Education Career Services

November 20, 2009


Comments on Plagiarism and costs. College Student Journal, 43(3), 718-722.
Retrieved from Education Research Complete database.
Submitted by Professor Lewis Alston

While reading this article, a legitimate question became the title of this supposition.  I call this a supposition instead of a submission.  As of this moment, I cannot understand why the American Educational System does not spend more time on the subject of plagiarism in grades one through twelve.

I suppose that “The System” felt they had control of it in that venue.  I did not become aware of the “P-word” until the 8th and 9th grade.  The System was trying so hard to get us to read that they did not spend enough time teaching us the appropriate use of the material.  The secondary school is at a loss here.

Our general society frowns upon theft.  Hmmmm.  However, we do not teach students at an early age that taking the author’s words as our own is “stealing.”  Accordingly, a series of questions have come to mind:

§   Are we so glad that the student is reading that we do not teach proper treatment of the information when presented to the public?  (It is not the P-word until the moment of presentation.)
§   Are we putting too much pressure on the student “to perform versus developing a mastery” of the material?
§   Are we imposing sufficient sanctions early in the educational process to deter this behavior as a lifetime practice, in any environment?

Mrs. Keith, in my 9th grade AP English class, discovered that a number of students had used a literature review to write a report about a Shakespearean play.  All she did was to take off 10 points from their final grade. 

Was that a sufficient penalty to deter that sort of behavior in the future?

The only definition given to us was that we could not “copy” the material into our paper without citing it on the Bibliography Page.  (Oooooh, that was scary!)  That was / is not a deterrent to a student who has a command of the language.  That student possesses a bag full of synonyms to overcome that scholastic hurdle:

“To thine own self be true.”  [Be honest with yourself.]  (Hmmmmm.  Is this plagiarism?)  Certainly, it does not carry the same poetic effect, but it does convey the same message.  [Note: Someone call Polonius from Hamlet, Act 1, scene 3, 78-82 and tell him that I am sorry about ruining his line.]

Are we picky about the students we teach the concepts of plagiarism to in “The System”? 

Those of us who are educators spent a good percentage of our high school career in the upper level courses.  We were not in General Education courses, for the most part.  The subject of plagiarism had to be approached because of our ingenuity.  (Since I have crossed over to the dark side of education, I realize that school policy dictated more of this than the teacher’s desire to eliminate the P-word.  Not every teacher was there to elevate our use of the language.)

Actually, some my student colleagues thought it to be a challenge to see how much of someone else’s material they could use without “Mrs. Keith finding out about it.”

Am I the only one who sees that students have become master copy-and-pasters?  The Internet has become the ONLY source of information for today’s collegiate student.  When I require material from a book – a hard cover book – I am met with holy water, torches, tar and feathers.  I am to be burned at the stake at the next smoke break! 

Then, the barrage begins upon me:

One brave student screams, “A book!  Awww, come on ‘Fessa Alston, why we got to use a booook?”  [He stops to wash out his mouth.  He tastes the brine of the word “book.”]  “’Fessa Alston, I use Wiki, all ‘da time!”  [Heads are nodding affirmatively at me and their mates, throughout the classroom.] 

Then, I receive the verbal abuse of one of their greatest weapons.

“The other Instructors, do not require us to do that!!”  [Oh, this is a dagger to my heart.]  I imagine that they are trying to divide and conquer in here.  That might work at home with parents – but it should not work in here, with us. 

For the concluding moment, let us look at this issue from another angle.  Let us do away with the punitive mindset.  What about positive reinforcement?

§   Do we commend them for being original in their thought process?
§   Lastly, do we reward the lack of plagiarism, verbally or in written form?

If the theft of knowledge is not being addressed more stringently before college, we have to perform that task to protect them in this New World.  We have to reaffirm that stance with current students, periodically.  As college educators, we have to change the mindset of our incoming students.  

I suppose that we have to inform them in their few classes that they are not in the 13th grade
This is college.  Welcome to college!

Thank you Professor Lewis E. Alston for the insight as many of our students and educators will have a reaction to your words—some kind, some not so kind.

Danny Huffman, MA, CEIP, CPCC, CPRW
Owner, Author, Publisher
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