Recently one of my friends shared this article from the Chronicle of Higher Education with me. “The Shadow Scholar” is essentially a freelance writer, writing assignments for students. I was fascinated with this article for a few reasons.
1. Ethics aside, I think this would be a fun and interesting job. Think of how much you would learn.
2. It’s really tragic. Think of all the things these students don’t learn.
Note: It should go without saying, but I feel compelled to mention I have a pretty strong anti-cheating stance. I’ve seen a very lackadaisical attitude towards cheating over the last few years, and it troubles me. But that’s not what this particular musing is about, so we’re not getting into ethics today.
Writing assignments aren’t just an exercise to prove you understand the material and can say something intelligent about it. Writing is about thinking deeply on a topic. The more you revisit and revise, the more creative and critical you become and the better you understand your subject. This is why revision and editing are the core of good writing and why, no matter how well you write or how well you understand your subject, writing about it always allows you to learn more–not just about the topic, but about your own thinking.
When I interviewed with my bosses’ boss for my current position, she said something that made me want to work with her: “Writing is thinking.”
Many people think that learning to write well is about mastering the mechanics of grammar or developing your own style. That’s important, it’s true, because without these fundamentals no one will understand what you are trying to say. However, developing an essay or a story or any other kind of writing is about exploration, discovering that idea that is uniquely yours and finding the best way to articulate it to someone else.
The best writers examine ideas both on a large scale (theme, logic, etc.) and a minute scale (Does this word, this sentence convey my ideas as clearly as possible?). If students skip writing assignments thinking that they can have those larger ideas while skipping the minutiae, they really are cheating themselves–although I suspect they don’t care to begin with. They don’t learn to think critically on the topic, and I suspect that the lack of emphasis on writing in school, and the misconception that good writing is all about grammar, is why there is such a lack of critical thinking (and good writing skills) in the work force.
As to my comment that the Shadow Scholar must learn a lot–sadly that can’t possibly be the case as fast as he is writing. There’s no time for the examination required of good writing. So there really are no winners here.