Monday, October 30, 2006

plagiarism revisited

Two local incidents of plagiarism to discuss. The first involved a teacher, not me, who gave a student an honest appraisal of his writing - a grade so low, that the student was probably mathematically eliminated from the possibility of passing, from that point on. A good reason for the low grade was probably that his grammar was so poor, it was difficult to recognize what he was saying. It is possible, after all, for a student to reach a higher level and still have poor grammar. Yet, from the student's point of view, what was he to do? His next paper showed evidence of being written or at least improved by a girlfriend. My point in this situation would be that maximizing his tuition money, and productive use of his time and energy, would be to keep him in the game at least enough to feel like he had a chance, writing it himself. Yet I'd be one of the grade-inflaters who'd led him to believe that could write at the highest level at all, when in fact, he was at the wrong level, at least in writing. There's no way out of this. Maybe it was our fault for letting him get up there; our fault for being cold-stark truthful, then, about his writing; and our fault for expecting him to do anything else under the circumstances. Yet it's probably happened in some form or another in other venues too.

Another case: I gave my whole class this weblog assignment, asking them only to look at a site and tell me what was on it. I didn't mean copy what was on it, yet that's what about half did. The instructions are clear, I thought, but maybe the law against copying was not. What's the deal? Time to remind them: if I wanted a copy, I'd have given you a dime. Or here's another way of saying it: Copying is not illegal, by itself. It's putting your name on the paper afterward, that gets you thrown out of school.



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