Record-breaking athletes, esteemed doctors, impressive valedictorians – where’s the connection? Most would see them as paradigms of winners in our contemporary society, the people who dominate their respective worlds–athletics, medicine, and academics. But do people expect a plot twist? Turns out your son’s hero that inspired him to join Little League Baseball just got caught doping. Turns out your family doctor has been nonchalantly prescribing untested drugs to his patients, in hopes of pocketing some extra income. Turns out the valedictorian cheated through half his classes and paid his doctor to give him a diagnosis for extra time on the SAT Reasoning Test. They say cheaters never prosper, but peel away the layers of artificial perfection and the truth becomes crystal clear: our current society overflows with cheaters who have gotten away with murder. In his acclaimed non-fiction work, The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, David Callahan explores this “Winning Class” by analyzing the latest cheating scandals.
Callahan asserts that the rise of the cheating culture promotes skewed morals where cheaters face no consequences, and non-cheaters, coined the “Anxious Class,” constantly live under the pressure of losing their shots at the American Dream. Audrey Snowden of the Library Journal concedes that “Callahan backs up his arguments, and the book contains adequate endnotes, but librarians looking for a thorough examination of this cultural development will find that this title is passionately argued but not sufficiently complex.”
On the contrary, “Village Voice reviewer Joy Press commented: ‘Callahan compiles a meticulous mountain of data about our current state of disgrace.’ A reviewer for Publishers Weekly found that ‘the book’s strength lies in [tying] together assorted detailed descriptions of cheating throughout the system and explaining the connections’” (“David Callahan”). Other critics praise Callahan’s “straightforward, commonsensical solutions, including increased funding for federal enforcement agencies” (Gold, Sarah F., Emily Chenoweth, and Jeff Zaleski). Emily Lloyd of the School Library Journal acknowledges
that the work “will have incredulous teens calling up their friends in order to read passages aloud,” and that its content is “well-researched and very readable chapters on corruption.” With its hype in the literary world, The Cheating Culture begs the question: It’s good, but is it canon good? Canonized books must employ impressive standards, as they set the bar by which other literary works are to be judged; however, thorough research and eloquent writing styles are merely the tip of the iceberg. A unique approach that harnesses the ability to catalyze change in society serves as the final verdict for canon inclusion. The elite canon represents the best of the best, so works included must stand out even among already well-written works. David Callahan, with his impressive credentials and his Ph.D. in politics from Princeton University, serves as a canon-worthy author.
Therefore, his work The Cheating Culture merits canonization as it acknowledges the complexity of a social issue through an unorthodox approach. Canonized works are those considered exemplary, the quintessential embodiments of excellence in the literary community. Therefore, an author of a canon-worthy nonfiction book should naturally possess a reliable ethos. An author’s education, experiences, and reputation define his or her ethos, and the levels of relevance and excellence demonstrated in each field define the author’s position on the scope of reliability. To gain a reader’s trust, authors must be qualified; only then is the author capable of successfully conveying his/her purpose (Gelfan). While other genres such as fiction provide entertainment and leisure, the non-fiction realm entails expertise and insight. How then, can authors expect to stand on elevated platforms of knowledge and have readers accept their didactic preaching, unless they possess sufficient credentials and proof of expertise to do so?
Readers will only be receptive to a figure of authority and respect, someone who they believe they can learn from. Likewise, works will only be considered for canonization when society believes an author possesses copious knowledge and credentials. David Callahan, with a Ph.D in politics from Princeton University, indubitably meets the criteria for trustworthiness due to his relevant educational and life experiences which fortify his ethos. While Callahan’s affiliation with a prestigious academic institution ranked the best in the nation is noteworthy already, more impressive are his vast accomplishments.
