Saturday, August 22, 2015

Cheating in and Disdain for Higher Education

As a professor who has graded many papers, I have done my best to evaluate the work of each of my students. Most of my students are honest, but unfortunately there are too many students trying to buy papers or copy other sources and have these accepted as their own work. The Chronicle of Higher Education has an excellent article, "The Shadow Scholar," published in 2010, which describes one process for cheating written by "Ed Dante," a pseudonym for a person who writes papers for students.

Some, perhaps most students cheat simply because they panic or have bad character. However, I have also encountered students who cheat because they disdain their professors and therefore feel justified to cheat in order to pass a class. This disdain for higher education is encouraged by many political commentators, and I have found most of these commentators to be political conservatives.

The effect of such attitudes towards higher education are disturbing. For example, I often read about so-called "scholars" in the popular media who claim to be scholars in politics and history, and yet have no academic training in these fields. They are usually dealing with politics and history, but I have also found such people to be in theology. They do not claim to be commentators, which would be honest and valid, but as scholars. This implies that they have completed formal training in a field in an accredited university. However, such men refuse to pay the price to go through the discipline of an academic program and complete a degree, and they succeed by preying on their readers and listeners (the Apostle Paul warned us about such men in I Timothy 4:3). The disdain these commentators have for higher education can encourage students to disdain their professors in college.

This is troubling because I take my profession as a calling from God, and therefore do not cheat or try to deceive people, and I do not try to claim to be a scholar in areas in which I have no expertise. Each degree I earned was from an accredited university. Furthermore, I wrote every paper for my undergraduate and graduate classes, and I always strove to give credit to authors by citing their works in my papers. Likewise, my wife edited my dissertation for grammar, and my dissertation committee (the professors who guided my research) also edited my dissertation for content. However, the work was original, which means I extensively researched the topic and wrote the book-sized dissertation (which took years to complete). As I went through my doctoral program, it seemed at times as if I did more things wrong than right given the amount of criticism I received on my papers, but I persisted. Eventually, I came to appreciate the criticism each professor offered because I realized they were helping me become a better scholar. It was a long and hard process, and very humbling, but it was worth it.

Yet, I find that pseudo-scholars have poisoned the hearts and minds of well meaning people to the point that I have had both family and friends openly show contempt for my profession. This is sad because there are many Christians who have paid the price by completing a challenging academic program in an accredited university, and thus, earning their respective degrees. Some are politically conservative, too, which means the issue is not about being politically conservative or liberal. The issue concerns disdain for higher education.

Is it no wonder, then, that many students cheat when they are taught to disdain the their professors?

Friday, August 14, 2015

Political, Ethnic, Socio-economic, Intellectual, and Moral Identities

"If we get our very identity, our sense of worth, from our political position, then politics is not really about politics, it is about us. Through our cause we are getting a self, our worth. That means we must despise and demonize the opposition. If we get our identity from our ethnicity or socioeconomic status, then we have to feel superior to those of other classes and races. If you are profoundly around of being an open-minded, tolerant soul, you will be extremely indignant toward people you think are bigots. If you are a very moral person, you will feel very superior to people you think are licentious.

"...Whatever you base your life on -- you have to live up to that. Jesus is the one Lord you can live for who died for you -- who breathed his last breath for you. Does that sound oppressive?"

- Tim Keller, The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism.