If, as Aristotle said, "Education is the best provision for old age," there is not much ahead for an increasing number of college graduates.
I don't know what is happening, but grading student exams and college papers is becoming a chore, not the pleasant learning experience it used to be. Every semester seems to prove that more and more students should not be in college because they simply don't care and/or don't have the skills to take and pass courses at any level.
Plagiarism is a huge problem. It seems that every take-home exam and paper is an invitation to googling. Then, the procedure is as simple as "cut and paste," usually from Wikipedia but, if more creative, from the first 10 hits. Some students don't even bother to change fonts or formatting. Some plagiarized my own writing! Others invest their time in one general paper that ends up in a variety of courses regardless of the topic assigned.
After an initial denial, "I didn't do it!" that takes an instructor 10 minutes to 10 days to prove otherwise (university procedures), the next customary response is either "I didn't know," or "I do it all the time and other professors have no problem with my work."
"Didn't know" is easy to refute: I spend at least one hour in each course to explain plagiarism and all my syllabuses are finished with a section on "Academic Misconduct." The second one is tricky because of privacy issues and academic dynamics. Thus, it requires a lot of diplomatic maneuvering, but only after an "E" grade is posted for that student.
Not every subject can be easily plagiarized, so more students for whom college is just "a joke with a degree" simply refuse to answer questions asked. They leave them blank on a take-home exam (!), write whatever comes to mind as long as it includes two key words of the question or plagiarize something else.
So, instead of a research paper on creation stories of the Middle East, I get a philosophical treatise on Buddhism or a personal essay about being in touch with nature. This answer is to be rewarded with a passing grade. If not, an angry e-mail follows: "I worked really hard for an E." Too many times there is an expectation that as long as all exams are taken and papers are written, a passing grade is a given.
This attitude reminds me about Stalin's era, when a professor passed all his exams with A's by writing "Stalin is great!" on them, regardless of the question or topic (needless to say, his math skills are pretty weak).
While I understand that higher education is hurting for money, I will never accept even a suggestion that we must lower educational standards in order to increase student enrollment. Educational standards are already quite low. Too many times I have to wonder whether a student actually finished high school. Not only because writing seems to be a forgotten art but also because common sense (even critical thinking) is missing with some, though definitely not all, students.
This is what one of my students answered after three weeks of "working" on a take-home exam about the importance of writing in the development of ancient civilizations: "Writing was said to be a way of passing oral messages to people I can see this as being important because this was a time way before text messaging and in order to send a message from distance there would need to be a way to write in some form."
Text messaging rules! Proper spelling, grammar and editing are becoming things of the past. Even good students rely more on computer programs than on their own abilities so I frequently get "entertained" by such gems like "fortification" instead of "fornication," "epitaph" in lieu of "epithet," and, my all-time favorite: "genitals" taking over "genetics."
A new academic year starts Monday and with it new challenges for both students and professors. Claus Moser (google him!) once said, "Education costs money, but then so does ignorance." My advice to students: Please, do not pay for the first to increase the cost of the other. Use your money wisely and make me proud in the process.
Ewa Wasilewska is an associate professor/lecturer at the Department of Anthropology and Middle East Center at the University of Utah. She can be reached at Mruczek@aol.com" Target="_BLANK">Mruczek@aol.com or through her website at http://www.ewas.us" Target="_BLANK">http://www.ewas.us