Callahan’s articles have been published in the New York Times, USA Today, the Washington Post, and the American Prospect, and he is a frequent commentator for acclaimed news stations such as CNN, MSNBC, and NPR. The fact that elite institutions value his opinion and expertise convinces readers that they too should heed his words. These institutions would not jeopardize their reputations by allowing an unqualified person to represent them, as they have a wide scope of viewers and critics. If an organization with admirable ethos looks to Callahan for guidance, why shouldn’t readers? Furthermore, Callahan went beyond just writing about controversial issues; he took action himself by founding Demos: “A multi-issue national organization, Demos combines research, policy development and advocacy to influence public debate and catalyze change” (“About Demos”).
The fact that Callahan does not simply write about improving social issues but actually takes action leads readers to believe that he is authentic and genuinely concerned about the well-being of society. In doing so Callahan demonstrates that he is following his own advice, and encourages readers to do the same. The organization’s mission statement states: “Demos celebrates the diversity of American society. Our work on social, economic, and political equity and the pursuit of a just society is informed and inspired by the gender, racial, ethnic, age, sexual orientation, class, and religious diversity of our staff” (“About Demos”). Because the organization is open to ideas from all social classes, people can trust that its opinions are not biased. Callahan’s strong ties to Demos therefore allow readers to be receptive to his words, as readers believe he offers deep insights backed by honesty and justice.
Thus, readers should trust David Callahan; his expertise, education, and experiences on multiple mediums of social issues allow him to craft literature that the general public can rely on. A work worthy of canonization will address commonplace but prevalent social issues with a unique approach and style that ultimately elevates it to a higher standard than those of the typical works in the nonfiction realm (Dolin). Why do most students naturally shy away from the dreaded genre of nonfiction? The authors of these works may have exceptional credentials, finesse writing styles, as well as overall convincing appreciations of subjects, all characteristics that prominent editor Peter Gelfan considers essential for a book to be branded a classic in his article “Evaluating Nonfiction: One Editor’s Approach.”
Yet, while these benchmarks are rather impressive if attained, these criteria are not sufficient. What is it that engrosses readers so that they thirst for more, when the same subject matter presented by a different author would have readers returning the book to the shelf after the first few pages? An unconventional style or approach serves as the final push for an already exceptional work to join the exclusive ranks of the canonized. For example, all teachers must attain master’s degrees and attend many training sessions as well as meetings to ensure that their curriculums and teaching methods are up to date; however, even though the teachers have the same credentials and the same curriculums, what makes a teacher a favorite among students is a unique teaching style. Consider the subject of history. Many students view history as an obscure subject that holds no interest, as they feel they have no reason to be concerned with the civilizations of such archaic eras.
To rouse an interest in a somewhat dull topic in students, good teachers must essay innovative and possibly even outlandish methods of teaching. My own history teacher exemplifies such a teaching method; he never instructs us to take notes out of a textbook or read for the whole period; instead, he crafts humorous games and witty stories to help us develop an appreciation for the content. Professor John Lye of Brock University conveys in his essay, “Grounds for Evaluating Fiction,” that canon-worthy nonfiction “captures aspects of human experience vividly, precisely, and freshly.” While authors may strive for an academic tone to showcase their expertise and authority, coming off as “precise but colorless”, according to Editor Peter Gelfan, is equivalent to being a “stick in the mud.” Therefore, while credentials and facts build the foundation for an exceptional work, a work of nonfiction cannot be considered canon-worthy without a distinct style or an innovative approach.
Despite its literary prowess, The Cheating Culture falls short in its somewhat ambiguous suggestions to fix the ailing society. When proposing his solutions, Callahan states that no matter what changes we try to make, inequality will always exist because people will always look upward at someone who has more economic success than they do. Because of this we have to pursue equality in political, legal, and social matters. These laws must be “made fairly, enforced fairly, and seen as fair” (Callahan 273). While his reasoning makes sense, the word “fair” leaves too much room for interpretation. If Callahan’s purpose is to bring a community together against the cheating culture, a clear definition of “fair” must be specified; otherwise, different interpretations will clash and hamper productivity.
