It’s interesting how perceptions can be so easily and completely altered by our previous experiences. When I hear the term “Shadow Scholar,” I am brought back to the best compliment I have ever received: “I didn’t even know you were smart.” Notably, this sentence doesn’t come across as a compliment at first, and the person who said it to me was mortified as soon as it left her mouth, but before she even started explaining herself I was glowing at the true message hidden in her words: I was a humble learner. She was not saying I was unintelligent, (my presence in AP courses and contributions to class discussions made sure of this) but rather, she was praising me for never bragging or flaunting my successes. No one knew the effort I dedicated to my education, that is, until I won the Levine Scholarship at UNCC. You could say that throughout high school, I was a “Shadow Scholar,” flying under the radar, but excelling all the same. However, as I initially stated, experience alters perception. To Ed Dante, author of the paper “The Shadow Scholar” and an essayist for an online website that cranks out papers for students willing to pay, this term refers to the unrecognized genius passing students through the education system by writing assignments for them.
Dante (for the record, a pseudonym. Even now he is an invisible entity creating scholastic writings that elicit conversation) starts this particular essay with a narrative, one he returns to throughout the piece. He received an assignment request from a business student needing a 75-page paper in a week. It is through this narrative Dante gives us insight not only into the life of a shadow scholar, but also the lives of those the scholar interacts with. At times, this piece can be seen as a second person attack against teachers who fail to see their failing students. There are plenty of studies examining cheating on assignments and tests, but aside from downright plagiarism, cheated essays are rarely caught. What is especially distressing about this fact is the demographics impacted. As stereotypes suggest, lazy rich kids are a large portion of the population financing people like Dante. But aside from laziness, legitimate needs are not being met as deficient students and those learning English as a second language are not receiving the aid they need. What gives the author of cheating essays the right to criticize the school system seeing as he is enabling this form of cheating? He acknowledges that he is “the bad guy” and claims to be in the process of quitting his work for the company.
What Dante doesn’t really touch on is WHY cheating in the way he enables is unfair. There is the cliché that when you cheat, you are only cheating yourself. This isn’t true. When you are cheating, you are stealing. You are stealing from the individual who actually does your work. You are stealing from other students who truthfully put effort into their own work. Dante has written countless forms of essays, but the one that strikes me as the most unfair is application essays. A student who works hard and deserves to be chosen for an opportunity isn’t because someone plays another’s work off as their own. These cheaters don’t earn their spot, the shadow scholar behind them does. Those who cheat often do not see the trouble they cause, as can be seen by seminary students who also religiously (haha get it?) use this “resource.” “Shadow Scholar” may be a term of praise in reference to humility, or it may reference a whole underground network of enabled cheating, depending on how we perceive it.