From the mailroom: Kevin "Asian Grade" Smith Responds

Last weekend, I had a blog entry about a New York Times article that mentioned a term paper service called “Asian Grade.” This morning, I received an email about this blog post from none other than Kevin “Asian Grade” Smith himself. At least as far as I can tell it is him.

Anyway, I asked him if I could publish the email message he sent me and he said yes. So, without further delay or comment, here’s what Smith had to say about his thoughts on the NYT article, his site, and his thoughts on plagarism:

Hi, I saw that you bloged about us (Asian Grade) and just wanted to take a quick moment to say thank you and to perhaps clear up a couple misunderstandings and out of contexts quotes that were in the NY Times article.

To start off: we are not racists, by any means. We believe that we are just a humorous form of parody similar to the style of a Carlos mencia or a Dave chapelle (two mega popular TV shows) we use this parody and humor to reach an audience that we would possibly otherwise miss. An example of this can be seen on our appearance on the mega hit website davesdaily.com this summer. Additionally since being in business (for almost a year now, we have not received ONE complaint on our parody style of our website. Not one. In fact our myspace page (which gained almost 7000 friends in 2 months) has roughly 4500 of those friends being of Asian decent. The simple fact is we’ve been embraced by the Asian community as well as generation “next” 18-24 year olds)

Secondly and this is something we feel the Times left out is that we are first and foremost a campaign to eliminate the term paper as a legitimate academic tool. It is our opinion, that term papers are mindless make work assigned by either lazy teachers or simply teachers who dont want to rock the boat and mess with the status quo. Students do not learn by writing term papers and are such being victims of fraud. (Believe it or not students pay colleges to learn) Additionally, we encourage and support alternative means of education, I’m not a teacher and I can come up with a short list of better, more productive alternatives to term papers: class presentations, class debates, speeches, PowerPoint’s presentations, multimedia and website development etc. Imagine how many more options a teacher could come up with.

As to the fee issue that we do have for each paper. Here’s the deal behind that and I told this to the Times and they choose to ignore this… we loose $$ on the site. Being recent college grads, losing $ is not a luxury we like to take. That feature was designed to at the very least make our monthly server fee. However this backfired: Since we have been in existence, this featured has not been used ONCE. 2 last points on this if I may: 1. Were thinking about removing it. 2. You idea on the way back machine does not work. For one, we have not been saved once by them. For two: papers are done on a download from our website via MS Word. This prevents the Way Back Machine from accessing them.

We are willing to lose money because we believe in our cause. We believe in bringing this issue out in the open and shed light on something that has otherwise been overlooked because of the shadiness other sites in our industry. This shadiness is something we actively seek to change. We know that people have pre set assumptions on our industry. That is why we are proud to put light onto the industry, that is why we realize we need to go above and beyond the “slacker student” misconception. That is why we actively every other month do community service to better our community, and the face of the industry. This is also why we are a proud member of the adopt a highway program as well as have a stated community service and responsibilities section on our website.

We love your comment in your blog “In other words, make an assignment that’s easy to plagiarize and you can be assured that someone will do just that.” but would like to add something to that…we ask teachers to make assignments that are IMPOSABLE to plagiarize, we want to stress unique essay assignments is NOT the answer, unique lesson plans are. This way not only will a teacher be doing their job, but (and more importantly) a student is actually learning the material.

Finally, one thing I would like to bring to your attention that was left out of the Times article was an important notice of hypocrisy on the teacher’s side. Of the 5% of the custom paper sites out there who actually speak English and deliver quality, unique writing, these assignments are done by PAID teachers. That’s right, The ones writing custom papers for 15-20-25 bucks a page are teachers usually looking to make a quick $200-$300. Every month in the spring and fall I get 2-3 emails from teachers with resumes attached asking for work. In the summer this number ranges from 8-12. And the funny part is I dont even offer custom papers, teachers simply take 5 seconds to look at my site, see the word “term paper” and send me their resume. Imagine what actually custom paper sites get in their email box?? This shows me 2 things: 1. Teacher’s are not being paid enough. 2. Teachers acknowledge term papers are nonsense make-work one emailed resume at a time.

