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Plagiarism and Failing

March 4, 2009

[Please take my one-question poll on Adjunct pay]

I am moving a comment from Casandra to a post by itself.  She writes:

“Once identified, though, do not wholesale condemn missing quotation marks around a direct quote as the same as a paper purchased from a paper mill. You are the instructor. Seize the teaching moment. Show discernment. If you are too frustrated with their ineptitude, get another job. I guarantee that after a month of dealing with life in “the real world,” the petty missteps of some unlearned students will been seen with renewed appreciation.” [Cassandra cites this post]

I used to teach the courses where it was my job to teach my students how to cite others’ work. Many of them just simply refused to do it. Despite numerous reading assignments on the topic, classroom examples, and in-class practices, several students in EVERY class would still plagiarize on the final papers.

Now, my definition of plagiarism is different from yours: a purchased paper is CHEATING, not plagiarism; the last school I taught at called it “academic dishonesty.” For me, plagiarism is a citation error; or, rather, failing to cite any source other than the writer’s own brain. I usually just marked a paper down for minor transgressions (at least early in the semester), but a final paper draft where every 3rd sentence has been plucked wholesale off the web? Oh, that’s plagiarism. And that deserves an F. And I came to realize it also needed to be documented and sent above because the student ALWAYS wanted to barter out of the F…often by saying how “mean and unfair” I was.

I now know that many students simply don’t care enough to learn how not to steal other people’s ideas, words, or even sentence structure. Quotation marks might as well be strange, alien symbols left behind on Earth by marauding Venutians. And a bibliography is a task left to brainiacs who are just trying to kiss their teachers’ asses. [Great Quote!]

As you suggested, I was “too frustrated with their ineptitude,” so I quit. But I now resent being forced to do so because of students who willfully refused to learn what I was teaching them. A student can fail Chem 101 by not learning the basics of the periodic table of elements. So why can’t a student fail English 101 for not learning how to cite sources? [emphasis mine]

I feel for you, Clarissa, that you felt the need to quit teaching.  Yes, a student who does not, as I have stated, ultimately conform/align/adhere to the academic discourse community does not deserve to continue in its midst.  That simple.

What I would like to see, aside from more teachers like you, a chance for learning to occur (especially in a writing/composition) like what you describe above (a warning early in the semester, growing more severe with each infraction).  If the student, though, refuses to learn, then she must suffer the consequences.   I see no shame in failing recalcitrant students.  Notice what I said.  If you, the instructor, are not providing ample opportunities for learning, then your failing your student is, in essence, your failure to teach.

Conversely, if you are providing a learning curve toward competency, then the student must rise to meet.  If not, then the failure is on them.  You, though, need to be on the proper side of this moral/professional equation.

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One Comment
  1. March 4, 2009 5:44 pm

    What a great response. I don’t think students even realize how much their teachers care at all. I had an english teacher who used to verbally flog us in an attempt to get us to debate with him. After two weeks of it, I just got tired and made a smart ass remark. (“It’s saturday. It’s morning. If you want us to debate, bring us coffee!”

    Next week, plunked on my desk, a half gallon of starbucks coffee and 15 paper cups…

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