Sunday, August 22, 2004

I would still give it a 'C'

I read this Suzy Hansen piece in the New York Times on sites that sell papers. Hansen went to a bunch of sites and ordered papers, including several on The Great Gatsby.

My first thought was, dang, I keep forgetting to use My second thought was, I would still give papers like the following (a pre-written paper purchased cheaply) a pretty low grade:

''Moreover, the fortune that Gatsby did amount was gained through criminal activities as he had experienced the finer things in life and wished to have a better social position, again he knew that this could only be gained through the status of wealth, in this way Gatsby sought to win the heart of the woman he had fallen in love with, Daisy.'' Faux-elegant words like ''whilst'' butt up against the jarringly conversational: ''Then Nick the narrator discovers who he is bang goes his secret.'' Bang! The paper becomes increasingly sloppy, mimicking the writing patterns of a tired and confused freshman.

That is 'C' work at best in a Freshman classroom. It's true, however, that I would probably not suspect it of plagiarism (unless it got flagged on Turnitin), but then anyone who turned such a thing in would probably know better than to try it again after the paper came back.

What really worries me are the *custom* papers. They are likely to be rare, considering that a same-day, 5 page paper on Gatsby costs $250. But the sample she cites is pretty good:

''Those who go from rags to riches don't find nirvana or some special land where they are immediately happy, content and removed from earthly worries. They, like Gatsby, find that the reality is that the world is still ugly . . . and that money and power just allow one to ignore those dichotomies a little bit easier.''

Unless the contrast to the student's other work was really obvious, I probably wouldn't suspect this of plagiarism. The optimist in me would want to believe that the student had nailed the moral conundrum at the heart of Fitzgerald's novel, and had written about it in beautifully crisp, figurative language.

The most insightful line in the article is this one:

So if you're a cheap cheat, your paper will be shoddy, but believable. If you're willing to dig deep for the custom-written papers, you might raise eyebrows. What a bind.

True. But I'm not shedding any tears for the plagiarizing students out there. Fie!

Incidentally, a great way to ward off all but the most pernicious "custom" paper is to come up with assignments that are very unusual. Or, if the assignment needs to be something straightforward for pedagogical reasons (like "do a close reading of a poem") one can eschew old chestnuts such as Keats's "Grecian Urn," in favor of something a little more obscure, like Randall Jarrell's "The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner."


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