The question I ask is why do teacher’s insist on assigning term papers while everyone (including the teachers) know that students do not nor ever will learn ANYTHING from these assignments. (Besides of course becoming experts in what fonts look bigger.)

I would love to get a reply back from you, the more this topic is brought out in the open forum the better. Understand one very important thing, we both want to improve the quality of education in this country. The only difference (I think anyway) is that I believe education can only improve once a term paper is removed from the classroom.

I apologize for the long email, I am passionate about this subject.

Kevin Smith
AsianGrade.com

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17 Responses to From the mailroom: Kevin "Asian Grade" Smith Responds

  1. AWemu says:

    I find it ironic that Kevin sent an error-filled (unedited?) email explaining why having to write term papers in college is bogus. Of course, I’m one of those moron professors who actually asks students to write papers, so maybe I’m missing something here . . . Annette

  2. Yea, sorry about the errors, it was written around 5 am when I woke up. Additionally, LIGHTEN UP! It was an email, it wasn’t a professional academic assignment, it was a very informal, casual conversation sent to the Author of this Blog.

    Additionally, I unfortunately believe you were paying too close attention to grammatical errors then the content of the email. I NEVER called ANY teacher a moron. However, your use of the word moron only sheds light to one thing: The fact that you already have a predetermined opinion on the subject (term papers) and myself and that you refuse to listen to any opinions that you might not be used to hearing. To even imply that I / my debate would ever call an educator a “moron” is simply an Ad hominem attack.

    Instead of looking at the topic and assuming I have a generalized opinion of teachers, I ask that you take the time and carefully examine what I’m trying to bring to the public forum: That term papers are not legitimate academic tools and consequently have ZERO learning value.

    This can only be done once you get rid of any stereotypes you might have about me or my industry.

    P.S Is this the same Annette at emich that teaches a college class on Harry Potter?

    Kevin

  3. AWemu says:

    Dear Kevin,

    Yes, this is the same Annette who teaches a class on Harry Potter. I am a Professor of Children’s Literature and teach classes on all sorts of children’s and adolescent texts (mostly for teachers and for education students who will be teaching elementary and middle school), and students in those classes must complete a variety of writing assignments.

    My critique, Kevin, is not of your general ideas (I even agree, having done research on the subject, that some traditional writing assignments are not always beneficial for students) nor is it an ad hominem attack. My point is that when you run a business selling papers and when you critique the work educators do, you need to be careful about the way you represent yourself within public discourse. You need to, in other words, demonstrate that you are capable of writing coherent, intelligent, grammatically correct prose. Otherwise, you don’t have much credibility.

    No, an email representing your business is not an academic assignment. It is far more important than that, actually, because you are representing your business.

    Sincerely, AW

  4. AW,

    I understand and even take to heart how important it is to be presented in public light, especially considering the negative stereotypes about the industry. Because of this, we are active participants in various community service projects and display on our site the importance of community service and response stewardship. (I dare challenge any teacher union to compare their community service records to ours.) We believe that extensive community service as well as being open and honest to all people about our practices is the best way to represent who we are. We believe it is more important to show to the world that we are good people and defy the stereotype of being “slackers” than it is to show that we are able to follow the rules of grammar. (While, I know there is no reason not to do both,) considering how busy we are, and that this is a financial loss venture, emails we send at 5 am are lucky to get spell checked. While we are still building the site and have a few sections that are incomplete, I suggest you take a look at the site to get an overall feel of what we are doing (see, about us and media relations link) additionally, you’ll see that we do not as you previously said in your last post, “sell term papers”

    Finally, I would love to read your research on the subject of term papers if you’re so willing to share. For obvious reasons studies such as this are invaluable to us.

    p.s. The Harry Potter class sounds amazing.

  5. Steven D. Krause says:

    Just a couple of things for the record:

    First off, I asked Kevin if it was okay to post the email he sent me. At that point, what he could have said is “no,” and what he probably should have done is read it through, edit it, and then resent me the edited version. But he didn’t, so I posted it.

    Second, while I agree with my wife (that’s right– AWemu is my wife) that it looks bad to have all sorts of grammar errors and such, and while I did think that the irony of that would come across to other folks who teach writing for a living, I really did post what Kevin sent me because he had some interesting things to add to the NYT piece. For example, I thought it was interesting that Kevin once again said they are losing money, and that no one had actually spent the money to have it taken off of the site.