This aspect of Callahan’s solution disappoints because it is oversimplified. Anyone with minute common sense would suggest that society be made fairer to temper the cheating culture. Callahan’s suggestion lacks the defining hallmark possessed by the rest of Callahan’s argument. This downfall however, does not provide grounds for canon exclusion. With such a broad topic like cheating, it is understandable that even a gifted author like Callahan would lack specificity. It would be impossible for Callahan to enumerate every detail that must be enacted to fix every instance of cheating in the world, and attempting to do so would be rather ignorant. The Cheating Culture deserves to join the ranks of the canonized because it successfully exposes an issue and compels readers to stem the spread of the culture. Once this seed is planted in readers, they can channel this fiery passion into improving society.
With this passion, readers can amplify Callahan’s general solutions and take appropriate action. The Cheating Culture’s success on the other hand, lies in its avant-garde approach to cheating, exposing its severity in aspects of society and culture that none would expect. The word “cheating” naturally evokes an image of students sitting in a classroom with the infamous wandering eyes, but who would expect doctors or lawyers to cheat clients for higher paychecks? Callahan plays on this shock factor to appeal to the pathos of his audience, igniting feelings of injustice and fear – after all, who feels safe when doctors are prescribing drugs haphazardly for commissions? Like wipers clearing a fogged windshield, Callahan’s selection of provocative details widens his readers’ lenses on life and ultimately allows them to hone in on an issue that requires immediate action. It is this unique approach with the ability to stir a sense of urgency in an audience that makes The Cheating Culture indeed worthy of canonization.
Callahan manifests his ability to capture “aspects of human experience vividly, precisely, and freshly” (Lye) by utilizing poignant examples of the cheating culture in daily life. For example, David Franklin, a researcher at Harvard Medical School, promotes a company’s new drug, Neurontin for large cash payments. The drug is wholly untested and potentially dangerous, but Franklin along with thousands of doctors pocket these profits despite the dangers they could be causing clients (Callahan 9). The fact that doctors, who devote nearly 10 years to studying the effects of medicines, can so easily re-direct their moral compasses when money is offered is alarming and likely to ignite controversy among readers. The word “cheating” itself bears a negative connotation that is automatically associated with people of base morals, but Callahan provides a revelation that proves that even revered figures like doctors from the best schools in the nation surrender to a natural proclivity to get ahead. In this situation, the doctors giving in to temptation triggers a chain reaction that could compromise public health.
Callahan leads his readers to think – if doctors with abundant salaries and exemplary credentials are cheating, who else could be, and how much damage are these people inflicting on society? Students are told not to cheat on a daily basis; a non-fiction work that simply condemned cheating would attract no readers. Revealing commonplace instances of cheating would therefore lead readers to ignore the work’s central message, as they have heard the same thing many times before. Canon-worthy books adjust the focus on the readers’ lenses, and set themselves apart from other works by painting prevalent issues in a different light. When a book challenges preconceived notions, readers are both attentive and anxious to read on. Canonized works cultivate passion and determination that ultimately compels readers to change society. Callahan continues to rise above typical portrayals of cheating by tracing the cause-and-effect relationships between the economy and the cheating culture: Everywhere, free-market forces bulldozed long-standing social norms and professional cultures.
The bulldozing wreaked havoc in sports, law, business, accounting, medicine, academia, publishing, and other fields. It was the ‘creative destruction of capitalism’ in classic form. As a booming economy pumped rivers of cash into every kind of business organization – and as the carrots for the Winning Class got bigger – bad behavior became more tempting (Callahan 47). Callahan dissects free-market economics in a way that makes it accessible to all audiences. Most people are faintly aware of the economy, but a normal person would not make a connection and brand the economic system as the main stimulus of the cheating culture. Callahan’s expertise illuminates itself as he presents a complex and unconventional idea in a way that the average person could understand.
