Editing Your Child's Paper: Unfair Advantage? A mother is editing her daughter's college papers — is that putting her child at an unfair advantage? Not quite, says Ethicist Randy Cohen. The purpose of college is not to compete, but to become an educated person... so if the mother is helping her daughter learn, she's doing the right thing.
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Editing Your Child's Paper: Unfair Advantage?

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Editing Your Child's Paper: Unfair Advantage?

Editing Your Child's Paper: Unfair Advantage?

Editing Your Child's Paper: Unfair Advantage?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/7834713/7834715" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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A mother is editing her daughter's college papers — is that putting her child at an unfair advantage? Not quite, says Ethicist Randy Cohen. The purpose of college is not to compete, but to become an educated person... so if the mother is helping her daughter learn, she's doing the right thing.

DEBBIE ELLIOTT, Host:

We have Jeff on the line now. Hello there.

JEFF: Hello. Nice to visit with you.

ELLIOTT: And Randy, welcome back.

RANDY COHEN: Hi, Debbie.

ELLIOTT: So Jeff, you wrote to us about a friend of yours. You are a bit concerned that she was just a little bit too involved. Tell us what had you concerned.

JEFF: I then confronted my friend and asked, what are we doing here? And according to her, she was simply editing these assignments, as any caring parent would do. I also confronted the student and she said, my mom doesn't write my papers, she just helps me with grammar. Based upon my observations, however, I thought that there are some ethical concerns here. It just didn't look right or feel right and as an educator myself, I felt that the student should be standing on her own two feet and writing her own assignments or learning grammar. So we've had a little bit of debate on this.

ELLIOTT: Now, you say you're an educator. You're a high school principal?

JEFF: Yes, ma'am. I am.

ELLIOTT: So you must see a lot of this type of thing. You must have parents that really want to help their kids and are going a little above and beyond just correcting the grammar. What do you tell them?

JEFF: When it comes to papers and things of that nature, we in public schools, we do want parents to assist students. We do want them to be involved in their child's education. And so here there's a little nuance between public schools, I believe, my opinion, and post-secondary. In a post-secondary, I do feel that the student should be completely on their own, and that's been my dilemma. What are the appropriate parameters for a parent?

ELLIOTT: Randy, I know you have a daughter who is in college right now. Have you ever been tempted to give her essays that little extra bit of parental polish?

COHEN: Oh, I have attempted but, you know, she won't even tell me her phone number up there. So I'm -

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

COHEN: But here, the kind of failure we're talking about is not an ethical failure; it's a pedagogical failure. So the essential question is: Is she helping the daughter learn or hindering the daughter's learning?

JEFF: Right. Got it.

ELLIOTT: Jeff, thank you for your call.

JEFF: Yes. I enjoyed our discussion very much. Thank you all.

ELLIOTT: Randy, thank you.

COHEN: Thanks very much, Debbie.

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