    Now, having said all that, there is obviously much I disagree with. While I agree with Kevin that the non-formed and boring “term paper” assignment (“Write a five to ten page essay on one of the books we’re reading this semester,” for example) is highly problematic, and while I also agree that there are lots of ways to get students to think (Kevin suggests things like multimedia presentations, PowerPoint presentations, speeches, etc.), writing is still a good way to go about it. I don’t assign generic term papers, but I do assign lots of writing, because a) I’m a writing teacher, and b) writing is still really important, even in an electronic world. Maybe even more important in an electronic world.

    And beyond that, I don’t buy at all the notion that “term paper mills” (be they electronic or ads in the back of Rolling Stone) constitute a legitimate “industry.” It’s not. You can call it what you want, but by putting papers up on the internet in a site that obviously encourages people to cheat, you’re encouraging people to cheat. No amount of “community service” can really make up for that in my mind.

  6. Kelly says:

    This is a very interesting discussion, and one that I am interested in as I intend to be the instructor assigning such things as papers in the next few years. While I agree with Kevin that the generic “write a 5 page paper on whatever” tossed in at the end of the term for the purpose of having extra points to factor into a grade is lazy and irritating for the student. There is nothing that annoys me more than putting my time, effort, and interest (yes, interest, I actually enjoy writing papers and work hard on them) into a paper only to have it returned with a grade and a “good paper” written at the bottom. I doubt highly that those papers have even been read other than a cursery glance to see that my basic structure and grammar is good. That is lazy teaching and a waste of my time, and as a student, my time is just as important as the instructors–if they don’t want to read 30 papers a semester per class then they shouldn’t be teaching classes that require those papers.

    That being said, I do not agree in the least that students do not learn from papers. I have learned a great deal from writing papers that are assigned thoughtfully and with the intention of pulling together the themes of a class or in critically applying the concepts of a particular class. If I’m taking a class on literary theory, I think it is advisable that I am assigned a paper asking me to critically use those skills to apply a literary theory to a text to show my ability to use the information given–otherwise what is the point? The information becomes just that, facts thrown out and repeated on a test. (Now “textbook” tests, that, in my opinion, is a true waste of time, true and false and multiple choice questions are true regurgitation of facts and a lazy teaching tool–give me an essay exam any day over that. I can easily memorize a bunch of facts, ace a test, and never think about it again. Essay exams, that, again, involve writing, pulling together ideas, critically using information learned–that is a much more legitimate testing tool but more work for the instructor.)

    I also agree with Steve, Kevin’s continued pointing out their community service rings hollow to me, as if it is some kind of penance–but if they aren’t doing anything wrong, why do they need penance? They have a good point about lazy teaching, but encouraging people to cheat, to take the moral low ground, is not a smart way to argue for change.

  7. Davis says:

    I completely agree with Kelly.

    Writing term papers can be frustrating when it is obvious that they have not been read over at all and have no critique whatsoever on the subject presented or my writing style. Even without that critique, however, I would say that even the most basic of writing assignments can POTENTIALLY be worthwhile.

    Within every writing assignment is an opportunity to expand both your grammatical execution as well as your abstract reasoning along with your ability to do the appropriate research involved. Whether the paper comes back covered in red ink or a simple “nice work” at the end, I believe the writer knows whether or not he/she wrote the work with clarity and solid reasoning.

    Of course if the assignments are incredibly generic than, yes, you’re probably not learning much. In this case the teacher should probably evaluate: one, how they can liven up the course a bit, and two, if they’re really in the right profession.

    Still, I don’t believe that gives students an excuse to simply copy and paste something they found on a website. You’re much more likely to learn something, no matter how indiscernible it may seem, in writing a 5 to 6 page research paper than you will by trying your ability to copy and paste.

    While it is true that some students aren’t really going to learn much from a two or three page assigment on a stale subject, they’ll certainly learn a great deal more than they would simply printing off an article from Asian Grade. And I would also put forth that even class debates or Powerpoint presentations won’t reach some students the way writing a research paper will. I can recall just as much time wasted working on stale Powerpoint presentations as I have on stale reseach papers. Also, a Powerpoint presentation and debate won’t stimulate the ability for abstract reasoning that a term paper will; that is of course assuming thought is actually given to the subject at hand and the paper is not simply copied off a website.