His metaphor compares the economy to a bulldozer that ran over the traditional morals that dominated early culture. In addition, he points a finger at the American “get-rich quick” mindset as the source of “carrots for the Winning Class [getting bigger].” Callahan alludes to a simple illustration of dangling a carrot in front of an animal to get a response. In essence, he subtly suggests that love for money transformed sensible people into tactless simpletons who are easily dragged into the cheating cycle. Callahan’s style, which incorporates thorough reasoning and parallel examples, convinces readers that American capitalism is somewhat responsible for the rise of the cheating culture. Most authors struggle to find a middle ground between oversimplifying and overcomplicating; Callahan on the other hand, acknowledges complexity yet clearly conveys his ideas through well-selected examples, making his style canon-worthy.
Many non-fiction books provide facts about a situation, but fail to provide solutions to the problem. Callahan however, is unique in his ability to outline clear steps that his audience needs to take to gradually alleviate society of the cheating culture: “I suggest… creating more broadly shared economic opportunity in U.S. society so that everyone has a chance to get ahead, strengthening democracy so that we all have a more equal say in how the rules are made…and bolstering the vitality of community life to reduce the divisions among Americans that have grown up in recent years” (Callahan 27). Callahan’s solutions are not simplistic or obvious. He resists the typical “cheating is bad, don’t do it” approach and pursues a thorough action plan. Callahan looks to economy, democracy, and community life as factors that must be controlled and monitored to fight the cheating culture, an outlook that not many people would consider. The majority of non-fiction books gather dust on shelves because they simply repeat things that have been said before.
Readers seek something beyond the commonplace approach. They hunger for fresh outlooks that open up new realms of insight. Just as Upton Sinclair’s The Jungle inspired food sanitation acts in the 20th century, and Harriet Beecher Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin turned half the Western world against slavery, canonized books must harness the “it” factor that inspires people to action. Effective works must take readers beyond its pages and pull them into the real world to make change. The Cheating Culture, with its atypical approach and signature style, does indeed tug at readers to ammend a prevalent social issue.
Consider the non-fiction canon a filter that sifts out any work short of perfection; therefore, any canonized work merits the brand “masterpiece,” as it boasts the ability to firmly hold its place above the sifter as the less developed works merely fall through. Canonized works are essential to the education of the public, as they provide insight on prevalent social issues that are often overlooked. Heeding the advice presented in canonized works therefore allows citizens to improve contemporary society by equipping them with the knowledge to do so. David Callahan’s The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans are Doing Wrong to Get Ahead, dissects the concept of cheating by exposing its place in society. Callahan reveals that cheating looms everywhere, from business to politics to academia.
He reasons that our capitalistic economic system has created the “get rich quick” ideal which pressures people to cheat to get ahead; furthermore, citizens who abstain from cheating feel that they are being robbed of success, as cheaters continue to prosper without consequences. Callahan acknowledges complexity when proposing a solution, as he concedes that the cheating culture can only gradually be eliminated. He suggests creating more economic opportunity and strengthening democracy to “bolster the vitality of community life to reduce the divisions among Americans that have grown up in recent years” (Callahan 27).
Ultimately, Callahan’s work possesses eloquence, credible information, as well as engaging content; but, it truly deserves a place in the canon because of its ability to paint a commonplace issue in a different light. It must be canonized for the public to realize that cheating goes beyond picking an answer off a neighbor’s test during finals week, but is gradually initiating a chain reaction that may result in the decimation of our once respected society. If America can stem the issue before it spreads further, we can restore the democratic, equal opportunity ideals that our very nation was founded upon. Callahan’s work can empower citizens to stand against the cheating culture, so that one day we may once again trust our society and its heroes.
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Gold, Sarah F., Emily Chenoweth, and Jeff Zaleski. “THE CHEATING CULTURE: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong To Get Ahead (Book).” Publishers Weekly 250.46 (2003): 57. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 Jan. 2013. Lloyd, Emily. “The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong To Get Ahead (Book).” School Library Journal 50.6 (n.d.): 179. Literary Reference Center. Web. 9 Jan. 2013 Snowden, Audrey. “The Cheating Culture: Why More Americans Are Doing Wrong To Get Ahead (Book).” Library Journal 128.20 (2003): 146. Literary Reference Center. Web. 8 Jan. 2013.