School's Out Forever

"The Ethicist" is Randy Cohen's long-running advice column in the New York Times. Each week, Gabriel Delahaye's "The Unethicist" will answer the same questions as "The Ethicist," with obvious differences.

This week, a high school English teacher learns about economics, and a college drop-out gets a second chance to make a first impression.

As a high-school English teacher, I am frequently asked to proofread and make rewriting suggestions for students' college-application essays. I decline on the grounds that admissions officers assume that these essays accurately represent the students' work. Other teachers argue that our students lose the editing advantage many students receive. Is it ethical for me to read student essays? — name withheld

The implication in your opus, Mr. Holland, that somehow college applicants present an unbiased representation of their own meritocratic worth is, for lack of a better word, "fuckinghilarious." They don't. This is in large part because they don't actually have any meritocratic worth, but also because college applications are largely composed of the complicated expression of social and economic forces well beyond the manipulation of someone sitting in their friend's Honda Civic listening to a burned copy of the new Avril Lavigne album, wondering which of the people walking by is most likely to be willing to buy them beer from this store on the edge of town where hopefully no one will recognize them and are you sure you can't just call your older brother?

That being said, you are in need of an important lesson yourself, Mr. Keating. I know for a fact that you don't make very much money, and I also know for a fact that the segment of the American population with the highest level of disposable income is teenagers. GET ON THAT GRIND, PROFESSOR. Maybe this summer, you won't have to sell your plasma to pay for whatever it is teachers do all summer besides complain about being underpaid.

After we offered a job to a talented, experienced person, a background check revealed that she did not have the college degree listed on her résumé, apparently missing a diploma by one semester. When confronted, she admitted her lie, explaining, "I ran out of money, started working and never completed my studies." My first thought was to withdraw the offer, but I believe in second chances. Should I hire her? — name withheld, Michigan

No one cares.

But I think you should hire her, if only because then you can fuck with her for the tenure of her employment, constantly calling her into your office and being like, "Stacy, you know that I let it slide when you lied about graduating from college. I took a chance on you, because I saw potential. But you were five minutes late today, and eventually a man reaches his limit." Just always come thisclose to firing her over really minor stuff, without ever actually pulling the trigger. Constant psychological torture that results in daily tears and abject pleading, that is what I recommend.

Or don't. Like I said, no one cares.

Previously: I Hate Your Generation