    Term papers have a purpose within the high school/college curriculum–Even if they ARE poorly thought out. The reason that the generalization stands that students who copy their term papers off the internet are indeed lazy students is a very apt and appropriate one. Obviously if you view each assignment only as an assignment and nothing more, than you probably won’t come away having learned much (which is exactly what the Asian Grade web site is endorsing, and makes no qualms about it). This stands true whether the assignment is a poorly thought out 2 page research paper or if it’s a 30 page paper done by a grad student. However, if the paper is done from the view that it’s another opportunity to learn something, even if it’s fairly insignificant, than you’ll probably end up learning something by the end of it. And, if I recall correctly, the entire goal of college is to learn as much as you can now, because you’re not going to have as much time to do so down the road.

  8. Just to respond to a couple of things:

    1. On editing my email, When Steven asked to publish it, I said yes, I would still say yes, I didn’t need to edit it and then re-send. I believe little grammatical errors in emails do NOT justify a federal case.

    2. I’m afraid Steven is a bit confused as to why we do community service. It’s not because we feel a need for penance. (By the way, when the heck did community service become solely a penance activity? I encourage you to take some time out of your schedule and give back to the community, it’s rewarding in so many ways, body and soul.) My God, how lost is this country, when doing community service is only something one does to make penance? The reason why we participate in community service programs is because of the negative attitudes people have about the term paper industry. This negative attitude can be seen in the very same paragraphs Steven and Kelly question our community service. This negative attitude is wrong, and that’s what were trying to change.

    3. Most importantly: WE DO NOT ENCURAGE PEOPLE TO CHEAT. I cannot make this clearer. We tell everyone on our site that plagiarism is wrong and do want our papers taken for that use. Besides our campaign, our papers are on the site to help students write a paper faster by seeing what other students have written about in the same topic as theirs. This way a paper that takes 5 hours to write, now will take maybe 2 or 3. That’s 2/3 hours saved of not having to do make work assignments! Now can students use our papers to plagiarize without us knowing? Absolutely, however, the same likelihood that someone uses our papers to cheat is the same likelihood that someone uses wikipedia to cheat.

    Finally, just because you have negative stereotypes of the industry doesn’t mean it’s not a industry. While exact numbers are not known, according to a 60 mins piece a few years back this industry makes 15+ million annually. Now, that’s 99.9% custom term paper sites, free term paper sites do not come close to that (I wish they did)….I don’t know about you, but that sounds like a legitimate industry to me…Because of the $ custom paper sites make you have to treat this like an industry. To call it anything else based on wrong assumptions (that we encourage people to cheat) does not help the bigger issues here.

    Finally (again) Steven, please clarify one comment as I don’t exactly know what you are trying to reference: “For example, I thought it was interesting that Kevin once again said they are losing money, and that no one had actually spent the money to have it taken off of the site.” Are you talking about the remove a paper feature? If so the reason that hasn’t been taken off the site is that we have to re-write the entire code for the page it appears on and our admin (not something that can be done easily especially making sure the admin features still work as the admin has code that was supposed to work with the remove a paper feature.) Needless to say, It will take me several hours of editing line after line of code, then that editing needs to be checked by another person (so I didn’t miss anything) It’s not an easy task and it’s on my to do list. But again, since this isn’t a full time profession for us, we work on the site when we can.

    Kevin

  9. Wendell Gee says:

    3. Most importantly: WE DO NOT ENCURAGE PEOPLE TO CHEAT. I cannot make this clearer. We tell everyone on our site that plagiarism is wrong and do want our papers taken for that use. Besides our campaign, our papers are on the site to help students write a paper faster by seeing what other students have written about in the same topic as theirs. This way a paper that takes 5 hours to write, now will take maybe 2 or 3. That’s 2/3 hours saved of not having to do make work assignments! Now can students use our papers to plagiarize without us knowing? Absolutely, however, the same likelihood that someone uses our papers to cheat is the same likelihood that someone uses wikipedia to cheat.

