essays, which are now part of the application process (and fortunately not part of the process in 1969). She mentioned, in passing, companies who will take an applicant’s essay, and polish it for them. “Wait a minute!” I said. “Kids are having their essays edited by professional writers, and then submitting them as part of their application packet?”

“Well, yes!” she said.

“But that’s cheating! But that’s cheating?”

Do the universities know that students are doing this? Do they care? How much does it cost? Would I encourage my son to take advantage? (No!)

Do you think that every word and sentence in my magazine articles are mine? (No!)

Does everyone need to be a good writer, especially as more and more work is done by teams in collaboration?

For that matter, does everyone need to be a good reader?

Certainly, everyone should know how to read. But does everyone need to be a good reader? Is it possible that a person, reading on a 6th grade level (or worse), might become a successful contributor to their society and economy, or even highly successful?

Just how silly are standards?

OK, we need educational standards. But do they need to be the trunk of the tree — or are they the roots, a foundation, upon which truly unique, curious, and talented students freely become individuals with identity, value, and pride?

2¢ Worth

7 thoughts on “A Whole Blog of Questions”

  1. Just started reading and felt the urge to respond.

    Strong roots do it all. I’m an English grad student at a large state university. I get them when they first arrive–wide-eyed, totally naive, but curiously confident in their abilities. They come mostly prepared (we’ve a pretty selective school), but are often shocked when their initial written offerings garner a grade of C (or lower) and we hear a litany of qualifications (“My mother is an English teacher” or “I got an ‘A’ in AP English”) as they try to move up the grade ladder. The best of them buckle down and work on improving. Why come to college, after all, if you already know everything? The not-quite-best seem to resign themselves to marginal grades, a posture that generally requires little effort beyond showing up and turning in mediocre assignments. And so a workforce is born(e).

    I also sit in on academic honesty hearings. Plagiarism is real and rampant. I suspect that we are headed toward even greater excesses as students get used to doing what you describe–paying someone to look at their writing. I suspect that admissions folk know of the use of professional services just as professors know that there are websites that sell papers; they just can only do so much.

    Foundations, roots, strong tree trunks. If they can identify and write a paragraph, can read at at least the 6th grade level, and understand that ideas and word configurations belong to their thinkers/arrangers, I can take them from there upward.

  2. Having a person proofread and comment on an essay doesn’t seem to be a problem.

    However, as I have contemplated the fact that your child wants to go into music I have pondered the application process in those terms. What if he had to submit a music CD? What if he used music editing software to “polish” up his work or even more hired professionals to “polish” up his music so that it sounded better? You’d have a great sounding CD, but not necessarily who your child really is and what his abilities really are.

    From that perspective, I am rethinking my views on college applications. The intrinsic problem is that of a level playing field. I help my students in my classes with essays on college applications and scholarships. They need every edge and they need my help. Many other well meaning adults do the same. The only way to have a level playing field would be to have a writing sample taken at the college or someone have a copy of the SAT writing section sent to the college. Like taking an on site writing sample, the only way to ensure that your child can actually play music would be to have an in person audition.

    That would be the ideal world, but not necessarily grounded in reality. Great thoughts, I have a new perspective.

  3. Cool,

    I guess it comes down to the reason for the essay. If it is to determine the applicant’s writing skills, then this is certainly cheating. If it is to get inside the head of the student, to learn something about their goals, their passions, their sense of determination, then the more effectively the student has conveyed that, the better, and professional editing makes sense.

    For my son, he has had to go to the Athens Georgia (University of Georgia), College Park (University of Maryland), and Greensboro (University of North Carolina Greensboro). He and I will fly to Denton the end of March to audition at the North Texas University. In his case, they are insisting on hearing him play in person.

    The point of yesterday’s post was say that we do need standards and we do need to level the playing field. But at what point does the leveling stop and our children learn to teach themselves, specializing, and producing content to make available to others. How do we make sure that all children and talk, write, read and compute in the same language; and then start encouraging diversity, uniqueness, creativity, and specializing?

    I tried to describe this point in the final chapter of Redefining Literacy for the 21st Century (2004). But I don’t think anyone has a firm answer. It’s a question that we must ask, though, and something we need to start talking about.

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