So today, as I review a whole series of blog posts about the recent fraudulent memoirs that have been published, I’m faced with a dilemma that’s much closer to home – one of my students has plagiarized a paper. She took a great deal of content from two websites, changed a word here and there, and then, without citation, put that information in her paper. She has to now be written up (I always feel like a high-school principal when I say that), and the report has to filed in her “permanent record” (there’s that principal voice again). And I hate it.
I hate filing the report because I feel like a rat. But even more, I would hate not filing it because I fear that letting her get by with this is just setting her up to repeat this behavior – intentional or not – over and over again. Eventually, should she be a massive rarity in my classes, she might become a writer, who like Margaret B. Jones, thinks she can say anything and not only “not get caught” but make money in the process. I know I’m being extreme here, but isn’t this a small possibility?
And there’s one other aspect to this issue for me, as a teacher, and that’s the idea that, at least when I can, I need to show that I can pick up on things like plagiarism because, after all, in a classroom, I’m supposed to be some kind of authority. I’m not big on creating this huge power dynamic, but to a certain extent, I need that little bit of extra power (like a super vacuum) to be able to control my class, and I need to be able to control my class so that the students can learn. Not calling someone on plagiarism, undermines my credibility. I can’t afford that, and neither can the students.
This student of mine, she’s a nice woman. Smart, thoughtful. And here she made a mistake. It’s not my goal to pronounce her useless or predict her a fraud before she even launches into life fully. But it is my job to call out, this once, and say, “you’re better than this. you are.”
P.S. For a good source with definitions, fair use laws, and citation tips, visit Plagiarism.org.