    He’s kidding, right? Idiot.

    All best,
    Wendell

  10. Wendell, wow, that’s a mature word. You should be ashamed of yourself for making a personal attack on me. I do not know who you are, or even know your educational background, but I would compare your educational background with mine any day of the week. But honestly, that isn’t even necessary, all one has to do is look at your personal attack on me rather then the subject to realize your intellectual prowess.

  11. Davis says:

    Kevin (3 posts above): “Most importantly: WE DO NOT ENCURAGE PEOPLE TO CHEAT. I cannot make this clearer. We tell everyone on our site that plagiarism is wrong and do want our papers taken for that use.”

    Taken from the Asian Grade website:

    “Asian Grade offers you the chance to remove this paper from our database thus eliminating it from appearing in future searches for a time period of your choice. If you do decide to use this paper as a guide, this will help prevent your professor from finding your original source, as well as making sure other students in your class don’t submit a similar paper to yours.”

    Kevin, there seems to be a bit of discrepancy between words and actions here. And whether someone has actually used the option really isn’t the point. You are very obviously encouraging cheating and you certainly don’t discourage plagiarism (as your above quote claims). If you’re going to blatantly advocate plagiarism that much, don’t insult our intelligence by saying that you “DO NOT ENCOURAGE PEOPLE TO CHEAT”.

  12. Wendell Gee says:

    “3. Most importantly: WE DO NOT ENCURAGE PEOPLE TO CHEAT. I cannot make this clearer. We tell everyone on our site that plagiarism is wrong and do want our papers taken for that use. Besides our campaign, our papers are on the site to help students write a paper faster by seeing what other students have written about in the same topic as theirs. This way a paper that takes 5 hours to write, now will take maybe 2 or 3. That’s 2/3 hours saved of not having to do make work assignments! Now can students use our papers to plagiarize without us knowing? Absolutely, however, the same likelihood that someone uses our papers to cheat is the same likelihood that someone uses wikipedia to cheat.”

    He’s not kidding? Idiot.

    All best,
    Wendell

  13. First of all to respond to the “idiot” comment. Obviously you’re not mature enough to participate in an adult conversation. Sad.

    To respond to the comment posted by David:

    David, do you notice the word: “Guide”???? NO WHERE, NOT ONE SPOT ON THE SITE, NOT ONE HINT EVEN, do we encourage plagiarism. The idea of having a paper removed from the site grew with good intentions, I assure you. A comparison of what we were trying to do can be seen in college libraries everywhere. A teacher assigns a topic and the first person to the library gets to check out all the books on that subject putting the other students at a disadvantage. This is simply academics at its competitive best. As to not letting the professor find your original sources: No one can deny that when a teacher thinks you’re a natural you get a better grade. When a teacher knows you essentially used the term paper equivalent of cliff notes your grade is affected. Hiding the fact from the teacher that you used the equivalent of cliff notes is NOT plagiarism, or encourages plagiarism.

  14. Steven D. Krause says:

    Kevin, Kevin, Kevin…. you gotta be kidding me here!

    You put up a web site that has a whole bunch of term papers in a searchable database and you are suggesting that this is just a “guide?” You want to claim that this is all part of a legitimate “industry” because millions of dollars are made by the companies that do it? C’mon!

    Everything you are saying has been claimed by operations that professionally spam– they’re just providing a valuable information service!– or people who sell crack. After all, crack dealing is a multi-million dollar business (I would assume it’s more profitable than the term paper “business” too), and all they are doing is providing a “service” for consumers who might want to partake in it.

    Besides, these things aren’t “guides.” Cliff’s Notes (also kind of a scam, if you ask me) are guides. And if these are supposed to be guides, they aren’t very good ones. Rather, these are term papers for people to cut and paste and hand in.

    I do agree with some of what you said before about how term papers are bad things, and I thought your story about how the New York Times covered this was interesting. But that’s the extent of it. Calling “Asian Grade” or any other term paper mill site a “legitimate” enterprise doesn’t make it so.

  15. Steven,

    Just because illegal industries such as spam claim their “providing a valuable information service!” doesn’t mean that all other industries providing information as a service should be included in the same lot as spammers or “crack dealers.”

