The old-school approach.

Photographer: Patrick T. Fallon/Bloomberg

Sorry, Kids. This Columnist Won't Write Your Essay for You.

Megan McArdle is a Bloomberg View columnist. She wrote for the Daily Beast, Newsweek, the Atlantic and the Economist and founded the blog Asymmetrical Information. She is the author of "“The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well Is the Key to Success.”
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Dear sir or madam,

I am in receipt of your recent e-mail, requesting that I provide you with my insights into the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. Or perhaps it was the stimulus. Then again, you may have been interested in my thoughts on carbon taxes, and global warming more generally.

You are not the first such hopeful who has e-mailed me. Like many columnists these days, I periodically receive requests from high school students who are apparently interested in everything from the workings of the Federal Reserve to the macroeconomic prospects of Macedonia. Some petitioners helpfully include the structure and word count they are looking for. Which I presume to be very similar to the structure and word count their teachers are looking for.

Academics of my acquaintance report that they also receive these missives, and that indeed, some of them are sent at the behest of high school teachers who apparently worry that the nation’s public intellectuals are at loose ends, unable to fill the bleak and empty hours without assistance from our nation’s young people.

Before I proceed to the substance of your request, I want to say this: You give me hope. From time to time, people tell me that your generation is made of weaker stuff than the mighty folks of Generation X: timid, lacking initiative, without a speck of imagination. Hogwash, I say! Judging from your correspondence, the motto of the millennials is “L’audace, l’audace, toujours l’audace!”

No, I’m not going to tell you what that means. Google it. Now, where was I? Ah yes.

It would never have occurred to most members of my cohort, Generation X, to ask some random adult to write an essay for us, out of the kindness of his or her heart. But the millennial mind is bold: It does not take counsel of such fears. The millennial mind is efficient: It does not seek to pointlessly replicate tedious work that someone else has already done, when it could simply get the goods from someone who has already done the research, and thereby free up hours of time for whatever it is you people are doing on your phones all the time. The millennial mind is unbound by outmoded conventions like the stigma against plagiarism.

The point is, you have given me hope, young person, and I thank you for that. But I digress. Let me now explain why I am not going to do your homework for you. I am going to structure my response in three main paragraphs with a topic sentence, explanation and conclusion. If you are the gentleman who e-mailed me in 2011 to ask about the debt ceiling, you may recognize the format.

The first reason that I am not going to do your homework for you is that I have already graduated from high school. I am not going to drearily claim that my old-fashioned work ethic puts you young whippersnappers to shame; one of my French teachers reportedly told an administrator who came looking for me: “You can’t really expect to find her here. She’s already been once this week.” However, eventually the Riverdale Country School certified that I had completed all my high school obligations, and I graduated. These were obligations that I laid down with a certain relief, perhaps even joy. Not once in the intervening years have I thought, “Gee, I wish I had a social studies essay to write.” Now I have plain old work, which actually takes up quite a bit of my time.

That’s not to say I learned nothing from high school. One thing I learned is that I should have just done my homework rather than trying to avoid it. I know you do not believe me. I know because I was you. In a few short years, you will be me, realizing that homework assignments like this offer valuable lessons. It teaches you how to a) find information and figure out what it means and b) do things you don’t particularly enjoy. Having failed to learn those lessons in high school, I had to master them later, at great personal cost.

Which brings me to the third reason I am not going to do your homework for you: It won’t do you any good, because you’re going to get caught. Your teacher is apt to notice the sudden improvement in your prose and research skills. (There's a great economic insight here: Specialization can vastly increase productivity. And I'm a specialist. If someday you want to be more productive, perhaps you'll become one too.)

I admire you, brave millennial. You gave me hope, so let me give you a gift as well -- a fact you won't find on Wikipedia. The adults are in league against you. Now you've been warned.

Best of luck on your assignment,

Megan McArdle

  1. I did not witness this event myself, of course, but 17 of my classmates swore it happened, and I have no reason to doubt them.

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