I hate the word “BS”
Don’t worry, I’m not talking about a Bachelor of Science degree (or even a Bachelor of Surgery, which is apparently a thing according to Wikipedia). BS here stands for “bullshit,” and around a college campus, it’s frequently the word used to describe how you spent your all-nighter. “I just BS-ed that response paper.” “I just BS-ed the last few pages of my term paper.” I hate it when people say that.
Maybe that’s why I’m a CS major. You can’t just BS code; that’s just not how it works. Either your code is correct or it isn’t. When I ask your program what 2+2 is, it either tells me that it’s 4 or you’re not getting an A. Perhaps contrary to popular belief, that’s how proofs (not limited to CS here) work too. Either you’ve convinced me something is true, or you’ve missing something / said something that’s incorrect.
Before I continue, let me make one thing clear: this is NOT a “sciences are harder / better / faster / stronger than the humanities” rant. Maybe you think that’s true or maybe you don’t, doesn’t really matter to me. Given that 100% of my courses this term require essay-writing, I’m not here to claim that the humanities are pointless and stupid, because they’re not.
In fact, there’s a lot of value in writing an essay about a literary work or scientific article. Writing a good essay requires a great deal of critical thinking and analysis. You can’t just take things at face value or repeat what other people have said. Instead, you need to be skeptical and think about the issues at hand yourself in order to reach some conclusion. At the end of the day, you may end up with an essay about Shakespeare that adds literally nothing to the literary analysis community. In fact, that’s probably what a vast majority of essays written for school do anyway. If they didn’t, then we’d have a lot more professors than students. In that sense, writing an essay isn’t so much about the final product than it is about the process. It doesn’t matter that you’re repeating what someone has already said if you’ve gone through the process of discovery yourself. Writing an essay and giving its subject (in whatever domain that may be) critical thought has made you that much better at analyzing and assessing ideas in general. Challenging established authority and standards is critical to innovation in any field. Hell, if Columbus believed that the world were flat, I’d be sitting here writing this in Austria with a nice Vienna sausage at my side. I’m not planning to pursue a career in essay-writing, but the ability to think critically is necessary even to being a good citizen.
Saying that you “BS-ed” an essay completely devalues the critical thinking process and thus the entire point of writing the essay in the first place. BS-ing something by definition means you didn’t give it much thought at all, you just put something on paper. Sure, that could be enough to convince your grader that you deserve an A, but did you really learn anything from doing so? Just like the essay, learning is not so much about the finished product than it is about the journey there. You could buy a degree as easily as the Yankees can buy a World Series, but is that really as satisfying as undertaking the process yourself? Seems to me like too much of college is doing whatever it takes to get good grades at the expense of not really learning anything at all. BS-ing an essay is a complete waste of time, and it certainly doesn’t facilitate learning in its purest form.
"But I’m a busy student," you say. "I’m taking five classes, I have a part-time job, and I’m a member of 93 clubs this semester," you say. I know. That’s why the widespread phenomenon of BS isn’t entirely your fault (but let’s be real, sometimes it’s completely your fault, I look at lolcats as much as you do, if not more).
I posit that the number of papers that are BS-ed is very much proportional to the number of BS-able papers that are assigned. Crazy, right? I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve completed a stupid assignment requiring no critical thought whatsoever, one that was simply assigned so that the instructor could have something to assess. So it’s totally the fault of the instructor, right? Nope, still wrong. Would you like to have your entire semester’s grade based on a single analytical essay? Didn’t think so. The way higher education is set up right now, students need to be evaluated on some tangible product(s), and that constraint alone is going to lead to BS assignments and BS responses to them.
The only solution here is for individuals at every level of the academic hierarchy to re-evaluate what it means to learn something. The ~$200k that goes towards a college education isn’t for printing that piece of paper you get at graduation, it’s for learning.
So, stop BS-ing papers. Stop assigning papers you know will be BS-ed.
Try to learn something.