It’s been half a year since Ed Dante’s confessions as a ghostwriter were published in The Chronicle of Higher Education. I’ve never been so fascinated by the facilitation of laziness in academia, nor have I ever felt so impressed by it. Ed Dante is truly an inspiration, but not because he’s a downright rebel against our current system of formal education.
I’ve ghostwritten for my peers for years. I started out by correcting short essays for classmates in the 10th grade (c. 2005). My understanding of English grammar and semantics was quite limited at the time, as I was only 15 and I hadn’t experienced any conventional training in editing (I still haven’t, for the record). Nonetheless, I was constantly consulted by those who desired decent guidance, and my aptitude in English writing gradually improved. The mere task of correcting their papers eventually transformed into writing their papers entirely. Sometimes I couldn’t bear to read their work beyond the first two or three sentences which urged me to do them the favor of producing their essays from scratch.
Contrary to what’s normally assumed about my endeavors, I never had a problem with the extra work. I’ve always been unusually hungry for information I can pore over and find practical uses for; so I always perceived this as a way to pry into the world of the unknown whilst helping others. I certainly understood that I was absorbing the information my associates were supposed to absorb themselves. It was selfish of me. I knew that I was literally profiting from their incompetence and lethargy.
Ed and I seem quite similar.
Ed went to study at a university. Unsatisfied by attention he was receiving from his instructors, he sought praise for his talents from his peers. By doing this, he honed his writing skills and learned about all the intricacies of the politics behind a modern formal education. He discovered that a large portion of it is blanketed by a socioeconomic fabrication. As far as he understood, students just wanted high grades to appear skilled in a dog-eat-dog job market and professors wanted to keep their jobs by rewarding deficient scholarly displays under the noses of their employers (university admins).
The connection between Ed and myself isn’t in the fact that we cooperated with cheaters. Simply, we’re linked in terms of our thirst for order. One may easily misjudge Ed as an intelligent, greedy, anarchistic word smith who long-awaited the day he could publicly scold ‘the man’ after facing an impersonal institutional rejection. But, immediately after reading his story, I saw a scholar who wanted information in the right place. His clients were oft ungrateful for their opportunity to educate themselves, and if it wasn’t for Ed, some of their carelessly-developed work could have ‘educated’ the masses–that’s despite their failure to write coherently.
Before instantly presuming that my claim is an unnecessary exaggeration, consider this: The First Crusade took place from 1096 to 1099, and it’s regarded as one of the more gruesome of the Christian campaigns throughout history. Something–something written which eventually took well over 1400 years to complete–inspired the principles that led to this behavior. Sure, that piece of literature could have been composed strictly to deliver ethical messages to the masses in a primarily figurative manner. But because the messages were believed to be a set of ordinances instituted by a respected being, Hell broke loose. Lives were lost and inveterate, friction-filled relationships were established. Why? Were the interpreters of the discourses ‘mentally handicapped?’ Maybe. Was it that their brains just hadn’t developed enough to grant them the ability to see through the allegoric works? Perhaps. Did the authors fail to consider just how influential their work could be? I’m almost certain. And if they wrote more carefully, under the impression that their readers would respect their every word, purposely conveying that the resources used to produce their work was ambiguous, would there have been a ‘First Crusade?’ I strongly doubt it.
Anything that is being written or has ever been written will raise and has always raised the delicacy of man’s convictions. In other words, an absent-minded writer can influence someone just as easily as an enlightened, considerate one can.
Ed used everything that was in front of him, even digging under the runty bushes of data on both the virtual and physical landscapes, churning out work that was accepted by scholars of high order (one doesn’t usually obtain a master’s or doctorate degree unless their work is praised by a panel of well-versed academics). He constantly anticipated the reactions of true scholars, professors–he had to in order to protect the reputation of his customers. In slaving away under these conditions, he perpetuated the integrity of accessible resources.
Ed’s clients, the ones who didn’t take the time to carefully construct the reports they were asked for, were so lazy that if they decided to do their own work, they would have “half-assed” their articulation so much that their output would be dangerous.
The slideshow presentations and dissertations of degree candidates are spread all over the Internet. They’re accessed by knowledge seekers of all backgrounds. One could easily misunderstand the careless writings of a student and cause some sort of havoc. Ed clearly ghostwrote knowing this; for if he didn’t, he wouldn’t have developed into such a diverse writer because his tactics would have dulled at the hands of habit; the comfort in partially reporting info would have been terribly detrimental to his skills. Even if Ed wasn’t determined to protect the world from faulty information, I’m sure that he wrote knowing that a great writer thrives on authenticity.
Like me, Ed saw great inadequacy and courageously said “just let me do the whole thing instead,” rather than sit back to allow ignorance to spread. In my opinion, there’s nothing more noble. Here you have an unattended autodidact, Ed Dante, and a bunch of lazy, grade-grubbing imbeciles who were making their way into respectable positions in society as ‘the possibly educated.’ Although he’s retired as a facilitator of academic dishonesty, he has proven that the school system needs to undergo an enormous rewiring. How can a man (or woman, now that I think about it) be so academically talented and have been so overlooked by his scholarly guardians (professors, primary school educators, etc…)? How many other ‘Ed Dantes’ are currently living, perhaps exercising their talents in other ways–writing mathematical proofs, creating groundbreaking technologies, etc…?
All I know is that Ed’s former pursuit–initiated from the desire of money or not (which it wasn’t, evidently)–was revolutionary, to say the least. I will forever be inspired by his story.
Right on, Ed, from a rising shadow scholar to a veteran.
Check out his blog: Ed Dante, Shadow Scholar
Ed Dante’s television interview: “The College Cheating Culture,” Nightline