    When was the last time you compared wikipedia to a crack dealer? The problem is you hold a stereotype (right or wrong) to Asian Grade. As this stereotype that you hold taints your ability to be objective.

    The papers on Asian Grade are guides; the problem is you can’t see how they can be used as guides. (I assume this is because of your opinion on the industry clouds the bigger picture.)

    One thing I noticed about these debates is that no matter how much I try to get the debate rolling about the legitimacy of term papers in academia, the conversation always heads to academia attacking what we do.

    I’m advocating change, and no one likes change.

    Kevin

  16. Davis says:

    Honestly, I can see how Asian Grade could POSSIBLY be used in good faith. It does help at times to see how others have researched a specified topic in the past and apply some of that same reasoning to the paper that has been assigned to you.

    However, I don’t believe that Asain Grade is legitimately emphasizing this point. If you need someone to take down your source because you used it as a “guide” than you need to rethink how you’re using the “guide” in the first place. The library example isn’t applicable here because the library has a limited amount of resources on any given area and simply can’t provide the amount of information needed to everyone at all times. However, if you got onto a database provided by the library (which is much more representable of the information Asian Grade provides) than the information would not be withdrawn simply because a student is using it. Books are checked out of a library because it is necessary if a student is intent on taking the book home with them. The library is doing it because there is no other option. Asian Grade is doing it for the intent of cheating. There’s no reason why a student should have to withdraw a paper because they used it as a “guide” unless they copied liberal portions of such a “guide”. If I remember correctly, students should be able to use a source without copying it directly, that is what a bibliography/works cited page is for.

    Advocating change only works if you bring about change in a way that is conducive to the environment, which cheating on a paper is not. And no one is going to be fooled by the “guide” excuse.

    And just to make note of it, the legitimacy of term papers has been commented on by most everyone here: myself, Kelly, and Steven have all made note of it and given our opinions on the matter. Whether Asian Grade exists or not, I think we’ve all spent enough time writing and/or assigning them that our opinions aren’t going to be clouded by your website.

  17. zinnia says:

    First off, Steven, thanks so much for your awesome blog. I (like perhaps a lot of people) found it when looking for coverage of the EMU strike, and kept reading.

    “Students do not learn by writing term papers and are such being victims of fraud. (Believe it or not students pay colleges to learn)”

    I think this quote from Kevin’s email is telling. It reflects an attitude that college students are consumers of education-as-a-product, and that they deserve customer service. This attitude is quite different from one in which the student actively takes responsibility for their own learning; ideally a college student would be a self-directed learner, rather than be some sort of passive vessel that some prof is supposed to dump knowledge into somehow.

    I think that college and university instructors have a tough job because many high school students graduate only knowing how to be taught, rather than how to learn. We have a K-12 system that emphasizes teaching to a series of tests that may or may not actually measure whether the students have learned anything. Then, we (governments, school administrators, parents, etc.) look at those test scores, and say “Well, we spent x dollars on education last year, why aren’t we getting our money’s worth?” The profs reading this will know better than I how many of their incoming freshmen are actually ready for college-level work.

    I don’t think that students should tolerate truly incompetent professors or instructors, but in my experience these are few and far between. I’m also not saying that a student should have to try to learn everything without guidance, but ultimately those students are going to finish their classes, and should have the ability to apply that knowledge without having an assignment due or a grade riding on it.

    I happen to think writing a research paper can be a great way for a student to dig into a topic and see what s/he can find. So what if it takes 5 hours instead of 2 or 3? Learning is supposed to take some effort! Being able to do research (and cite legitimate sources), formulate arguments, critique someone else’s arguments, and communicate your points to your audience effectively are all skills that are really useful, and writing papers helps you learn those skills and refine them. Perhaps if Kevin had spent a bit more time writing his term papers, he would be able to make a better argument.

    BTW, I happen to be of Asian descent, and I’m not real wild about the name “Asian Grade.” I was one of very, very few people of color in my high school, and it was frustrating to have my success in school attributed to my racial/ethnic background rather than the fact that I put some work into what I did. Sure, it’s so-called “positive stereotyping,” but it’s still an assumption based on what I look like, which I think we can all do without.

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